Sudan and South Sudan
Expected Council Action
In January, Council members are expected to hold one meeting, likely in consultations, on Sudan-South Sudan issues. It is also possible that the Council may discuss the situation in South Sudan, given the fluidity of events on the ground. At press time, it was unclear whether there would be an outcome on these issues in January.
Key Recent Developments
Tensions within the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), the ruling party of South Sudan, boiled over in December. On 6 December, former Vice-President Riek Machar, who was sacked by President Salva Kiir on 23 July, held a press conference in Juba with other disillusioned high-level officials to criticise Kiir for what they believe are “dictatorial tendencies”. On 8 December, Kiir loyalists released a statement alleging that the participants in the press conference had attempted to “discredit and distort facts” about the SPLM leadership.
Heavy fighting broke out in Juba between members of the army, beginning on the evening of 15 December and continued intermittently in the ensuing days. On 16 December, Kiir held a press conference in which he alleged that the fighting resulted from a coup attempt sparked by forces loyal to Machar, an accusation denied by Machar in an interview with the Sudan Tribune. While Machar’s whereabouts remained unknown at press time, the government had arrested 11 leading opposition figures, including its former chief negotiator with Sudan, Pagan Amum.
Council members were briefed on South Sudan under “any other business” by Hervé Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, on 17 December. He said that the fighting within the army appeared to be along Nuer-Dinka ethnic lines. (Kiir is a Dinka; Machar is a Nuer.) While not definitively confirming casualty figures, Ladsous estimated that 400-500 people may have been killed, and 600-800 wounded. (He did not specify how many of the casualties are civilian; however, it has been reported that Nuer civilians in Juba have been targeted in the fighting.)
Ladsous also estimated that over 18,000 civilians had sought protection at two UN facilities in Juba and that the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) was doing its best to attend to their humanitarian needs.
Heavy fighting has also been reported in and around Bor, in Jonglei state, along the same ethnic lines as in Juba. Peter Gadet, the Nuer army commander in Jonglei, defected alleging that the Nuer were being targeted in the turmoil. The government lost control of Bor on 18 December while the UN base in Akobo was attacked by Nuer youth on 19 December. There have also been reports of violence against civilians in Unity and Warrap states.
On 17 December, the Council issued a press statement (SC/11221) in which it inter-alia:
- expressed serious concern with the fighting in South Sudan;
- urged the parties to exercise restraint and refrain from violence;
- underscored the importance of protecting civilians, regardless of their communities of origin; and
- called on the government to dialogue with its opponents in order to resolve their differences peacefully.
On 19 December, in a news release, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay inter-alia:
- called on the government to signal to the SPLA its “command responsibility” to prevent retaliatory violence based on communal affiliation and to hold accountable alleged perpetrators;
- expressed concern at the fate of those arrested by the government and reports of several extra-judicial killings;
- urged the government to ensure that due process is accorded to those detained and that they are promptly charged or released; and
- urged all parties to demonstrate restraint and adhere to international human rights and humanitarian law.
It appeared that a ministerial delegation of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development had been deployed to Juba on 19 December to mediate between the parties, although details about this trip were not available at press time.
Significant political developments also occurred in the ruling party in Sudan. In early December, the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) carried out a long-anticipated cabinet reshuffle. First Vice-President Ali Osman Taha was replaced by former Defence and Interior Minister Bakri Hassan Saleh. NCP Secretary for Political Affairs Hassabo Mohammed Abdel Rahman was named second vice president. Ibrahim Gandour was named presidential advisor, a post vacated by Nafie Ali Nafie. Notable among those retained were Foreign Minister Ali Karti and Defence Minister Abdelrahim Mohamed Hussein, who has been indicted by the ICC for crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur.
The opposition argued that the changes were largely cosmetic. Yasir Arman, secretary-general of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) rebel group, claimed that the reshuffle strengthened President Omar al-Bashir and enhanced the position of military elements in the NCP while weakening the Islamists. The opposition National Umma Party issued a statement on 8 December advocating a national constitutional process, calling the cabinet changes “decorative”.
Fighting has continued in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states in Sudan. Engagements between Sudan and the SPLM-N rebels and aerial bombardments by Sudan reportedly displaced about 25,000 civilians in South Kordofan in November. According to the Satellite Sentinel Project, satellite evidence showed structures burning on 24 November in Kundukr with Sudan Armed Forces personnel nearby, while aerial bombardment and shelling claimed some 20 lives and wounded 18 in and around Kundukr. OCHA reported in early December the displacement of approximately 2,800 people, mainly women and children, and food shortages in Bau, Blue Nile.
