February 2015 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 January 2015
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AFRICA

South Sudan (UNMISS)

Expected Council Action

In February, the Council will be briefed on, and then consider in consultations, the Secretary-General’s report on the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), due by 17 February.

The mandate of UNMISS expires on 30 May.

Key Recent Developments

The security and humanitarian situations in South Sudan remain grave. Skirmishes continue between government and opposition forces, and it is now estimated that nearly 2 million people have been displaced since the civil war erupted in December 2013, including 1.5 million internally displaced persons and more than 494,000 refugees who have fled to Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda. The International Crisis Group estimated more than a year ago that 10,000 people had perished in the initial weeks of the conflict; while reliable figures have yet to be calculated, many experts believe that the death toll at this point is significantly higher. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that approximately 2.5 million people in South Sudan are currently facing food insecurity at emergency levels. 

Sudan’s Humanitarian Aid Commission reported on 5 January that it had extended for an additional six months its June 2014 deal with South Sudan to allow humanitarian aid to be shipped from Sudan to South Sudan in a humanitarian initiative facilitated by the World Food Programme. On 29 December 2014, approximately 450 tonnes of food reached Renk and Wadakona in Upper Nile state, South Sudan, having been transported by barge from Kosti in Sudan’s White Nile State.  

In early January, clashes occurred between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and the SPLA in Opposition in Unity and Upper Nile states. In Unity state, SPLA spokesman Philip Aguer alleged that the opposition was repulsed after bombing SPLA forces at an oil field outside Bentiu; SPLA in Opposition spokesman Lui Ruai Koang claimed that the SPLA had initiated the hostilities near Bentiu to regain opposition-controlled oil fields. In Upper Nile state, Aguer alleged that the opposition initiated hostilities by bombing Nasir town, while Koang said that the opposition had repelled an SPLA assault on three towns under its control. 

On 25 January, unidentified assailants killed 11 people, including five journalists, in an ambush in Raja County, in South Sudan’s Western Bahr al Ghazal state. Aguer accused the Lord’s Resistance Army of the attack, while the governor of Bahr al Ghazal, Rizik Zachariah Hassan, alleged that the SPLA in Opposition was responsible.

China organised a meeting in Khartoum on 12 January with representatives of the government of South Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition. Following the meeting, Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Karti, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Seyoum Mesfin, chief mediator of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), addressed the press. Karti announced that the parties had recommitted to their agreements to cease hostilities and to work toward a transitional government. Wang said that the meeting was an effort to back the IGAD peace process, while Mesfin said that China is a “vital partner to…the Republic of South Sudan”.

On 21 January, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, opposition leader Riek Machar and Deng Alor Kuol, representing the political detainees arrested at the outset of the conflict but subsequently released, signed the “Agreement on the Re-Unification of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM)” in Arusha, Tanzania. According to the agreement, the parties committed to “implement and comply with the…Cessation of Hostilities Agreement…and to expedite the conclusion of the Peace Agreement…to end the war”. They also recognised the “need for the establishment of a transitional government in which the SPLM Groups and other political parties shall participate proportionally in order to end the war and establish sustainable peace”. Previous agreements among key actors in the conflict—including the 23 January 2014 “Cessation of Hostilities and Status of Detainees” agreements, the 9 May 2014 “Agreement to Resolve the Crisis in South Sudan” and the 9 November 2014 “Rededication and Implementation Modalities for the Cessation of Hostilities”—have all been violated.  

An advance team of 18 Chinese peacekeepers arrived in South Sudan on 9 January. They will form part of a Chinese battalion of 700 peacekeepers, whose deployment as a part of UNMISS is expected to be completed by April. 

South Sudanese Foreign Minister Barnaba Benjamin announced that his government would move forward with the 2015 presidential elections, planned for May or June. This position marks a departure from Kiir’s 11 May 2014 announcement that the 2015 presidential elections would be postponed until 2017 or 2018, arguing that extra time was needed to conduct a national census and ensure that political stability had been achieved. The SPLM in Opposition has criticised the government’s decision to proceed with the poll, with its spokesman James Gatdet Dak arguing that efforts to achieve peace should take precedence and that the election would be designed to “further entrench dictatorship”.  

