Expected Council Action
In November, the Council expects to hold a briefing and consultations on the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). Hervé Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, is expected to brief the Council on the Secretary-General’s report on UNMISS, due out in the first part of November. The mission’s mandate expires on 15 July 2014.
Key Recent Developments
Hilde Johnson, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of UNMISS, last briefed the Council on 8 July (S/PV.6993) and then met with Council members in consultations. While noting that most of South Sudan was stable, Johnson highlighted the troubling security situation in Jonglei state, where conflict between South Sudan’s army, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), and David Yau Yau’s rebel South Sudan Democratic Movement/Army (SSDM/A) had displaced thousands of civilians. Johnson said that UNMISS had enhanced its military presence in Jonglei in response to the unrest there but that the mission was suffering from a mobility crisis limiting its capacity to fulfil its mandate to protect civilians. She also expressed concern about human rights violations committed by the SPLA, including arbitrary detentions and arrests, abuse and killings. Echoing options presented in the Secretary-General’s report (S/2013/366), Johnson pointed to “aerial surveillance capability, deterrence and supplementary heavy-lift and riverine capabilities” as areas of need.
President Salva Kiir dissolved the cabinet, dismissing all ministers and deputy ministers, on 23 July. He appointed a new cabinet within a week but delayed for a month the appointment of a new vice president, a post that was vacated when Kiir dismissed political rival Riek Machar. On 23 August, Kiir appointed a political ally, James Wanni Igga, as vice president. Other key appointments included the naming of Kuol Manyang Juuk, governor of the turbulent Jonglei state, as defence minister, and Barnaba Marial Benjamin, formerly information minister, as foreign minister.
There have been varying interpretations of the cabinet reshuffle. Some analysts have argued that the dismissals are indicative of authoritarian tendencies and that the reshuffle was designed to shore up Kiir’s standing in the ruling party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), in advance of its convention currently scheduled for March 2014. On the other hand, some have argued that the new cabinet is both more competent and more favourably inclined to negotiations with Sudan than the previous one.
In July, inter-ethnic violence between the Lou Nuer and Murle communities engulfed parts of Jonglei. (Inter-ethnic clashes involving these groups also claimed hundreds of lives in late 2012 and early 2013.) According to Jongolei Boyoris, a member of the Jonglei State Assembly, more than 320 Murle, mainly women and children, died as a result of this violence.
Human Rights Watch has reported that between December 2012 and July 2013 the SPLA killed 74 civilians in Jonglei who were likely targeted because they were Murle. (The most powerful rebel group in Jonglei, the SSDM/A, consists of Murle fighters. It should also be noted that a high number of the SPLA in the area are from another ethnic community, the Nuer.)
On 20 August, South Sudan announced that a high-ranking commander, Brigadier General James Otong, had been arrested and would be prosecuted for human rights abuses committed by his troops in Pibor County, Jonglei. (The investigation is underway). He is reportedly one of 31 SPLA soldiers arrested for their role in the Jonglei violence. The SPLA announced on 24 October that five of these soldiers had been convicted of murder and sentenced to death.
The Council issued a press statement (SC/11103) on 23 August on South Sudan that, inter alia:
- condemned the violence against civilians in Jonglei;
- noted that South Sudan holds the primary responsibility to protect civilians;
- expressed concern with human rights violations committed in Jonglei by armed groups and the SPLA; and
- emphasised the importance of holding perpetrators of such acts accountable for their actions.
On 28 September, South Sudan announced that about 200 rebels led by Ayuok Agot and Gordon Kuong in Upper Nile state had accepted an amnesty offer, surrendering to the SPLA.
On 20 October, at least 70 people were killed in an assault in Twic East county, Jonglei, while scores were wounded, children were kidnapped and hundreds of cattle were stolen. South Sudan has accused the SSDM/A of carrying out the attack although Yau Yau denies involvement.
On 25 October, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous briefed Council members in consultations on this last bout of violence. (The briefing had been requested the day before by Russia.) Ladsous said that the attacks were likely carried out by Murle and that the victims were members of the Dinka community. While some reports indicated that Yau Yau was responsible, he said that this could not be confirmed. He added that UNMISS and its UN partners were assessing the humanitarian and human rights implications of the attacks, while reinforcing the area to provide added protection to civilians.
A key issue is how to strengthen efforts to prevent inter-communal violence and promote inter-communal reconciliation in Jonglei and elsewhere in South Sudan.
A related important issue is the need to enhance the aerial assets (e.g., helicopters) available to UNMISS and ensure that they are used effectively for surveillance and heavy lift purposes.
Another key issue is the involvement of the SPLA in human rights violations in Jonglei and what role the Council and UNMISS can play in supporting government efforts to professionalise the army.
One option is to receive the UNMISS briefing and discuss it in consultations but take no action at the current time.
The Council may also request a briefing from the Secretariat on the potential use of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) for early-warning surveillance in conflict-prone areas of South Sudan.
The Council could also make a special request to member states to provide additional military helicopters to UNMISS.
Another option is to hold an Arria formula meeting with NGO experts and others familiar with the situation in Jonglei to get their perspectives on the sources of the violence there and how the Council can best address the conflict.
Most Council members share the view that protection of civilians is a priority for UNMISS. Given the recurring violence in South Sudan—particularly in Jonglei where the SSDM/A has been active—several Council members are interested in exploring how the mission can strengthen its role in protecting civilians, although they emphasise that this is the primary responsibility of South Sudan. There is also an understanding that UNMISS needs enhanced air assets to improve its monitoring of the situation on the ground and increase its heavy lift capacity, especially given the lack of roads in the country.
The US is the penholder on South Sudan.
UN Documents on South Sudan
|Security Council Resolution|
|11 July 2013 S/RES/2109||This resolution extended the mandate of UNMISS until 15 July 2014.|
|Security Council Press Statement|
|23 August 2013 SC/11103||This was a press statement condemning the violence in South Sudan’s Jonglei state.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|8 July 2013 S/PV.6993||
This was a briefing on UNMISS by Hilde Johnson, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General.
Useful Additional Resource
“‘They Are Killing Us’: Abuses against Civilians in South Sudan’s Pibor County,” Human Rights Watch, September 2013