Expected Council Action
In early September, the Council is expected to conduct a visiting mission to South Sudan and another state in the region, which had yet to be determined at press time. Also in September, the Council will consider the Secretary-General’s report, which is expected to include detailed information on the regional protection force authorised in resolution 2304 in August. As per the resolution, if the Secretary-General reports that the Transitional Government of National Unity is impeding efforts to make the force operational or obstructing the implementation of the mandate of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), the Council may consider “appropriate measures”—including an arms embargo and additional targeted sanctions—within five days of receiving the report.
Key Recent Developments
The August 2015 peace deal was dealt a serious blow by the violence in Juba from 7 to 11 July, which pitted President Salva Kiir’s forces against those supporting First Vice President Riek Machar. The fighting claimed the lives of approximately 300 people. In the course of the fighting and in its immediate aftermath, some 36,000 people fled to facilities belonging to the UN and aid organisations. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein reported at least 217 cases of sexual violence in Juba between 8 and 25 July by the parties to the conflict, including rape and gang rape. Some of the murder and rape victims were apparently targeted by Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) forces because of their Nuer ethnicity. SPLA troops looted UN World Food Programme (WFP) and Food and Agricultural Organization warehouses, seizing food for more than 220,000 people in the WFP warehouse alone.
On 11 July, South Sudanese troops attacked the Terrain Compound, a facility where foreign aid workers stay in Juba. During the assault, one Nuer journalist was assassinated, several foreign nationals were raped or beaten and cash and other belongings were stolen. Phone and text messages to UNMISS requesting help received no response. A US citizen freed early in the attack fled to a UN base seeking help, but claimed that UNMISS troops from China, Ethiopia and Nepal refused to go to the compound. After several hours, the government dispatched forces to the scene who appear to have stopped the violence. On 16 August, the Secretary-General announced his decision to initiate “an independent special investigation to determine the circumstances surrounding” the events at the Terrain Compound “and other grave cases of sexual violence committed in Juba…and to evaluate the Mission’s overall response.” The findings of this investigation, which will be made public, are expected to be finalised by late September.
The fighting in Juba was quelled only on 11 July, when Kiir ordered a cessation of hostilities to take effect at 6 p.m. that day and Machar reciprocated Kiir’s call in a radio broadcast. In the following days, 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. On 21 July, Kiir issued an ultimatum to Machar saying that he would dismiss him if he did not return to Juba within 48 hours. 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.
Since the events of 7-11 July, the political, security and humanitarian situation in South Sudan has deteriorated. Machar has not returned to Juba; at press time, he was reportedly in Khartoum, Sudan. Fighting has occurred in the Equatoria region and in Unity and Jonglei states between Kiir’s forces and those supporting the opposition. On 8 August, OCHA reported that more than 69,000 South Sudanese had fled to Uganda during the prior month. There are now 1.6 million internally displaced persons in the country, while some 900,000 have fled to neighbouring states since the start of the civil war in December 2013. Approximately 4.8 million South Sudanese are severely food insecure, with 250,000 children severely malnourished.
The region has remained engaged in the South Sudan crisis. On 5 August, the heads of state and government of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Plus—which included the states neighbouring South Sudan, as well as Algeria, Nigeria and South Africa—issued a communiqué calling on the UN Security Council to revise the UNMISS mandate to include the establishment of a regional protection force in light of the violence against civilians in South Sudan. On 11 August, the AU Peace and Security Council issued a communiqué endorsing the IGAD Plus communiqué, including the deployment of the Regional Protection Force.
On 11 August, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping El Ghassim Wane briefed Council members at the request of Russia under “any other business” on the situation in South Sudan. Some members had expected a briefing on operational details regarding the deployment of a regional protection force, but Wane focused his remarks on restrictions imposed on UNMISS and the political situation in the country. The briefing came one day after the Secretary-General sent a letter to the Council outlining the deteriorating security, humanitarian and human rights situation in South Sudan and appealing to the Council to take action to address the impediments faced by UNMISS in conducting its mandate.
On 12 August, the Council adopted resolution 2304. In addition to extending the mandate of UNMISS until 15 December, it raised the troop ceiling of the mission to 17,000, including the authorisation of a regional protection force of 4,000 troops for an initial period ending on 15 December. The newly authorised force, which will report to the UNMISS force commander, is to be responsible for “providing a secure environment in and around Juba…and in extremis in other parts of South Sudan as necessary”. It will have a three-fold mandate: to facilitate movement into, out of and around Juba; to protect key facilities in Juba, including the airport; and to “promptly and effectively engage any actor that is…preparing attacks, or engages in attacks, against” UN facilities (including protection-of-civilians sites), UN personnel, humanitarian actors or civilians.
While the government has given its support to a regional protection force “in principle”, it continues to express ambivalence about the force’s deployment, viewing it as an infringement on its sovereignty. The government expressed concerns in a 9 August letter to the Council that South Sudan could be relegated “to the status of a protectorate of the United Nations”. Following the adoption of resolution 2304, South Sudanese Ambassador Akuei Bona Malwal complained that the force had been authorised even though South Sudan had not been consulted about its “modalities…including its composition, mandate, armament, deployment, timing and funding”. He noted that the 5 August IGAD Plus communiqué had called for agreement by South Sudan and the troop-contributing countries on these issues. Three days later, Kiir said in a 15 August address to the Transitional National Legislative Assembly (i.e. the parliament) that the government had yet to reach a conclusive decision on the force described in resolution 2304.
