Expected Council Action
In April, the Council is expected to adopt a resolution renewing the South Sudan sanctions regime and the mandate of the related Panel of Experts. The Council will consider the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of the mandate of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), which expires on 31 July 2016, and a report on the technical assistance provided by the Secretary-General to the AU for the implementation of Chapter V (i.e. justice and reconciliation) of the August 2015 peace agreement to end the civil war, including the establishment of a hybrid court for South Sudan.
Key Recent Developments
A security, humanitarian and human rights catastrophe continues to unfold in South Sudan, while implementation of the August 2015 peace agreement continues to falter. According to OCHA, there are now 1.69 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in South Sudan, and more than 640,000 have fled to neighbouring countries as a result of the conflict that started in December 2013. Meanwhile, approximately 2.8 million people confront severe food insecurity in the country. In recent months, violence with both political and inter-communal overtones has continued to be reported in various parts of South Sudan.
On 17-18 February, fighting in the UNMISS protection of civilians site in Malakal led to the deaths of 25 people and injuries to more than 50. The incident was marked by clashes between the Dinka and Shilluk communities, with reports that armed individuals wearing the uniform of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA)—the army of the South Sudan government—entered the camp, fired on civilians and burned IDP shelters. Several thousand members of the Dinka, Nuer and Shilluk communities fled the camp as a result of the violence. Council members issued a press statement on 19 February, in which they condemned the violence and emphasised that “attacks against civilians and United Nations premises may constitute war crimes”. On 11 March, DPKO forwarded to the Council a confidential note with the findings of a preliminary investigation on the incident. Also on 11 March, Stéphane Dujarric, the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, announced that DPKO and the DFS would convene an independent high-level board of inquiry to carry out “an in-depth investigation” of UNMISS’s response to the violence.
On 19 March, fighting broke out among Nuer inhabitants at a protection of civilians site in Juba. One person was killed and scores injured. UNMISS issued a press release on 20 March stating that the mission was “working with Community Watch Group leaders to ascertain the reasons for the altercation and mediate between the parties”.
On 21 January, the SPLA clashed with the South Sudan National Liberation Movement, an armed opposition group, in Western Equatoria state, south of the town of Yambio. The hostilities soon extended to Yambio itself, where according to Human Rights Watch, there is “evidence that government soldiers burned and looted civilians’ homes during and after the fighting in Yambio, driving thousands of people to flee”. Fighting in Western Equatoria began in May 2015 after SPLA soldiers were accused of supporting Dinka pastoralists moving into the area against the interests of local Equatorian farmers.
In recent months, violence has been reported in Western Bahr el-Ghazal state. In mid-December 2015, UNMISS received reports that government troops had burned and looted homes in an area 13 kilometres south of Wau town. UNMISS received reports of violence against the Fertit community in Wau county in January, while OCHA reported increased fighting in Wau town in February. Thousands have been displaced by the recent violence in Western Bahr el-Ghazal.
Clashes were reported on 7-8 March in Unity state’s Koch county between the SPLA and the SPLA in Opposition forces. Both sides accused the other of initiating the fighting.
Some steps have been taken towards implementation of the August 2015 peace agreement. On 7 January, the parties agreed on ministerial positions for the envisioned transitional government of national unity, based on ratios established in the agreement: Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), 16 positions; SPLM/A in Opposition, ten positions; the former detainees, two positions; and other political parties, two positions. On 11 February, President Salva Kiir reappointed SPLA in Opposition leader Riek Machar as first vice president, in keeping with the August agreement.
However, the formation of the transitional government of national unity continues to be delayed amidst ongoing violations of the ceasefire agreement. In early March, a security detail of 1,370 was supposed to arrive in Juba in preparation for Machar’s return. At press time, this had yet to happen, though in late March, 25 South Sudanese rebel generals had arrived in Juba. The government has also been unwilling to reconsider Kiir’s October 2015 decree increasing the number of states in the country from ten to 28. This decision violates the August 2015 agreement, which is based on power-sharing ratios in ten states. Furthermore, it has aroused the ire of minority ethnic communities, who view the decision as an effort to confiscate some of their land and power for the benefit of the Dinka, Kiir’s ethnic group.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with President Kiir in Juba on 25 February. During the meeting, he underscored the importance of implementing the August 2015 peace agreement, including the establishment of the transitional government of national unity with Machar.
Kiir issued a decree on 23 March dismissing Foreign Minister Barnaba Benjamin. While no reason for the dismissal was cited, Benjamin had recently been criticised for stating that Luka Biong Deng, a well-known academic and Abyei native, is a Sudanese national. This was controversial because Abyei is a territory disputed by Sudan and South Sudan.
