The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations called on South Sudan's leaders Wednesday to expedite implementation of the 2018 peace agreement, address rampant violence in parts of the country, and allow humanitarian access to vulnerable South Sudanese dealing with violence and hunger.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, speaking as the U.S. assumed presidency of the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday, says South Sudan's 2018 peace agreement remains fragile, as evidenced by increased intercommunal violence, hunger and under-representation of women in government.
"We see the situation in South Sudan as precarious. We are worried about the slow pace of the peace process and the levels of violence, and we believe UNMISS [the U.N. Mission in South Sudan] has a critical role to play in protecting civilians and supporting peace," said Thomas-Greenfield.
She called upon the leaders of South Sudan to "accelerate the peace process."
"Lower levels of violence. Work with UNMISS," she said. "Open the gates for humanitarian access, especially to help with hunger and starvation.
"This is a critical moment for South Sudan," she added.
Reached by VOA, the South Sudanese ambassador to the U.N., Akuei Bona Malwal, declined to comment on Thomas-Greenfield's remarks.
Thomas-Greenfield said despite the reduction in political violence among the parties to the South Sudan peace agreement, intercommunal violence has been on the rise.
"Subnational fighting has simply surged in South Sudan, and, worse, we are extremely concerned by indications that political actors are directly involved," she told the Council. "That's not peace and that's not acceptable."
Thomas-Greenfield also accused South Sudan's government of blocking UNMISS and other aid agencies from delivering critical support to millions of vulnerable South Sudanese in parts of the country.
She said South Sudan's leader needs to "allow unimpeded humanitarian access to those in need, especially those who are starving or staring death in the face."
The U.S. diplomat also says proper governance in South Sudan and real transition out of civil war must include the full, effective and meaningful participation of women. She welcomed the appointment of three women deputy governors but expressed concern about South Sudan's failure to ensure 35% women's representation in the transitional government as provided in the peace agreement.
Jackline Nasiwa is the founder of the Juba-based Center for Inclusive Governance, Peace and Justice. She says parties to South Sudan's peace agreement have denied women their full rights to participate in the transitional government and help build their country.
"The participation of women, which is provided for in the peace agreement, which calls for 35% representation... is far from being met," Nasiwa said.
She noted that women who have been appointed to government positions in South Sudan so far make up less than 20% at both the national and state levels.
"In some states, including Warrap, Jonglei, Northern Bahr el-Ghazal and Unity state, women representation is 11-to-17%, while at the county level, women make up only 2%," the women rights activist told the Security Council.
Both Thomas-Greenfield and Nasiwa say they're concerned by the high level of gender-based violence against women and girls in South Sudan, which is sometimes perpetrated by members of the security services and other armed groups.
Thomas-Greenfield says the United States remains committed to South Sudan and its people, and will continue to work with the transitional government, the Security Council, UNMISS, humanitarian groups, and all stakeholders to bring peace to the country.