Expected Council Action
In July, the Council will hold a briefing, followed by consultations, on South Sudan. It is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) prior to the 31 July expiration.
Key Recent Developments
Some steps have been taken to fulfil the transitional government arrangements in South Sudan in accordance with the August 2015 peace agreement. Opposition leader Riek Machar was sworn in as First Vice President on 26 April. The South Sudan Transitional Government of National Unity was constituted on 28 April, when President Salva Kiir appointed 30 ministers and 8 deputy ministers. In keeping with the power-sharing arrangements delineated in the peace agreement, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) was allotted 16 ministerial posts, while the SPLM/A in Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) is represented by ten ministers and the other political parties and former detainees by two each.
However, in spite of these developments, the political, security, humanitarian and economic situation in South Sudan remains extremely fragile. Kiir has continued to implement his 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. In addition, 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. The parties have yet to concur on the terms of reference for a committee—expected to consist of a diverse group of South Sudanese political actors and international representatives—that Kiir agreed to appoint on 1 June to generate recommendations for him about the number of states and their boundaries.
While violence has subsided in the Greater Upper Nile region, fighting has been reported in areas that were not major theatres of conflict during the civil war, including in the Greater Bahr el-Ghazal and Equatoria regions. In April, fighting was reported between SPLA and SPLA-IO forces in Wau county, Western Bahr el-Ghazal, with both sides reportedly sustaining significant losses. There were also reports in mid-May of fighting near Diem Zubeir, Western Bahr el-Ghazal, between SPLA-IO affiliated forces and the Darfur-based Justice and Equality Movement, a rebel group that crossed the border from Sudan into South Sudan and supported South Sudanese government forces during the recent civil war. In Western Equatoria state, the South Sudan People’s Patriotic Front, a rebel group that expressed its support for the opposition in late 2015, has reportedly engaged in skirmishes with the SPLM/A in recent months.
On 15 June, unidentified armed men attacked and temporarily occupied the town of Raja, the administrative capital of the newly established Lol state, targeting government employees. An unspecified number of soldiers were killed in the attack, and the state governor, Rizik Zechariah Hassan, and several other officials were forced to evacuate.
The monitoring and verification teams of the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangement Monitoring Mechanism (CTSAMM) have faced access restrictions at the hands of the government. The restrictions on the CTSAMM, which UNMISS is mandated to participate in and support, were noted both in the 23 June statement of Festus Mogae, the chair of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission entrusted with overseeing implementation of the peace agreement, and in the Secretary-General’s 20 June UNMISS report.
At press time, Council members expected to receive a briefing on 30 June under “another other business” from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations focusing on the situation in the newly formed Wau state. Thousands of people were displaced as a result of clashes in Wau on 24-25 June, apparently between Dinka and Fertit ethnic groups. Men in SPLA uniforms reportedly supported the Dinka fighters.
The humanitarian situation in South Sudan remains dire. As noted in the recent Secretary-General’s report, “A combination of fighting in previously stable areas of the country, mounting food insecurity, economic decline, and humanitarian funding gaps continue to make life unbearable for many civilians”. There are currently 1.61 million internally displaced persons in South Sudan, and more than 721,000 South Sudanese have sought refuge in neighbouring countries since the civil war started in December 2013, including more than 115,000 from January to mid-May of this year. Some 170,000 civilians remain sheltered in six UNMISS “protection of civilians” (POC) sites across the country. The OCHA humanitarian appeal for 2016 is currently only 30 percent funded.
Meanwhile, UNMISS and its partners continue to face operational restrictions and harassment. Between 1 April and 3 June, the period covered in the Secretary-General’s UNMISS report, the mission recorded 33 violations of the status-of-forces agreement.
The August 2015 peace agreement called for the creation of a Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing, as well as a Hybrid Court for South Sudan, which is to be established by the AU Commission. On 7 June, The New York Times published an opinion piece, supposedly by President Salva Kiir and First Vice President Riek Machar, which called for the international community to reconsider its backing for a hybrid court for South Sudan. The article argued that “disciplinary justice…would destabilize efforts to unite our nation by keeping alive anger and hatred among the people of South Sudan”. Instead, it emphasised the importance of truth and reconciliation.
