Expected Council Action
The new Special Representative and head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), Ellen Margrethe Løj, is expected to brief the Council, followed by consultations. She will report on the situation in South Sudan and present the UNMISS report. At press time, no outcome was anticipated.
The mandate of UNMISS expires on 30 November.
Key Recent Developments
South Sudan continues to be mired in a severe humanitarian, political and security crisis. Approximately 1.4 million people remain internally displaced, more than 458,000 have gone to neighbouring countries and thousands have died since the civil war erupted in December 2013. The peace talks in Ethiopia, mediated by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), are at an impasse, with several analysts arguing that the government and the opposition still believe that the conflict can be resolved militarily. Sporadic clashes have continued in Upper Nile and Unity states in violation of the 10 July ceasefire agreement.
The Council was heavily focused on South Sudan in August. On 6 August, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet briefed the Council, reporting that the country was on the verge of a “humanitarian catastrophe” with nearly four million people “facing alarming levels of food insecurity”. Mulet outlined the sporadic clashes that had been occurring between government and opposition forces, and in the consultations after the briefing, he gave a pessimistic assessment of the status of the peace talks.
The Council issued two statements on South Sudan in early August. On 6 August, a press statement expressed outrage at attacks by a local militia targeting members of the Nuer ethnic group that led to the deaths of at least six South Sudanese humanitarian aid workers in Maban County, Upper Nile state (SC/11512). On 8 August, the Council adopted a presidential statement in which it expressed its readiness to consider—in consultation with relevant partners, including IGAD and the AU—“all appropriate measures, including targeted sanctions, against those who take action that undermines the peace, stability, and security of South Sudan” (S/PRST/2014/16).
On 12 August, the Council went to South Sudan as part of its visiting mission to Europe and Africa (8-14 August). In a meeting with the South Sudan cabinet in Juba, Ambassador Samantha Power of the US, which is the penholder on South Sudan and co-led the South Sudan leg of the trip with Rwanda, spoke on behalf of the Council. She urged the government to develop in earnest plans for a transitional government of national unity, underscored that there was no military solution to the conflict and warned that the Council was prepared to impose “consequences” on spoilers to the peace process.
Following their discussion with the cabinet, the Council met with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir. Kiir reportedly said that he remained committed to the peace talks in Addis Ababa but that opposition leader Riek Machar had failed to demonstrate the same level of commitment. When pressed on the limitations being imposed by the government on humanitarian access, he said that “nature” had made it difficult for aid to be delivered, an apparent reference to the rainy season in South Sudan. Kiir also said that the people who had sought protection in UNMISS bases across the country should return home, implying that the security conditions permitted them to do so.
Council members spoke with Machar via videoconference. Machar told them that IGAD is not an impartial mediator, as it consists of two of his adversaries, South Sudan and Uganda, and that Uganda’s military presence in South Sudan was hindering the peace process.
In Malakal, Council members visited an UNMISS facility housing approximately 17,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs). The Malakal camp is one of nine UNMISS “protection of civilians” sites across the country, harbouring more than 96,000 people too fearful to return home because of the inter-communal violence that has been plaguing the country. After witnessing the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions in this camp, Council members held a meeting with the IDPs, who expressed their anger at Kiir and Machar for their plight. Their consistent plea was for peace so they could return to their homes.
The security situation has remained volatile since the Council departed the country on 13 August. Skirmishes between government forces—the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA)—and SPLA in Opposition forces took place in Panianj and near Bentiu in Unity state on 13-14 August. On 23 August, clashes between the SPLA and the SPLA in Opposition were reported in Nassir, Upper Nile, where the SPLA also fired on SPLA in Opposition positions on 27, 29 and 30 August. Fighting erupted between the parties in oil-rich Renk County, Upper Nile, on 19-20 September, which both sides accuse the other of initiating.
On 26 August, an UNMISS cargo helicopter crashed near Bentiu, with three of the four crew members losing their lives. Media reports indicated that the chopper was shot down by forces loyal to SPLA in Opposition General Peter Gadet. The Council condemned the incident in a press statement on 27 August (SC/11538).
The IGAD-mediated peace talks have continued to falter. On 25 August, IGAD held a summit in Addis Ababa with the warring parties and other stakeholders. While media reports initially indicated that the SPLM and the SPLM in Opposition had agreed to a matrix on modalities for implementing their cessation-of-hostilities agreement, it later became apparent that the SPLM in Opposition had only signed and initialled the preamble to the matrix, which recommitted it to stop fighting. However, it had neither signed nor initialled the annex, which delineated the steps needed to implement the agreement, a point made by the SPLM in Opposition when it disavowed its adherence to the matrix.
