Expected Council Action
In August, the Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) modifying it to address the most recent crisis on the ground. At press time, the Council was poised to adopt a resolution that would briefly roll over the mandate of UNMISS before its 31 July expiry.
Key Recent Developments
The South Sudan capital city of Juba was rocked by violence from 7 to 11 July, as forces loyal to President Salva Kiir engaged in heavy fighting with those supporting First Vice President Riek Machar, jeopardising the fragile peace deal signed in August 2015. According to reports, the fighting started when Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) soldiers stopped and attempted to arrest members of Machar’s guard at a checkpoint in the Gudele section of Juba; Machar’s guard members resisted the arrest and a shootout ensued, leading to the deaths of five SPLA soldiers. This was the first of several violent clashes over the next days, which involved the use of artillery, mortars and helicopter gunships. The fighting was only quelled on 11 July when Kiir ordered a cessation of hostilities to take effect at 6 pm that day and Machar reciprocated Kiir’s call in a radio broadcast. By the time the ceasefire was declared, over 36,000 people had been displaced, at least 272 combatants and civilians had lost their lives and two Chinese peacekeepers had died. A local UNMISS staff member was also killed. On 22 July, the UN Refugee Agency said that 26,468 people, more than 90 percent of them women and children, had fled South Sudan and crossed into Uganda since the fighting started on 7 July.
In the first days of violence (which coincided with the fifth anniversary of South Sudan’s independence on 9 July, celebrations for which had been cancelled by the government on 26 June), both the Security Council and the Secretary-General actively engaged with the situation amidst fears that the country could descend into full-scale civil war.
On the evening of 9 July, Council members issued a press statement in which they condemned the fighting in Juba on 7-8 July and urged the transitional government to take steps to end the fighting and reduce tensions. On Sunday, 10 July, members held emergency consultations, called by the US, the penholder on South Sudan, during which they were briefed by Hervé Ladsous, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations. An arms embargo, additional targeted sanctions and the reinforcement of UNMISS were among the potential options discussed by Ladsous and members to respond to the situation. Later that evening, Council members issued another press statement condemning the escalation of fighting in Juba. In the statement, members “expressed their readiness to consider enhancing UNMISS to better ensure that UNMISS and the international community can prevent and respond to violence in South Sudan,” while encouraging “states in the region to prepare to provide additional troops in the event the Council so decides”.
The AU Peace and Security Council condemned the outbreak of violence in an 11 July communiqué and, among other things, welcomed the convening on the same day in Nairobi of a ministerial meeting of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) on the situation in South Sudan.
At a press encounter on 11 July in UN headquarters, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon criticised the “failed leadership” of South Sudan, opining that “rarely has a country squandered so much promise so quickly.” He urged the Security Council to take action on three fronts: impose an immediate embargo on South Sudan; enact additional targeted sanctions on leaders and commanders obstructing the peace agreement; and strengthen UNMISS to enhance its ability to fulfil its mandate to protect civilians. He announced that he would travel to Kigali “to participate in the African Union summit to consult with the Heads of State of IGAD and the region on how to restore and better secure the peace process and report to the Security Council within a week.” He further discussed the situation with Council members on 12 July during the monthly lunch, and on 13 July the Council received another briefing on South Sudan from Ladsous, followed by consultations.
Addressing the AU summit in Kigali on 16 July, Ban told the leaders “there is a crisis and I am here because we need to urgently address it together.” He restated his three recommendations made to the Security Council and asked them for their support. While in Kigali, he conveyed similar messages in bilateral meetings with African leaders.
In a communiqué issued during the Kigali summit, IGAD Plus (the eight members of the organisation and several other regional actors) supported the Secretary-General’s recommendation to reinforce UNMISS and called on the Security Council to revise its mandate to include the deployment of a regional protection force to separate the warring parties. This was subsequently supported by the AU. The two other of the Secretary-General’s recommendations, regarding the arms embargo and expanded targeted sanctions, seemed not to have gained traction in Africa.
The fighting in Juba ceased following the 11 July presidential decree, but an acute conflict between Kiir and Machar became only more evident. In the days following their respective calls for the cessation of hostilities on 11 July, Machar went into hiding, citing fears for his life and announcing that he would return to Juba only after an international security force was deployed. Kiir expressed his opposition to an international force, and on 21 July issued an ultimatum to Machar saying that he would dismiss him from his post if he did not return to Juba within 48 hours. Machar remained in hiding, believed to be in the bush outside Juba. Through a presidential decree announced on 25 July, Kiir appointed Taban Deng Gai, a former chief negotiator for South Sudan’s armed opposition, as First Vice President, replacing Machar.
According to media reports, on 26 July Kiir signalled his willingness to consider the deployment of a regional protection force during a meeting with Festus Mogae, the chairman of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, a body overseeing the implementation of the August 2015 accord.
