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South Sudan: No basis for free and fair 2024 elections, warns Haysom

People wait in line at a food distribution site in Malakal, South Sudan.
© WFP/Eulalia Berlanga
People wait in line at a food distribution site in Malakal, South Sudan.

South Sudan: No basis for free and fair 2024 elections, warns Haysom

Peace and Security

South Sudan is in no position to hold free, fair, or secure elections slated for December next year, the head of the UN Mission in the country (UNMISS) said on Thursday, stressing that there’s still time to catch up.

Briefing ambassadors at the UN Security Council, Nicholas Haysom outlined key conditions required by April 2024 for moving ahead, according to the agreed timeline.

All in the details

These include a new permanent constitutional framework; voter registration details; an election security plan; well trained, equipped, and unified security forces; and a mechanism for resolving disputes over results.

“A critical mass of these pre-requisites is necessary for creating the conditions for the conduct of elections that are not only free and fair but also deemed credible and acceptable to South Sudanese citizens,” he said.

“We believe that with the necessary political will, a sense of urgency and compromise, the South Sudanese could indeed establish the conditions for elections in December 2024,” he added.

Threat to civilians

The head of UNMISS said the dire economic situation, compounded by climate shocks and fragile political environment, suggest that elections will be taking place in an environment of elevated tensions.  

“If these risks are not mitigated, then the threat to civilians remains real,” he warned.  

The UN Mission, for its part, remains committed to the protection of civilians and prioritizes it as a key mandated task, Mr. Haysom added.

UNMISS is implementing proactive measures aimed at mitigating the risks of violence before, during and after voting, he said.

These include maintaining a robust presence in potential hotspots through existing and new temporary operating bases and team sites; fortifying rapidly deployable reserves of peacekeepers, extensive patrolling, and boosting political and civil engagement at the community and national levels.

Humanitarian situation

Mr. Haysom, who is also the Special Representative of the UN Security General, noted the dire humanitarian situation in South Sudan, made worse by the ongoing war between rival militaries next door in Khartoum.

Two-thirds of the people across South Sudan are food insecure and over nine million people remain dependent on assistance, including over two million internally displaced.  

As of Tuesday, over 434,000 people had crossed into the country since the start of the fighting in neighbouring Sudan.

“This means the humanitarian caseload in South Sudan is only growing,” Mr. Haysom said, adding that the country also remains highly dangerous for humanitarians to operate in.

“Many have made the ultimate sacrifice,” he continued, calling on the Government to enable safe and unfettered humanitarian access and hold accountable the perpetrators responsible for attacking aid workers and looting of aid supplies destined for the most vulnerable.

2024, a difficult year

In conclusion, Mr. Haysom noted that 2024 is likely to be a difficult and challenging year for UNMISS, for South Sudan, its people and the region.

“UNMISS reiterates that it will discharge its mandate to the best of its ability,” he told ambassadors.