On 19 February, the Council held a briefing, followed by consultations, on the situation in South Sudan and UNMISS. Briefers included Ambassador Fodé Seck of Senegal, the Chair of the South Sudan Sanctions Committee, and three officials who appeared via video teleconference: Chairman of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (JMEC) Festus Mogae, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for South Sudan Moustapha Soumaré and Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonovic. Mogae emphasised that implementation of the agreement continued to lag behind schedule, while expressing concern about rising violence in Western Equatoria and Western Bahr el Ghazal states. Soumaré expressed concern about the violence in the Malakal protection of civilians site, fighting between government and anti-government forces in Western Bahr el Ghazal and intercommunal conflict in Jonglei, Lakes and Warrap states. He said that the mission was responding to the insecurity through long-duration patrols and temporary operating bases. Šimonovic said that the parties to the conflict continued to “attack, kill, abduct, rape, arbitrarily detain and forcefully displace civilians and pillage and destroy their property”. He emphasised the importance of establishing the mechanisms outlined in Chapter V of the peace agreement—the Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing, the Hybrid Court for South Sudan and a compensation and reparation authority—in a way that is consistent with international norms and standards to combat impunity in South Sudan.
On 2 March, the Council adopted a technical rollover resolution renewing the South Sudan sanctions regime for an additional six weeks until 15 April and the mandate of the Panel of Experts for 10 weeks until 15 May.
The Council adopted a presidential statement on South Sudan on 17 March. The statement expressed deep concern that the parties have not fully adhered to their commitments to implement the August peace agreement. It stated that the Council will review progress by 31 March on five steps: adhering to the permanent ceasefire; completing the implementation of security arrangements for Juba; filling the positions of president, first vice president and vice president in the transitional government of national unity; abiding by and taking no action inconsistent with the January 2016 communiqué of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, which urged an inclusive national boundary commission to review the proposal to increase the number of states and their boundaries; and protecting civilians and civilian facilities, while allowing for full, safe and unhindered humanitarian access.
On 31 March, the Council met to follow-up progress made by the parties since its 17 March presidential statement. The briefing took place in the context of Council members’ consideration of expanding sanctions measures against South Sudan, particularly the discussions relating to whether to impose an arms embargo.
Ambassador Seck, the Chair of the South Sudan Sanctions Committee, provided the Council with an overview of the Panel of Experts’ final report on 19 February. In particular, he highlighted the Panel’s conclusion that, given the weight of the evidence, senior government and opposition officials maintained command-and-control responsibility “for actions and policies…that are grounds for designation” for sanctions.
In mid-March, Angola, China and Russia objected to a US proposal to impose targeted sanctions on Paul Malong Awan, chief of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), and Johnson Olonyi, an SPLA in Opposition general who had previously fought on the government side. This means that the proposal was rejected, given that the committee operates by consensus. The proposal to sanction Malong Awan and Olonyi was initiated in September 2015 but was put on hold at the request of Angola, China, Russia and Venezuela.
On 14 March, Leila Zerrougui, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, briefed during joint informal consultations of the South Sudan Sanctions Committee and the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict. She confirmed that the SPLA, the SPLA in Opposition and other armed groups have been recruiting child soldiers in South Sudan (SC/12298).
Human Rights-Related Developments
The Human Rights Council (HRC) considered during its 31st session in March, the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights containing the principal findings of the comprehensive assessment conducted by the Office of the High Commissioner into allegations of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law in South Sudan since the outbreak of violence in December 2013, as requested in HRC resolution 29/13 (A/HRC/31/49). The report, compiled by an assessment team deployed by the High Commissioner to South Sudan from October 2015 to January, focuses primarily on violations and abuses committed by state actors and non-state armed groups in 2015 in the worst affected states of Unity and Upper Nile States, as well as Western and Central Equatoria, where the conflict has spread.
The report finds that killings, sexual violence, displacement, destruction and looting continued unabated through 2015, with state actors bearing the greatest responsibility for violations during 2015, some of which may constitute war crimes and/or crimes against humanity. The report contains harrowing accounts of civilians suspected of supporting the opposition, including children and the disabled, killed by being burned alive, suffocated in containers, shot, hanged from trees or cut to pieces.
Recommendations made to the HRC include that it consider the establishment of a dedicated mechanism on South Sudan and that it share the report with the Security Council. Recommendations made to the Security Council include that it consider expanding the sanctions regime by imposing a comprehensive arms embargo and consider referring the matter to the ICC, failing the expeditious establishment of the Hybrid Court. The government of South Sudan responded to the report in a letter to the Office of the High Commissioner calling it inaccurate and denying its findings of government responsibility for violations, as well as opposing the appointment of a special rapporteur.