On 24 August, under “any other business,” the US proposed the idea of a visiting mission to South Sudan in early September. None of the members objected to the proposal, and most members were favourably inclined to it; some advocated a stop in a neighbouring country to engage with key officials in the region.
Human Rights-Related Developments
High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a 4 August statement that preliminary UN investigations into the five days of fighting that began in Juba on 7 July and its aftermath revealed that government security forces carried out killings and rapes and looted and destroyed properties. He said that information received by UN human rights officers suggests that hundreds of fighters and civilians were killed during the initial fighting, with some civilians killed in crossfire between the fighting forces while others were reportedly summarily executed by government (SPLA) soldiers, who appear to have specifically targeted people of Nuer origin. Sexual violence continued after the initial fighting subsided, and more than 100 women and girls are reported to have been raped or gang-raped on the road leading out of Juba towards Yei. The High Commissioner expressed concern about allegations that some peacekeepers may have failed to assist women and girls who were reportedly raped and assaulted near their positions. He took note of UNMISS measures to address this situation and urged strong action in those instances in which UN military personnel failed in their duty to protect civilians. “The severity of the recent violence, and the very dangerous ethnic undertone, call for urgent action by the Security Council”, he said. According to the statement, the High Commissioner’s Office provided the Security Council on 2 August with a written update of the Human Rights Office’s preliminary findings.
The three-person Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, established on 23 March for one year, is scheduled to visit South Sudan and Ethiopia in September to hold meetings with government officials, opposition leaders, civil society and South Sudanese citizens as well as intergovernmental organisations and regional leaders. The Commission will present a report to the Human Rights Council in March 2017.
The key issue for the Council is the need to prevent South Sudan from descending once again into full-blown civil war. The Council will need to consider how it can best support implementation of the peace agreement, given events in the country since 7 July, and what steps should be taken if the agreement, which is teetering on the verge of collapse, no longer provides an effective framework for bringing peace to South Sudan.
Another important issue is the difficult relationship between UNMISS and the Council on the one hand and South Sudan on the other hand, and how this affects the implementation of UNMISS’ mandate. Obstacles imposed on the mission’s operations have inhibited UNMISS’ ability to protect civilians and facilitate humanitarian access. In addition to having their freedom of movement constrained, UN staff and their humanitarian partners have faced harassment and physical violence.
Council members are grappling with several fundamental issues related to the regional protection force that it has authorised. These include the force’s composition, the timeline for its deployment, whether and how the government can be persuaded to cooperate with its deployment and where the force’s troops will stay. The host government’s ambivalence about the force could enhance perceptions that UNMISS is violating South Sudan’s sovereignty and in turn further jeopardise the safety and security of UN staff and their partners in the country.
Regarding the Council visiting mission, a key issue will be ensuring that the Council presents a clear, unified message to the parties in South Sudan. This may pose some difficulty, given divisions among members on issues such as sanctions and the regional protection force.
In keeping with resolution 2304, one option would be for the Council to impose an arms embargo and additional targeted sanctions if South Sudan continues to obstruct implementation of the UNMISS mandate.
If the regional protection force is unable to deploy or faces insurmountable obstacles upon its deployment, the Council could consider requesting member states with requisite military capacity to deploy a robust force to protect civilians that would operate 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.
During the visiting mission, the Council could emphasise clearly to the government of South Sudan that attacks on civilians and violations of the Status of Forces Agreement are unacceptable.
Council members share concerns with regard to South Sudan about the faltering political process, violence against civilians, the growing humanitarian crisis and obstructions on the operations of UNMISS and its humanitarian partners. However, there are divisions regarding how to approach the situation, as reflected by the abstentions by China, Egypt, Russia and Venezuela on resolution 2304.
While appreciating the importance of host country consent for the regional protection force, some members underscore that the deployment of the force is needed to provide security and protect civilians, given the government’s failure to do so. For example, while recognising that South Sudan has given its consent “in principle”, the US nonetheless underscored the need to be “clear-eyed about the challenges that UNMISS and its new regional protection force are up against” and the responsibilities of the Council under Chapter VII “to take steps…to restore peace and security”. Similarly, New Zealand maintained in its explanation of vote on resolution 2304 that “consent to every aspect of a peacekeeping mission is not a requirement in a Chapter VII operation”.
Other members—such as Angola, China, Egypt, Russia and Venezuela—emphasise more strongly the need for host country consent, for the sake of both practicality and principle. Among the points highlighted by these members is the importance of respecting South Sudan’s sovereignty. These states have highlighted the need to work out the modalities of the force with the government, as called for in the 5 August IGAD Plus communiqué.
The issue of an arms embargo is also contentious in the Council. France, Spain and the UK maintain that the Council should implement an arms embargo immediately without waiting to see whether the government cooperates with the deployment of the force or improves its cooperation with the mission. The US has long been reluctant to support an arms embargo, although it indicated during the 12 August meeting that it was ready to support this measure “if the obstruction [by South Sudan] continues”. Russia and other members have long opposed an embargo, and some, including even those who supported resolution 2304, were uncomfortable with linking a peacekeeping resolution to the threat of sanctions. Egypt has said that this linkage amounts “to a virtual act of extortion”.
The US is the penholder on South Sudan, while Senegal chairs the South Sudan Sanctions Committee.
|Security Council Resolution|
|12 August 2016 S/RES/2304||This resolution authorised the Regional Protection Force.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|12 August 2016 S/PV.7754||This was the meeting at which resolution 2304 was adopted.|