Expected Council Action
The Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) prior to its 30 November expiration. Given the fluid situation on the ground, it is possible that the Council may hold one or more additional meetings to discuss South Sudan during the month.
Key Recent Developments
The political, security and humanitarian situations in South Sudan remain dire. The peace talks between the government—the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM)—and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM in Opposition) have continued to falter, and sporadic fighting between the sides has been reported in recent weeks in Upper Nile state. Absent a political solution to the conflict, analysts fear that fighting will increase in the coming months with the enhanced mobility that accompanies the dry season which begins in November. As of 16 October, there were 1.4 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in South Sudan, while approximately 467,000 people had left for surrounding countries. Additionally, roughly four million people in the country face serious food insecurity. Since the conflict began in December 2013, thousands have died, and both the SPLM and the SPLM in Opposition have been accused of significant violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.
In recent months, there have been reports of intermittent fighting between the SPLM and the SPLM in Opposition. Recurring SPLM in Opposition attacks on government forces occurred in September in Renk county, Upper Nile state, near the Paloich oil field, which remains under the control of government forces. On 10 October, government and opposition forces clashed at Doleib Hill and Obel, areas just south of Malakal, the capital of Upper Nile state. After the opposition seized Doleib Hill, government forces reclaimed the area, pushing the rebels back to northern Jonglei state.
More than 100,000 civilians are housed in UNMISS “protection of civilians sites” because they are too afraid to return home and possibly face violence. The bulk of these IDPs are in Bentiu (49,000 people), Juba (20,000) and Malakal (18,000). UNMISS has made an effort to expand the camps to accommodate the influx of civilians and to enhance security in and around these sites. On 21 October, Derk Segaar, head of relief, reintegration and protection in the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office in South Sudan, announced that new facilities had been built in Juba, Malakal and Bor to accommodate approximately 28,000 of the displaced and to address the overcrowding and unsanitary conditions in the camps. (It should be noted that the civilians in these sites represent a small fraction of those displaced throughout South Sudan).
The sixth round of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)-mediated negotiations in Ethiopia concluded on 5 October. The form of the proposed transitional government of national unity and the roles and responsibilities of participants in such a government were among the key issues discussed. While President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar agreed to form a transitional government of national unity in their 9 May cessation of hostilities agreement, both leaders have yet to make the compromises necessary for this to happen.
A parallel negotiating track has opened up in Arusha, Tanzania, where an intra-SPLM dialogue was held from 12 to 18 October. Facilitated by Tanzania’s ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party, the negotiations included representatives of the SPLM, SPLM in Opposition and SPLM former detainees (high-level SPLM officials who were detained by the government but subsequently released). Kiir met with Machar during the Arusha talks, although details on the substance of their meeting are scant. On 20 October, the various SPLM factions signed a framework agreement committing to intra-party democracy, reconciliation and healing. In an accompanying communiqué, the parties acknowledged “a collective responsibility for the crisis in South Sudan” and said the crisis “must be urgently brought to an end by the SPLM leadership through genuine and honest dialogue”. The communiqué went on to say that while the Arusha process is intended to reinforce the IGAD-facilitated process in Ethiopia, it is distinct from it. It further noted the parties’ commitment to meet again within two weeks for further talks.
On 23 October, Kiir, President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia and Prime Minister Ruhankana Rugunda of Uganda met in Juba for a one-day IGAD summit. During the summit, Kiir reiterated his claim that he is committed to the peace process. In remarks to the press after the summit, IGAD’s chief mediator, Seyoum Mesfin, expressed optimism that the SPLM and the SPLM in Opposition had achieved “a breakthrough” in their negotiations, but he did not elaborate. At press time, it seemed that power-sharing in the proposed transitional government of national unity remained a key sticking point between the parties.
The South Sudan parliament on 8 October approved the National Security Bill that, if enacted into law, would give security forces wide-ranging authority to detain and arrest people without safeguards of due process. Legislators from the SPLM-Democratic Change (SPLM-DC) vacated the parliament in protest during the vote. (The SPLM-DC is a political party that disagrees with Kiir’s policies but has remained engaged in the political process.) At press time, Kiir had yet to sign the bill into law.