On 23 March, the HRC adopted a resolution, without a vote, that established a three- member Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, for a renewable period of one year, to monitor and report on the situation of human rights; make recommendations for its improvement; and present a written report at the HRC’s 34th session (A/HRC/31/L.33). The draft resolution introduced by the US, UK, Paraguay and Albania initially referred to the establishment of a special rapporteur for a period of 30 months, but after last minute oral amendments, the text adopted established the Commission instead of a special rapporteur. South Sudan welcomed the resolution adopted and pledged it would cooperate with the Commission. China and Venezuela dissociated themselves from the consensus.
The key issue for the Council is how to exert leverage on the parties to ensure that they fulfil their obligations under the August 2015 peace deal. Since the signing of the agreement, its implementation has been slow, and questions remain regarding the parties’ commitment to peace.
A related key issue for the Council is whether to make adjustments to the sanctions regime. In large part, the technical rollover resolution adopted in February was intended to give the Council more time to consider its options and present a more unified position at a critical moment in the peace process. However, divisions remain regarding the appropriate approach to sanctions.
Another significant issue is how to ensure that UNMISS is better able to protect civilians. This has been a long-standing challenge for the mission, given the high rates of displacement and the massive human rights violations since the start of the civil war in December 2013. Furthermore, the deadly 17-18 February incident at the Malakal protection of civilians site underscores the difficulties of providing security and keeping thousands of people safe at sites never intended, and therefore poorly equipped, for that purpose.
The question of justice and accountability is another important issue for the Council. Some, including Šimonovic in his 19 February briefing to the Council, have argued that a lack of accountability in South Sudan has contributed to ongoing violence, with perpetrators permitted to act with impunity.
One option for the Council is to dispatch a small emergency mission to South Sudan to discuss implementation of the peace agreement with UNMISS Special Representative Ellen Margrethe Løj, Intergovernmental Authority on Development-plus representatives and Mogae. This visiting mission could include meetings with Kiir and Machar to push for the agreement’s implementation.
With regard to the 2206 sanctions regime, the most likely option is for the Council to renew the regime and the mandate of its Panel of Experts. In doing so, the Council could impose an arms embargo on South Sudan and consider giving the Panel a specific directive to investigate the sources of corruption in South Sudan and corruption’s impact on the stability of the country.
The Council could consider requesting a briefing from Šimonovic on the Human Rights Council’s recent report.
Another option would be to hold an informal interactive dialogue with the AU to discuss next steps with regard to the establishment of the hybrid court for South Sudan and other options for justice, accountability and reconciliation in the country.
While all members of the Council are concerned about the situation in South Sudan, differences remain regarding the course of action the Council should pursue. Several members emphasise the importance of pressuring the parties to comply with the August 2015 peace agreement through the threat of appropriate measures, such as targeted sanctions. Others believe that threatening measures at this critical juncture, when there has been some, albeit limited, progress in the implementation of the agreement, could be counter-productive. There are also longstanding divisions among members on a possible arms embargo.
There have been different perspectives on how to move forward with accountability issues as well. When the Council negotiated the most recent UNMISS resolution in December 2015, there was considerable disagreement on the language related to the hybrid court for South Sudan called for in the peace agreement. In the initial draft of that resolution, the US added language on accountability in reference to the hybrid court; this was eventually deleted, apparently as a concession to Angola, Russia and Venezuela, which have argued that under the peace agreement issues pertaining to the court are the responsibility of the AU and not the UN.
The US is the penholder on South Sudan.
|Security Council Resolutions|
|2 March 2016 S/RES/2271||This resolution was a technical rollover extending the South Sudan sanctions regime for six weeks.|
|15 December 2015 S/RES/2252||This resolution increased the force structure of UNMISS to a ceiling of 13,000 troops and 2,001 police, while adding additional tasks to the mandate.|
|Security Council Presidential Statement|
|17 March 2016 S/PRST/2016/1||This statement called on the parties to take certain measures and indicated that the Council would review progress by 31 March.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|31 March 2016 S/PV.7663||This was a briefing, followed by consultations, on the situation in South Sudan.|
|19 February 2016 S/PV.7628||This was a briefing, followed by consultations, on the situation in South Sudan and on UNMISS, as well as on the work of the 2206 South Sudan Sanctions Committee.|
|Sanctions Committee Document|
|22 January 2016 S/2016/70||This was the final report of the South Sudan Sanctions Committee Panel of Experts.|