Statement on South Sudan’s Fourth Anniversary of Independence by Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict

As South Sudan marks the fourth anniversary of its independence tomorrow, the continuing conflict in the country – rendered all the more appalling by a recent intensification of the fighting – makes it impossible to view the passing of this national “birthday” with a celebratory eye. The world stood with South Sudan as it entered into nationhood full of hope. Yet with internal divisions escalating into violence by the end of 2013, and with that violence having shown little sign of abating to date, this anniversary is now the second in which bloodshed replaces the formerly hoped-for bright future for South Sudan and its citizens.

I am particularly alarmed by the loss of so many innocent children’s lives amid the hostilities. South Sudan’s children have been victims of all six violations identified by the UN Security Council as disproportionately affecting children in time of war. Those violations are killing or maiming, recruitment or use of child soldiers, sexual violence, abduction, attacks against schools or hospitals, and denial of humanitarian access. In various fora, I and others concerned about the plight of children and other civilians in South Sudan have expressed our horror at some of the new atrocities that have come to our collective attention in recent weeks. It behoves me, therefore, on this fourth anniversary of South Sudan’s independence, to call ever more emphatically on the country’s leaders – in Government and in Opposition – to show leadership, and fulfil their responsibilities to protect the South Sudanese people, halt the violations, and end the conflict. There will be no peace without justice and accountability, and so I also call on the Government of South Sudan to hold to account those responsible for the violations.

The principal parties to the current conflict have pledged on several occasions to stop violations against children but, despite that, they have yet to demonstrate their commitments through concrete actions. I welcome recent sanctions taken by the Security Council against six individuals as a means for accountability, and I call on the Council, the African Union, and the partners of South Sudan to utilize all their leverage on the parties to have them put an end to this unacceptable situation. I also call on the Council to consider additional measures it might take against alleged perpetrators in the name of protecting children and other civilians.

It is clear that South Sudan can’t afford a lost generation of children. That is why protecting children today is an investment in peace and also in the future of the country and its people. Acting to ensure such an investment takes place is how we should be celebrating the fourth anniversary of the independence of South Sudan.