Expected Council Action
In March, the Council is scheduled to be briefed on the report of the Secretary-General on the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) by the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous. Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka may also brief on her 18-19 February trip to South Sudan. Council members are likely to hold consultations following the briefing.
At press time, an outcome was not anticipated. However, after considering the findings of the upcoming Secretary-General’s report, the Council could choose to modify the mandate of UNMISS well ahead of its 15 July expiration.
Key Recent Developments
On 21 February, Council members received an interim report on the human rights situation in South Sudan issued by the Human Rights Division of UNMISS. The report covers events during the first six weeks since the outbreak of hostilities, from 15 December 2013 through 31 January 2014. The report summarises human rights violations in the Central Equatoria, Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile states, including the deliberate targeting of civilians in extrajudicial killings and mass killings, enforced disappearances, gender-based violence and torture committed by forces from both sides of the conflict. The report also notes that many civilians were deliberately targeted and killed along ethnic lines, while many more civilians have been forcibly displaced.
A second round of talks mediated by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) between the government of South Sudan and the opposition was due to start on 10 February. The rebel delegation then made two demands as a pre-requisite: the withdrawal of Ugandan military forces deployed in support of the government and the participation in the talks of the 11 Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) members initially detained by the government in mid-December (four remain in detention in South Sudan facing treason charges and seven were released into the custody of Kenya on 29 January). After the rebels were assured their concerns would be addressed, an opening ceremony was held on 11 February, and the seven former political detainees arrived in Addis Ababa from Nairobi the following day. Potentially complicating the mediation process, the group of seven has since asked to participate independently rather than joining the rebel delegation. IGAD chief negotiator Seyoum Mesfin said, “They rather would like us to prepare a sort of a triangular table for their negotiations.” Despite the holding of an opening ceremony, as of press time the second round of talks had failed to progress. This may be largely due to rebel objections regarding the continued detention of four opposition figures and the ongoing deployment of Ugandan forces in South Sudan.
Meanwhile, although the parties had signed the IGAD-mediated 23 January cessation of hostilities agreement and IGAD had deployed an advance team of ceasefire monitors from 2-7 February, armed conflict has reignited in South Sudan. According to a rebel spokesperson, Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) forces and Justice and Equality Movement rebels were responsible for an attack on former Vice President Riek Machar’s hometown, Leer, in Unity state on 1 February. Analysis of imagery by the US-based NGO Satellite Sentinel Project indicates more than 1,000 huts were burned down in the attack. More recently, as of 18 February, a major battle has erupted for control of Malakal, the capital of Upper Nile state, which has strategic significance as the sole remaining source of oil production; earlier combat damaged the oil fields in Unity state. Both sides have traded accusations regarding responsibility for widespread human rights violations in Malakal. There have also been reports of fighting in Jonglei and Lakes states, with the SPLA being reinforced by Ugandan air and ground forces.
The outbreak of armed conflict in South Sudan on 15 December has presented numerous difficult challenges for UNMISS, particularly with regard to protecting civilians and managing contentious relations with the government. Approximately 75,000 civilians have sought refuge inside 10 UNMISS bases throughout the country. Maintaining security—both internal and external—has been an operational priority for UNMISS. Nonetheless, inter-communal clashes erupted on 18 February inside the UNMISS base near Malakal, with at least 10 civilian deaths reported due to injuries sustained both inside and outside the compound. SPLA violations of the UNMISS Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) have also become increasingly common, including attempts to force entry into UNMISS bases. Other SOFA violations include: restrictions on the freedom of movement; arbitrary arrests and detention; and screening of UN flights and other forms of transport.
Armed conflict in South Sudan has had a high humanitarian cost. According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more than 710,600 people are displaced within the country, more than 171,000 people have fled to neighbouring countries, and aid agencies have reached more than 300,000 people thus far with assistance. In order to assist the 3.2 million most affected by the conflict, the UN launched an urgent appeal on 4 February for $1.27 billion to fund aid through June. As of 24 February, donors had contributed $260 million.
The Council last discussed South Sudan on 11 February, when members were briefed in consultations by Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos and Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of UNMISS Hilde Johnson (via videoconference from Juba). Among other subjects, Amos and Ladsous also shared insights from their recent trips to South Sudan, on 27-29 January and 2-3 February respectively.
Two days after the briefing in consultations, a press statement on the situation in South Sudan was issued on 13 February (SC/11278), in which the Council:
- expressed support for mediation by IGAD;
- welcomed the release of seven detained political leaders and called for the release of the remaining four detainees;
- condemned violations of the 23 January ceasefire agreement and called for the progressive withdrawal of foreign forces from South Sudan;
- condemned widespread violations of human rights and humanitarian law and noted with concern the deteriorating humanitarian situation;
- condemned interference with humanitarian activities, including the looting of humanitarian property and supplies;
- condemned violations of the SOFA, demanded cooperation with UNMISS and called on the government to accept new troop contributions to UNMISS regardless of country of origin; and
- welcomed the next steps toward the formation of the AU commission of inquiry into human rights violations and the anticipated receipt of an UNMISS report on human rights.
How to improve the effectiveness of UNMISS, potentially including through modification of its mandate in the near term, is currently perhaps the central issue.
Another critically important issue concerns the IGAD-mediated peace negotiations in Addis Ababa and the Council’s possible role in facilitation of a successful outcome.
One option would be to modify the mandate of UNMISS well ahead of its expiration on 15 July. Particular aspects that the Council may wish to consider include:
- how the mandate could be modified to reflect a de facto shift away from state capacity building and toward other priorities, including protection of civilians;
- to what extent peacekeepers will be able to extend operations beyond bases, conduct patrols and assist IGAD ceasefire monitors;
- what level of capacity in terms of troop numbers, hardware and financing would likely be required;
- how UNMISS can be equipped and staffed adequately—considering UN budget and personnel constraints—to prevent further conflict;
- how to manage deteriorating relations with the government characterised by numerous SOFA violations; and
- how best to facilitate and conduct UN human rights investigations, assist the AU commission of inquiry and contribute to national reconciliation.
Another option, although it is perhaps unlikely under the current circumstances facing South Sudan, would be to take no action in the near term regarding modification of UNMISS’s mandate.
Council members are united in their concern regarding the magnitude of conflict in South Sudan, particularly reports of the deliberate targeting of civilian populations. There also seems to be an increasing recognition among Council members of the need to adjust the approach of UNMISS, with greater emphasis placed on protection of civilians, maintaining humanitarian access and enabling human rights reporting. Although Council members appear to be receptive toward modification of UMISS’s mandate, the specific measures and exact timeframe remain unclear at this juncture.
The US is the penholder on South Sudan.
UN Documents on South Sudan
|Security Council Resolution|
|24 December 2013 S/RES/2132||This was the resolution that increased the military and police capacity of UNMISS.|
|Security Council Press Statement|
|13 February 2014 SC/11278||This press statement expressed strong support for IGAD mediation.|
|Security Council Letter|
|23 January 2014 S/2014/46||This was a letter from South Sudan to the Council in which it affirmed “its willingness to work closely with the leadership of UNMISS, as they provide critical support to the people and Government of South Sudan during this time”.|
|8 November 2013 S/2013/651||This was the Secretary-General’s report on UNMISS.|
Additional Useful Resources
Interim Report on Human Rights: Crisis in South Sudan, Human Rights Division, UNMISS, 21 February 2014.
PSC/AHG/COMM/1.(CDXVI), Communiqué, AU Peace and Security Council, 29 January 2014.