Expected Council Action
In November, the Council is scheduled to hold a briefing, followed by consultations, on the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and on the work of the South Sudan Sanctions Committee. It will consider the Secretary-General’s monthly assessment, called for in resolution 2304, on the deployment and future requirements of the Regional Protection Force (RPF), on obstacles to setting up the force and on impediments to UNMISS in carrying out its mandate. The Council will also consider the Secretary-General’s 90-day report on the implementation of the UNMISS mandate, which expires on 15 December, and the interim report of the Panel of Experts of the Sanctions Committee.
Members may also be interested in discussing the findings of the independent special investigation, called for by the Secretary-General, “into the violence in Juba…in July 2016, and the response of the UN Mission in South Sudan”. At press time, the report of the investigation team was being finalised.
Key Recent Developments
The humanitarian and security situation in South Sudan has deteriorated further. There are now 1.6 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country, and more than one million people have sought refuge in neighbouring countries since the start of the civil war in December 2013. More than 200,000 IDPs now live in protection of civilians sites across the country because of the insecurity outside the sites. As of July, food insecurity in South Sudan affected some 4.8 million people, more than one-third of the population.
Fighting continues to be reported across South Sudan, especially in the Equatorias and in the Upper Nile region. On 10 October, unidentified assailants killed 21 civilians travelling in four trucks on the road between Yei and Juba in Central Equatoria. The government accused the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLA IO) of carrying out the attack, an allegation that the opposition has denied. In mid-October, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and SPLA IO forces clashed near Malakal. The SPLA claimed that 56 opposition fighters were killed in the clashes. Fighting was reported near Leer, Southern Liech State (formerly Unity State), on 16 October between SPLA and SPLA IO forces. The SPLA IO alleged that it had killed 10 government troops in the fighting.
The political process continues to face major obstacles. From exile in Khartoum, Riek Machar in late September called on his SPLA IO followers to continue their armed opposition to the government of President Salva Kiir. On 15 October, Kiir reiterated that former First Vice President Machar should not serve in the transitional government. He added that he worked better with Taban Deng Gai, who replaced Machar as First Vice President after Machar fled Juba during the violence that gripped the city in July. Machar, who was in Johannesburg at press time reportedly to receive undisclosed medical treatment, said in an interview with Deutsche Welle on 17 October that the peace agreement had collapsed and called on actors “such as the AU and the IGAD [Intergovernmental Authority on Development]…to think seriously of how it can be resuscitated”.
The Secretary-General’s second confidential monthly assessment on the RPF and on impediments to UNMISS in fulfilling its mandate was circulated to Council members on 10 October. The assessment found that UN officials have had good access to South Sudanese government officials regarding the implementation of resolution 2304, which authorised the RPF and demanded that the government cease obstructing the mission from fulfilling its mandate and humanitarian actors from assisting civilians. However, it reported that this access has yet to translate into concrete actions. The government continues to place caveats on the deployment of the force, reflected by Information Minister Michael Lueth Makuei’s remarks during a Juba press conference on 7 October reiterating that the government should be able to determine the force’s size, composition and equipment. Furthermore, according to the Secretary-General’s second monthly assessment report, the government has linked the request for land for the protection force to renegotiation of the UNMISS status of forces agreement, and it has proposed that the force be permitted to protect only UN facilities and compounds. It has further proposed that means of entry to and exit from Juba be jointly patrolled, and that at the airport the protection force be permitted to protect only the UNMISS terminal and installations. Restrictions on the freedom of movement of UNMISS and access for humanitarian actors also remain a problem.
On 15 October, President Kiir issued two presidential decrees. One announced the formation of a high-level humanitarian oversight committee to improve cooperation with humanitarian actors in South Sudan. According to the decree, this committee is expected to consist of seven high-level government officials, one OCHA representative and one UNMISS representative. The second decree instructed the ministerial committee responsible for implementing resolution 2304 and the 4 September joint communiqué agreed between the Council and the government “to expedite and complete its work within 14 days”.
On 17 October, Council members held consultations on South Sudan, during which they were briefed by Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous. Ladsous reportedly reiterated much of the analysis contained in the Secretary-General’s second confidential monthly assessment, including saying that numerous impediments on the operations of UNMISS continued and that progress had not been made in deploying the RPF. Ladsous also said that he was worried about the increasingly inter-ethnic nature of the conflict.