At press time, IGAD was scheduled to hold a summit on 30-31 January in Addis Ababa.  The situation in South Sudan is expected to be a key focus of the summit. 

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 9 January, UNMISS issued a detailed report compiled by its Human Rights Division on the mass killings in April 2014, in the towns of Bentiu and Bor. According to the report, at least 353 civilians were killed and another 250 wounded in the attacks. The report concludes that the victims in Bentiu and Bor were deliberately targeted on the basis of their ethnicity, nationality or perceived support for one or other of the parties to the conflict.     

 The first report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in South Sudan was issued on 11 December 2014, covering the period from 1 March 2011 to 30 September 2014 (S/2014/884). The report concludes that all parties to the conflict in South Sudan were responsible for grave violations against children during the reporting period, including killing, maiming, recruitment and use, abduction, rape and other forms of sexual violence. Military use of schools, attacks against schools and hospitals and denial of humanitarian access were also reported. Although progress was made on ending and preventing the recruitment and use of children by the SPLA between March 2011 and November 2013, much of that progress was reversed after December 2013, according to the report.

Key Issues

The key underlying issue is that the humanitarian and security disasters in South Sudan continue to unfold while the government and the opposition remain unwilling to make the compromises necessary for peace. 

A related issue is how UNMISS can strengthen its ability to protect civilians, the core element of its mandate, especially given the on-going fighting and the fact that approximately 1.5 million people are now internally displaced. 

Another related issue is how to overcome the impasse in the peace talks over power-sharing in the proposed transitional government of national unity. (Kiir insists that he should retain executive powers as president, and while he has proposed a prime minister’s post for the opposition, he is not willing to endow it with executive powers that the opposition believes the position should be accorded.) 

Also a key issue is whether it is feasible for South Sudan to hold presidential elections without a census and given the deplorable humanitarian and security situations facing the country. 

Options

The Council could consider the following:

  • implementing 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;
  • imposing an arms embargo on the country;
  • reiterating its request for UNMISS to actively patrol along “key routes of population movement” as outlined in resolution 2187, in order to facilitate access to markets and secure areas for civilian populations; and
  • calling for the use of community liaison assistants to help UNMISS enhance dialogue with local communities and get timely information about potential threats, as has been done constructively in the UN Stabilisation Mission in the DRC.

The Council may also consider requesting a briefing from Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, following his early February visit to South Sudan, as well as one from OCHA on current humanitarian conditions in the country. 

Inviting Olusegun Obasanjo, the chair of the AU Commission of Inquiry for South Sudan, to brief the Council on the Commission’s final report is another option.

Council Dynamics

The on-going inability of the parties to forge a political solution to the conflict is a source of consternation to Council members. There are also concerns that the fighting may escalate in the coming months, with even more devastating attendant consequences for civilians, given that it is now the dry season in South Sudan. Several Council members have emphasised that there needs to be accountability for the serious human rights violations committed in South Sudan. Targeted sanctions (i.e. an assets freeze and travel ban) have been discussed for several months now, but key members such as China and Russia have expressed reservations, especially since the sanctions do not have the backing of some of South Sudan’s neighbours.  Media reports have indicated that a draft resolution on targeted measures was being discussed among the permanent members in January, but at press time, the status of these discussions was unclear.  It also appears that there are divisions within the US administration about a potential arms embargo against South Sudan, and others on the Council would also likely have concerns about this approach as well. Several members would be keen to receive options for accountability that might be discussed in the AU Commission of Inquiry’s final report and in the Secretary-General’s upcoming UNMISS report.   

The US is the penholder on South Sudan.

UN Documents

Security Council Resolution
25 November 2014 S/RES/2187 This was a resolution renewing the mandate of UNMISS for an additional six months.
Security Council Presidential Statement
15 December 2014 S/PRST/2014/26 This was a presidential statement marking the one year anniversary of the outbreak of hostilities in South Sudan.
Secretary-General’s Report
18 November 2014 S/2014/821 This was the report of the Secretary-General on South Sudan.