Shortly after the publication of the article, representatives of Machar said that he had not co-written the piece and that he did not concur with its substance. On 11 June, The Times said in an editor’s note that “the president’s spokesman maintains that Mr. Machar had been consulted before the essay was written.” Media reports have further indicated that the article was written in consultation with a US-based public relations firm.
On 22 June, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for Field Support Atul Khare, and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien briefed Council members in consultations on the POC sites in South Sudan. Special Representative of the Secretary-General and UNMISS head Ellen Margrethe Løj was available via video-teleconference to answer questions. The discussion focused on three confidential documents that were submitted to Council members in June: a lessons-learned report on the POC sites, the initial findings of the special investigation ordered by the Secretary-General to ascertain responsibilities for the violence at the Malakal POC site on 17-18 February, and a document summarising the main recommendations of the Board of Inquiry report on the same incident.
At the stakeout following the meeting, Ladsous said that “a unit and…individual officers” who had not performed adequately during the Malakal incident would be repatriated, although he did not specify the nationality of the peacekeepers.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 14 June, the President of the Human Rights Council (HRC), Ambassador Choi Kyonglim, announced the appointment of Yasmin Sooka, Kenneth Scott and Godfrey Musila to serve as the three members of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, established in a 23 March HRC resolution (A/HRC/RES/31/20) for a period of one year, to monitor and report on the situation of human rights in South Sudan and make recommendations for its improvement. The Commission is scheduled to present a report to the HRC in March 2017.
The key issue for the Council continues to be how to ensure that the parties 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.
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 recent investigations of the POC sites underscore the difficulties of providing security and keeping thousands of people safe at sites never intended, and therefore poorly equipped, for that purpose. The initial findings of the Board of Inquiry into the Malakal incident further emphasise lapses in the chain of command and lack of understanding of the rules of engagement, which are a problem for peacekeeping in South Sudan, as in other contexts.
Also an important issue is the need for improved relations between the mission and the government. Violations of the status-of-forces agreement are an ongoing problem, inhibiting the ability of the mission and its partners to fulfil their responsibilities.
The most likely option is for the Council to renew UNMISS for an additional six months, maintaining the core elements of the mandate: the protection of civilians; monitoring and verification of human rights violations; facilitation of humanitarian access; and support for implementation of the peace agreement. In doing so, the Council might consider:
- condemning ceasefire violations and restrictions on the freedom of movement of the CTSAMM monitoring and verification teams;
- emphasising the urgent need for the establishment of the cantonment sites envisioned in the peace agreement; and
- urging donors to provide financial support to transitional security, justice and governance processes and to the humanitarian appeal for South Sudan.
The Council could also consider dispatching a visiting mission to South Sudan to meet with the leaders of the newly formed Transitional Government of National Unity, including Kiir and Machar, and to encourage them to work together to continue to implement the peace agreement.
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 Council members are generally encouraged by the steps that have been taken by the parties to implement the peace agreement, there are concerns among several members that the peace process could unravel without the strong commitment of the parties to the agreement. How to calibrate the language on accountability could be a source of tension during the upcoming negotiations. The US and others have tended to emphasise the importance of accountability in South Sudan, including as represented by the hybrid court envisioned in the August 2015 peace agreement. Others—including Angola, Russia and Venezuela—have argued that under the peace agreement, issues pertaining to the court are the responsibility of the AU and not the UN. They were therefore uncomfortable with language in resolution 2252 indicating that the Council would assess efforts to establish the court.
The US is the penholder on South Sudan.
UN Documents on South Sudan
|Security Council Resolution|
|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.|
|20 June 2016 S/2016/552||This was an UNMISS report.|
|Human Rights Council Document|
|23 March 2016 A/HRC/RES/31/20||This resolution established the Commission of Human Rights in South Sudan.|