During the meeting, the US, the penholder on South Sudan, expressed its willingness to move forward with a draft resolution calling for an arms embargo on South Sudan. Some members, however, apparently stated their preference for giving the government at least two more weeks to see whether the ministerial committee described in Kiir’s 15 October decree could demonstrate that South Sudan has made progress in adhering to resolution 2304 and in fulfilling commitments made in the joint communiqué. At press time, the US had yet to circulate such a draft resolution.
On 25 October, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein warned “that rising ethnic rhetoric, hate speech and incitement to violence against certain ethnic groups in South Sudan is highly dangerous and could result in mass atrocities if not reined in by community and political leaders at the highest level.” The statement refers in particular to letters “with graphic warnings of violence against people from the Equatoria region” that were purportedly drafted by members of the Dinka community and “left outside the gates of humanitarian organisations in Aweil West, in Northern Bahr el Ghazal state…”.
The key issue for the Council is what role it can play in preventing South Sudan from descending once again into full-blown civil war marked by inter-communal conflict, given the violence in the country since Machar fled during the July crisis and given the onset of the dry season, when the movement of military forces becomes easier. In this regard, questions can be raised about what aspects of the August 2015 peace agreement can be salvaged and whether a new political framework is needed to bring peace to South Sudan.
Another key issue for the Council is the government’s unwillingness to cooperate with the establishment of the RPF as envisioned in resolution 2304 and the continued obstructions on the operations of UNMISS and humanitarian actors.
Options for the Council outlined in resolution 2304 include:
- imposing an arms embargo on South Sudan; and
- targeting key political figures responsible for the ongoing violence with an assets freeze and travel ban.
Another option is for the Council to engage with Special Representative of the Secretary-General Ellen Margrethe Løj and key IGAD and AU officials in an interactive informal dialogue to discuss strategies for convincing Kiir and Machar to use their influence to end the fighting. The meeting could entail a discussion of how to revise the August 2015 peace agreement, in light of the changing political dynamics in South Sudan with the departure of Machar and his pledge to fight against the government.
Given the widespread humanitarian and human rights violations in South Sudan, the Council could request high-level officials from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to brief along with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.
Regarding the special investigation of the July violence, the Council could consider requesting a briefing from Major General (retired) Patrick Cammaert, who led the investigation, on how UNMISS can strengthen its operational procedures if faced with similar crises in the future.
All members of the Council are deeply concerned about the dire humanitarian and security crisis that continues to unfold in South Sudan. There is also a widespread recognition that the political process needs to be revitalised to bring peace to South Sudan, especially considering that Machar has pledged to continue to fight against the government.
Although there is a shared diagnosis of the problem, there is little consensus on the way forward. It is worth noting that the last three resolutions on the UNMISS mandate have been non-consensual texts and that the most recent one, which authorised the RPF, was adopted with abstentions by China, Egypt, Russia and Venezuela.
There are varying positions on an arms embargo currently being considered by members. Some are strongly in favour of an embargo, some are opposed and some occupy a middle ground. The strongest proponents of an embargo appear to be France, the UK and Spain; they believe that the embargo should be pursued regardless of the government’s level of cooperation with the planning and deployment of the RPF. The US had long been reluctant to support an arms embargo, but in recent months, it has said that it is prepared to move forward with one if there is government obstruction of UNMISS and the RPF. Given the government’s lack of meaningful cooperation under the terms of resolution 2304 and the 4 September communiqué, it is ready to table a resolution calling for an arms embargo and is currently discussing this option bilaterally with other Council members. At the 15 October consultations, other members, such as Angola, Japan, New Zealand and Senegal, apparently expressed support for the embargo in principle but are concerned about maintaining Council unity on this issue. A final group of members includes Russia, which has publicly voiced its opposition to the embargo, and China, Egypt and Venezuela, which seem wary of pursuing this measure at the current time.
Another possible tool available to Council members is the application of targeted sanctions (i.e. assets freezes and travel bans on spoilers). In addition to an arms embargo, such sanctions are one of the “appropriate measures” noted in resolution 2304 that could be pursued in case the government continues to obstruct UNMISS or places impediments on the establishment of the RPF. Some members apparently referred to this option during consultations on 4 October.
The US is the penholder on South Sudan, and Senegal chairs the 2206 South Sudan Sanctions Committee.
|Security Council Resolution|
|12 August 2016 S/RES/2304||This resolution authorised the Regional Protection Force.|
|Sanctions Committee Document|
|19 September 2016 S/2016/793||This was a Panel of Experts report on security threats to the government.|