During the noon media briefing in New York on 27 July, the deputy spokesperson announced that UNMISS continued “to document deeply disturbing reports of sexual violence, including rape and gang rape, by soldiers in uniform and men in plain clothes against civilians, including minors, around UN House and in other areas of Juba. Since the start of the current violence in Juba, the Mission has documented at least cases of sexual violence and rape against civilians.”
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 11 July, the special rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs), Chaloka Beyani, released a statement that condemned attacks on IDPs and civilians in South Sudan after fighting in the capital broke out. According to the statement, humanitarian workers had been stopped and threatened at checkpoints when trying to deliver assistance and were unable to reach the populations most in need while civilians, humanitarians and UNMISS staff alike had come under heavy fire in Juba.
In a 12 July press briefing, a spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern at reports of civilians being prevented from seeking refuge in UNMISS premises and, in some cases, being shot at while trying to do so. The spokesperson also strongly condemned the killing of two UNMISS peacekeepers the previous day and expressed concern that armed clashes had reportedly erupted the previous day in Central Equatoria State and in Eastern Equatoria State.
On 21 July, the special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, released a statement that urged the government of South Sudan to immediately release Alfred Taban, a prominent journalist and chief editor of the Juba Monitor. According to the statement, Taban was arrested on 16 July by National Security Services agents, one day after the publication of an editorial article in which he called for the removal of Kiir and Machar, criticising them for their unsuccessful implementation of the August 2015 peace agreement. According to Amnesty International, Taban “has been charged under articles 75 and 76 of the South Sudan Penal Code with ‘publishing or communicating false statements prejudicial to Southern Sudan’ and ‘undermining the authority of or insulting the president.’” The detention of Taban was followed by the arrest on 23 July of Michael Christopher, the editor-in-chief of the independent Arabic-language daily al-Watan, reportedly for publishing inaccurate information. Attacks against journalists and media have been on the rise since December 2013, with several journalists killed or detained without trial, and a number of newspapers ordered to shut down.
The key and most pressing issue for the Council is the role it can play in preventing the UN’s newest member from descending once again into a full-blown civil war.
A long-standing issue, made more acute by the latest developments, is to ensure that UNMISS is better able to protect civilians both in the protection of civilians’ sites and elsewhere throughout the country.
An ongoing issue is improving the relations between UNMISS and the government.
One option for the Council is to take on board all three of the Secretary-General’s recommendations—strengthening of the mission, imposing an arms embargo and designating additional individuals for targeted sanctions—by including these elements in the resolution renewing UNMISS’s mandate.
Another option would be to initially focus on the creation of a special security force within UNMISS, with a stronger protection mandate and one allowing undertaking offensive operations, leaving the arms embargo as a possible next step in case of the government’s non-cooperation.
The Council could alternatively consider requesting member states with requisite military capacity to develop plans for a robust protection force to protect civilians that would be subject to the Council’s consideration. While operating under a separate mandate and chain of command from UNMISS, this force could be authorised by the Council and report to it on a periodic basis.
Regarding sanctions, an option would be for the 2206 South Sudan Sanctions Committee to target with travel bans and asset freezes individuals that have played a particularly active role in undermining the August 2015 peace accord.
Undertaking a visiting mission to South Sudan before deciding on the final shape of the new UNMISS mandate is another option.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Council members share a sense of responsibility for the future of the UN’s newest member state, having contributed significantly to the political process leading up to its independence. But the initial momentum following the outbreak of violence in early July seems to have dissipated, and after a series of meetings and discussions, members went into a holding pattern for about two weeks, apparently waiting for the penholder to propose steps for Council action in a draft resolution renewing the mandate. With the renewed activity as the UNMISS mandate expiry was nearing, there seemed to be diverging positions on the possible approaches going ahead. Several members see the arms embargo as the most promising tool to address the situation. But some would like to see clear support for this measure coming from the region, which at the time of writing was not forthcoming. The US is keenly interested in focusing on the creation of a security force within UNMISS, contingent on securing the host country’s consent. In this context, however, several states are deeply concerned about recent reports of demonstrations, possibly coordinated by the government, against UNMISS.
The US is the penholder on South Sudan and Senegal chairs the 2206 South Sudan Sanctions Committee.
UN Documents on South Sudan
|Security Council Resolutions|
|31 May 2016 S/RES/2290||This resolution renewed the targeted sanctions until 31 May 2017.|
|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 Meeting Record|
|13 July 2016 S/PV.7737||This was a briefing on South Sudan.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|10 July 2016 SC/12441||Council members condemned the escalation of fighting in Juba.|
|9 July 2016 SC/12440||On the evening of 9 July, Council members issued a press statement in which they condemned the fighting in Juba on 7-8 July and urged the transitional government to take steps to end the fighting and reduce tensions.|
|1 July 2016 SC/12431||Council members expressed alarm at the fighting in Wau.|
|20 June 2016 S/2016/552||This was an UNMISS report.|