Ambassador Samantha Power: Remarks At the Security Council Stakeout, on South Sudan, Syria, and Central African Republic
Ambassador Power: Good Afternoon. As you just heard, members of the Security Council just received a briefing from Assistant Secretary-General Edmund Mulet on the situation on the ground in South Sudan and what the UN assesses it needs in order to help stabilize the situation there.
The reports that we heard from the UN are deeply disturbing. The UN reports that some 100,000 people have been displaced. At this moment, the UN is sheltering 45,000 civilians in UNMISS camps around the country—I should say, “in and around UNMISS camps around the country.” We call on all parties to protect all civilians regardless of their political or ethnic community and to respect UNMISS and its critical peacekeeping role during the crisis. We appreciate the express readiness of the UN Secretary General to enforce the UN’s civilian protection mandate, and that’s something also that Special Representative Hilde Johnson came out publically and reaffirmed today, importantly.
To immediately address the dire situation, the Secretary General has requested the Security Council to authorize an additional 5,000 peacekeepers for UNMISS. And the United States is one of many Council members—in fact, all Council members—that fully supports this proposal. We are eager to work with the Secretariat and troop-contributing countries and other Member States to ensure that the mission has the assets and resources that it needs to fulfill its mandate. To that end, the United States has just circulated a draft resolution responding to the Secretary-General’s request that the Council increase UNMISS’ troop ceiling.
As we have discussed, the crisis must be resolved through a negotiated solution of political differences, and our Special Envoy Don Booth was in Juba today to help with mediation efforts. I am pleased to report that Special Envoy Booth was able to meet with the 11 detained opposition leaders and he found them to be secure and well, and very open to ending the crisis through dialogue and reconciliation. So that was an important step today.
We are also encouraged at the news that Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights will be strengthening the work of the UNMISS Human Rights Office to begin immediately recording the basic facts about any atrocities and human rights abuses that are occurring. This is a priority and must happen immediately to be most effective. Those who commit atrocities may feel immune now. And thus the more that we show that we are documenting these abuses and that people will be held accountable, the more likely we are to be able to affect their calculus. Those responsible for violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law must be held accountable. And that’s something also that the Security Council agrees upon.
The future of South Sudan is in jeopardy, and this moment demands urgent leadership to avoid further bloodshed and to restore stability. When South Sudan was born a short two-and-a-half years ago, the United States proudly stood with its people and its leaders as this much anticipated new state came into existence. As President Obama has said, now is the time for South Sudan’s leaders to show courage and actual leadership, to reaffirm their commitment to peace, to unity, and to the better future for their people that they have promised. The leaders of South Sudan face a stark choice: they can return to the political dialogue and spirit of cooperation that helped establish South Sudan, or they can destroy those hard-fought gains and tear apart their newborn nation.
Before I go to your questions, which I will do imminently, I’d like to also just to take a moment here to discuss two other issues that I think require all of our attention. The first is Syria. On Sunday, a reported 25 civilians were reported killed in Aleppo due to attack by Syrian government forces using so-called “barrel bombs” that are packed with high explosives and shards of metal, deliberately designed to kill as many people indiscriminately as possible. The attacks over the weekend killed more than 300 people, many of them children.
I strongly condemn, and the United States strongly condemns, these deadly strikes, which have no purpose other than to sow terror and to drive people from their homes. The attacks have exacerbated the already severe humanitarian crisis in Syria, by making it more difficult to supply medical facilities in Aleppo, including the city’s largest trauma and surgical hospital, which is in one of the neighborhoods that is being bombed ruthlessly.
Instead of preparing in good faith the talks aimed at ending the violence in Syria, the Assad regime continues to perpetrate atrocities against its own people. In September, when the UN Security Council authorized the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons, we made it clear that a red light for one weapon must not become a green light for another. And I join UN Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi in calling on the regime, as he put it, “to stop the use of these devastating” barrel bombs, immediately, and to cooperate fully in allowing international humanitarian and relief workers to do their jobs.
Finally, as you know, I just returned from the Central African Republic, where I had a chance to witness just how dire the situation is on the ground. And even as we discuss the situation in South Sudan and, of course, discuss Syria, I want to just say that the situation in CAR begs the world’s attention.