Zainab Hawa Bangura, the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, visited South Sudan from 5 to 11 October. She met with Kiir and several other high-level government officials, civil society representatives (including women’s groups), UN staff and survivors of sexual violence. Bangura also stopped in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where she met with SPLM in Opposition leader Riek Machar. During the trip, Bangura signed a joint communiqué with the government outlining steps it can take to prevent and address sexual violence—including the “issuance and enforcement of clear orders through the army chain of command prohibiting sexual violence [and] assistance for survivors” and the development of action plans by the army and police against sexual violence.
At a press briefing at UN headquarters in New York on 20 October, Bangura said that in her 30 years of experience she had never witnessed anything like what she had seen at the UN camp in Bentiu, where, in her words, “the IDPs seeking refuge there face a combination of chronic insecurity, unimaginable living conditions, acute day-to-day protection concerns and rampant sexual violence”. She added that both sides in the conflict have committed sexual violence, with interlocutors on her trip describing rape, gang rape, forced marriage, sexual slavery and abduction as among the crimes committed.
On 22 October, Ellen Margrethe Løj, the Special Representative and head of UNMISS, briefed the Council on the situation in South Sudan and the current UNMISS report. Bangura briefed as well, participating via video-teleconference from Geneva. Løj said that since she had assumed her post, she had been “shocked by the complete disregard for human life” in the conflict, emphasising that the perpetrators of human rights violations must be held accountable. Bangura reiterated many of the points from her 20 October press briefing, arguing that sexual violence in South Sudan is widespread and that the government lacks the capacity to address the challenge. Francis Deng, South Sudan’s ambassador to the UN, addressed the Council as well, urging the Council to support capacity-building with regard to South Sudan’s institutions, notably the police and other related security elements. In consultations following the briefing, Løj emphasised her concern at the lack of progress on the political track, while Bangura similarly said that the best way to curtail the sexual violence in South Sudan is to bring an end to the fighting.
The underlying key issue continues to be the need to find a political solution to the crisis. Without a durable settlement, the fighting will likely get worse—and the suffering of civilians will increase—when the dry season begins creating conditions that facilitate enhanced movement.
Another key issue is what role the Council, in conjunction with the broader UN system and other actors, can play in strengthening the ability of UNMISS to protect civilians, facilitate humanitarian access and uphold human rights.
Also an important issue is how to approach the issue of accountability for the perpetrators of serious human rights violations. In this regard, the AU Commission of Inquiry is expected to release a report in November with recommendations for healing, reconciliation and accountability for human rights violations in South Sudan.
The most likely option is for the Council to renew UNMISS, maintaining a streamlined mandate focusing on protection of civilians, facilitation of humanitarian access and human rights monitoring.
In renewing the mandate, the Council may decide to:
- implement targeted sanctions (i.e. an assets freeze and travel ban) on spoilers to the peace process who have committed gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian law;
- impose an arms embargo on the country;
- refer the situation in South Sudan to the ICC;
- urge troop- and police-contributing countries to expedite the deployment of remaining authorised personnel, with supporting equipment, to help the mission operate at full capacity;
- call for the use of community liaison assistants to help UNMISS peacekeepers enhance dialogue with local communities and get timely information about potential threats, as has been done constructively in the UN Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; and
- make a special request for donors to fulfil the 2014 Crisis Response Plan for South Sudan, which was funded at only 61.3 percent at press time ($1.1 billion of $1.8 billion requested).
The Council could also decide to invite Olusegun Obasanjo, the chair of the AU Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan, to brief on the Commission’s report.
There is frustration among Council members about the continuing inability of the parties to forge a political solution to the conflict. Likewise, there are concerns that the fighting may escalate, with even more devastating attendant consequences for civilians, given the onset of the dry season. Several Council members have emphasised that there needs to be accountability for the serious human rights violations committed in South Sudan, but it is unclear what options the Council might pursue at this point. Targeted sanctions against spoilers have been discussed for several months as a possible option supported by several Council members. A potential arms embargo on South Sudan also appears to be under discussion. However, some Council members remain wary of either approach. China and Russia, in particular, have had reservations about targeted sanctions, especially without the support of IGAD, which is divided on such an approach. Given these challenging political dynamics, it is unclear, and perhaps unlikely, whether a resolution on targeted sanctions or an arms embargo could be adopted at this time.
The US is the penholder on South Sudan.
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 Meeting Record|
|22 October 2014 S/PV.7282||This was a briefing by Ellen Margrethe Loj on UNMISS.|
|30 September 2014 S/2014/708||This was the UNMISS report.|