On 5 December, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet briefed Council members in consultations on Sudan-South Sudan issues and on the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA). Mulet said that Sudan and the SPLM-N had still not agreed on arrangements for a polio vaccination campaign intended to inoculate 165,000 children in areas held by the SPLM-N in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, which had been scheduled for 5-12 November. Mulet also expressed concern about the security situation in the disputed Abyei region straddling Sudan and South Sudan in light of the beginning of the migration by the Misseriya through the area and the heightened tensions between the Misseriya and Ngok-Dinka communities in the aftermath of the Ngok-Dinka decision to hold a unilateral referendum on the status of Abyei in late October. (Plans for an official referendum to determine whether Abyei should become part of Sudan or South Sudan have been repeatedly delayed due to disagreements on voter eligibility criteria. Sudan believes that the migratory Misseriya, who would likely choose for Abyei to become part of Sudan, should be allowed to vote, while South Sudan disagrees, believing that only permanent residents of the area—i.e., the Ngok-Dinka—should be eligible to participate.)
Regarding the situation in South Sudan, key issues include what role the Council can play in:
- mediating between the different factions of the SPLM in an effort to end the violence and ensure that peaceful political dialogue is initiated;
- protecting civilians that have been caught in or targeted during the fighting;
- ensuring that adequate humanitarian access is provided; and
- holding accountable those who have committed human rights violations.
With respect to Sudan-South Sudan relations, key issues for the Council include what role it can play in:
- ensuring that peace is maintained in Abyei between the Ngok-Dinka and Misseriya; and
- jump-starting negotiations between Sudan and the SPLM-N, as fighting continues in South Kordofan and Blue Nile and the parties have made no progress in discussing political and humanitarian issues.
An overarching issue is whether and how political dynamics in Juba and Khartoum will impact negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan, given the fighting in South Sudan and the recent cabinet reshuffle in Sudan.
Options for the Council with respect to South Sudan include:
- making a special request for a troop-contributing country to supply additional troops to UNMISS to enhance the capacity of the mission to protect civilians in areas affected by violence;
- urging robust patrolling by UNMISS within its capacities to protect civilians;
- deploying a visiting mission to South Sudan to send a strong message to the parties on the need for reconciliation;
- tasking a special envoy to mediate between the factions of the SPLM; and, although unlikely at this stage,
- threatening targeted sanctions on spoilers of the state-building process.
With respect to Sudan-South Sudan relations, the Council may consider issuing a statement to reiterate:
- the importance of resolving outstanding issues (e.g., the status of disputed areas and demarcation of the border);
- grave concern at the humanitarian situation in South Kordofan and Blue Nile;
- the call for Sudan and the SPLM-N to engage in direct talks and allow for humanitarian access in areas affected by conflict; and
- the importance of establishing temporary administrative institutions in Abyei (Abyei Area Council, Abyei Area Administration and Abyei Area Police Force) as long as the final status of the area is not resolved.
The Council could also request an interactive dialogue with the AU High-Level Implementation Panel Chair, Thabo Mbeki, to get his impressions of the status of negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan and the prospects for talks between Sudan and the SPLM-N.
There is very strong concern among Council members with the outbreak of violence in South Sudan, the toll the fighting is taking on civilians and the inter-ethnic dimension to the violence. At press time, Council members were still seeking greater clarity on how the fighting was precipitated.
There is a degree of optimism in the Council with regard to the recent state of relations between Sudan and South Sudan, although there is widespread concern about the heightened tensions between the Misseriya and Ngok-Dinka in Abyei, and the potential that these tensions could have a negative impact on Sudan-South Sudan relations. Some members are also curious about how the recent cabinet reshuffle in Khartoum and the infighting in South Sudan will affect Sudan-South Sudan relations.
The US is the penholder on Sudan-South Sudan issues.
UN Documents on Sudan and South Sudan
|Security Council Resolution|
|25 November 2013 S/RES/2126||This was the resolution that renewed the mandate of UNISFA.|
|Security Council Press Statement|
|17 December 2013 SC/11221||This was a press statement on outbreak of violence in South Sudan.|
|27 November 2013 S/2013/706||This was the most recent Secretary-General’s report on UNISFA.|