A second document, entitled “Protocol on Agreed Principles on Transitional Arrangements towards Resolution of the Crisis in South Sudan”, suffered an equally troubling fate. While the government of South Sudan and all other IGAD member states signed this document on 25 August, the SPLM in Opposition refused to do so, as its content is highly unfavourable to its interests. The protocol says that the head of state and government of South Sudan (i.e. Kiir) will remain in power during an envisaged 30-month transition period, culminating in elections 60 days before the period’s completion. The protocol indicates that the position of prime minister will be established, based on a nomination by the SPLM in Opposition, but it states that whoever fills this position “shall be acceptable to the President” and “will not be eligible to stand for any public office in the national elections at the end of the Transitional Period”. On 18 September, James Gatdet Dak, a spokesman for Machar, complained that the protocol was a “bias[ed] and unjust document…already rejected by all the stakeholders except the government”. Curiously, there were also no signature lines on the protocol document for other stakeholders in the peace process—civil society, political parties, the former high-level political detainees and religious leaders—even though they were mentioned in the protocol’s preamble.
The peace talks reconvened on 15 September in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, a new site nearly 360 miles northwest of Addis Ababa. At press time, one of the key issues being discussed was how power would be distributed in a government of transitional unity, including what the prospective role and responsibilities of a prime-minister might be.
On 25 September, a high-level ministerial event on South Sudan was held on the margins of the General Assembly. The Secretary-General conveyed the following message to South Sudan’s leaders: “You opened the wounds that caused so much suffering. Now heal them.” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos moderated a panel on humanitarian and protection issues in South Sudan that included the participation of Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous, Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Leila Zerrougui, the head of the ICRC Peter Maurer, the head of Médecins Sans Frontières Jerome Oberreit and Special Representative to the AU Haile Menkerios. Kiir did not attend the meeting, although his presence had been expected. South Sudan was instead represented by its foreign minister.
On 26 September, the Secretary-General met with Kiir in New York and reiterated his concern with the humanitarian and security situation in South Sudan. He urged Kiir to stop the fighting and come to an inclusive agreement on a transitional government.
Human Rights-Related Developments
The Human Rights Council held a panel discussion on 24 September focused on identifying effective measures to improve the human rights situation and strengthen UN support for the work of the AU Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan and the IGAD-led peace process. Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Flavia Pansieri gave the opening remarks and presented the High Commissioner’s interim report on the human rights situation in South Sudan (A/HRC/27/74).
The fundamental issue remains how to compel the parties to stop fighting and negotiate a transitional government of national unity in good faith.
A related issue is whether there needs to be a rethinking of the mediation process, as key stakeholders have voiced repeated criticism of IGAD’s mediation and a political solution to the crisis still appears elusive.
Another related issue is how effectively Kiir and Machar control the forces under their command, as some have argued that command and control is a challenge in the current conflict.
Also a key issue is what role the Council, in conjunction with the broader UN system and other humanitarian and human rights actors, can play in alleviating the humanitarian crisis and protecting civilians in South Sudan.
While political divisions in the region and on the Council appear to be an impediment, targeted sanctions (i.e. an asset freeze and travel ban) and an arms embargo remain potential options.
The Council could also call for the establishment of a South Sudan contact group to facilitate effective diplomatic engagement on South Sudan. This group would consist of countries in the region and elsewhere that have a significant stake in South Sudan’s political and economic recovery.
Another option would be to call on the UN, the AU, IGAD, international financial institutions and other relevant stakeholders to develop and oversee an accountability mechanism for expenditures by the government of South Sudan. This would help to address concerns about the rampant corruption and unequal distribution of wealth that have plagued the country.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Council members have expressed anger and disappointment at the callousness of Kiir and Machar in the face of enormous suffering in South Sudan. While Council members remain unified in their concern about the situation on the ground, this has yet to result in an effective strategy to exert leverage on the key decision-makers.
Targeted UN sanctions have been discussed for several months now, but action has not been taken. This is likely because Council members have been waiting for IGAD to initiate these measures first and then follow suit. Such sequencing is preferable: it would give the Council the political backing of the sub-region and, consequently, heighten the chances that China and Russia, which have both been uneasy about using sanctions in South Sudan, would support a resolution imposing these measures. It should also be noted that targeted measures—or alternatively, an arms embargo—are not likely to be effective without buy-in from IGAD, given the strong financial and political ties that South Sudan’s elites presumably have in neighbouring countries that are part of IGAD.
IGAD appears largely divided regarding how to approach the conflict. To the impatience of some on the Council, IGAD has to date been unwilling to initiate robust measures against the parties (including sanctions) that might provide the US, as penholder on South Sudan, with the political leverage it needs to introduce a resolution that could both be adopted and have an impact on the calculations of the key players.
UN Documents on South Sudan
|Security Council Resolution|
|27 May 2014 S/RES/2155||This resolution revised the mandate of UNMISS to focus on protection of civilians, facilitation of humanitarian access and human rights verification and monitoring.|
|Security Council Presidential Statement|
|8 August 2014 S/PRST/2014/16||This presidential statement expressed concern at the political, security and humanitarian situation in South Sudan and expressed readiness to consider, in consultation with relevant partners, all appropriate measures, including targeted sanctions.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|27 August 2014 SC/11538||This press statement condemned the downing of an UNMISS helicopter.|
|6 August 2014 SC/11512||This press statement condemned attacks that led to the deaths of at least six humanitarian workers in Upper Nile state.|
Useful Additional Resource
PSC to focus on the faltering South Sudan peace process, Institute for Security Studies, 17 September 2014