Terrible atrocities have occurred. Terrible atrocities are occurring. We met with one woman whose husband had been stabbed in front of her, his body then doused in gasoline, and then set on fire in front of her very eyes. Part of what those who have survived violence of this nature are crying out for is justice. And one of the worries that we came away from the Central African Republic with was that those who were not seeing justice be done are increasingly tempted to take matters into their own hands, and that you’re seeing a cycle of retribution and violence that is very, very alarming.
The other thing I heard, on the positive side, from almost everyone I spoke with, was, “We have a tradition of religious coexistence and religious harmony. We’ve lived this way for a long time.” Almost everyone you meet tells a story of an intermarriage, usually his or her own, or being the child of an intermarriage, across faiths. And people described Catholic children, you know, going to schools, going and being instructed by the imam, and the Muslim children being instructed by the local Catholic priest or the Protestant priests. This is the kind of intermingling that that has existed for a long time and the people of the Central African Republic want the world to know about that. But it is incredibly important, again, that we support the African Union, the French, and moderate voices in the Central African Republic so that vision for CAR prevails.
With that, why don’t I take a few questions.
Reporter: Thank you, thank you Madame Ambassador. Two questions. First: on South Sudan, is the United States ready to respond to the Secretary General’s request for help in transporting the additional troops, police and equipment to South Sudan? And secondly, Ambassador Churkin just said that yes, there was Council support but he questioned some of the, what he called, “editorial comments,” in the US draft resolution. And I wonder if you could tell us what he might be referring to.
Ambassador Power: Let me take that question first. He seemed very supportive of the need to both approve the Secretary General’s notional plan and to move very quickly. So that was the overarching message. And I’m not sure, again, what he was referring to as he departed. But, again, overwhelming consensus, overwhelming desire to move quickly, you know, very significant alarm on the part of Council members by the accounts by Edmond and others of the possibility of imminent confrontations at UN bases where civilians are gathered. I mean, there is, this was not a politicized or ideological or editorial meeting, this was a meeting where everybody was scratching their heads to see “how can we?” and rolling up their sleeves and seeing “how can we help as quickly as possible?”
And we recognize that it’s not—even when the Security Council has authorized this increase in troops and this intermission cooperation—, the delivery on those, sort of, force realignments will not be immediate. So that’s, again, another reason for the urgency. Both the gravity of the situation on the ground, the sense that worse could come, and the recognition that it’s going to take at least a few days to actually move resources.
On the question about the US disposition toward the request. Honestly, the level at which we have received it now is very, very high-level. It is referring to specific missions from which they would recommend deploying and moving troops and where—and this comes back to an earlier question, I think, that was asked—where they assessed that those troops can be loaned without doing damage to the extant source country mission. And so I think that they have gone through that exercise themselves on the specifics of how troops would be lifted or, again, what the general means by which these redeployments would occur. Those proposals have not yet come to us, at least have not come to us in this meeting.
Reporter: Thanks, Ambassador. Does the resolution put a time limit on the increasing the authorized number of troops for South Sudan? And the former vice president said today that he was willing to start negotiating if those 11 prisoners were released. Just want to get your thoughts on that.
Ambassador Power: Well, there’s no resolution yet. We’re still negotiating it and we actually got some, I thought, very thoughtful comments from a number of delegations. So we’ll need to incorporate them. Again, everyone’s on the same page, so it’s just about creating the best product possible, recognizing that we’re eager to move this asap. One of the questions that is on the table is how quickly we would wish the Secretary General to report back to the Council. And I think one of the things that we’re all in agreement of is both, in terms of the ground situation and whether these redeployments themselves will provide this sufficient reinforcement in order to perform civilian protection, in order to ensure that UN peacekeepers themselves are also not isolated and vulnerable in a way that some of them have been. So that’s one question. And then the other would be what has been the effect on the missions from which the troops have been drawn. So I think that would lead all Council members to wish to continue to check in with the Secretary General and to do so quite quickly.
With regard to Riek Machar’s comments, which I believe he made to Reuters, by coincidence, I guess what I would say is that we were encouraged that President Kiir licensed Special Envoy Booth to go and see the detainees and also then followed through on that. There had been a previous commitment to EGAD because those ministers also wanted to visit with the detainees. So we take this as an important step in the right direction. And President Kiir has said that he will sit down for negotiations with no preconditions. Riek Machar has now laid this out as his precondition. So, there’s clearly a big difference between them on a whole host of fronts, this included. And we’re going to have to work that through, because for as long as these two individuals are at loggerheads, refusing to sit down with one another, innocent people are being killed on nothing other than ethnic grounds in South Sudan.
Thanks so much.