Expected Council Action
The Council will renew the mandate of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and the authorisation for the yet-to-be deployed Regional Protection Force (RPF), before their 15 December expiration. It will also consider the Secretary-General’s monthly assessment, called for in resolution 2304, on the deployment and future requirements of the RPF, on obstacles to setting up the force and on impediments to UNMISS in carrying out its mandate. Members are anticipating a vote on a draft resolution to impose an arms embargo on South Sudan and additional targeted sanctions, although it was unclear at press time if and when this would happen.
Key Recent Developments
South Sudan is in the midst of a severe political, security, humanitarian and economic crisis. Escalating inter-communal violence and hate speech have aroused concerns about potential genocide if the country remains on its current course. Fighting continues to escalate in the Equatoria region, and there is conflict in Upper Nile, Unity and Western Bahr el-Ghazal states. There are now 1.73 million internally displaced people in South Sudan, including more than 200,000 who have taken refuge in or near UNMISS bases. Approximately 1.05 million refugees have fled from South Sudan to neighbouring countries since the start of the civil war in December 2013, including some 295,000 who have crossed the border into Uganda since July, when government and opposition forces clashed in Juba. Approximately 4.8 million people in the country suffer from severe food insecurity, amidst a dire economic crisis that has resulted in a current inflation rate of more than 660 percent.
On 1 November, the Executive Summary of the independent special investigation into “the violence in Juba…in July 2016, and the response of the UN Mission in South Sudan”, established by the Secretary-General in August and headed by Major General (ret.) Patrick Cammaert, was provided to Council members and publicly released.
It delivers a devastating critique of the mission’s performance before, during and after the 8-11 July crisis. The essence of this summary is largely captured in one sentence: “The Special Investigation found that…lack of preparedness, ineffective command and control and a risk-averse or ‘inward-looking’ posture resulted in a loss of trust and confidence—particularly by the local population and humanitarian agencies—in the will and skill of UNMISS military, police [sic] to be proactive and show a determined posture to protect civilians under threat, including from sexual violence and human rights violations”. The report describes a lack of leadership from senior UNMISS personnel and poor performance by troops and police in the mission; indicates that the mission did not respond to calls for assistance from people in the Terrain Compound, where multiple rapes occurred; and recommends that “peacekeepers, commanders and relevant troop-contributing countries…be held accountable for failures to protect”. Criticism was directly levelled at the performance of the force commander (a Kenyan general), the Chinese battalion, and a Nepalese formed police unit.
Following the release of the Executive Summary, the Secretariat established a taskforce, led by Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations El Ghassim Wane, to implement the recommendations of the report of the special investigation within three months.
There have been considerable repercussions from the investigation. On 1 November, the spokesman of the Secretary-General said in response to a question from a journalist that the force commander, who had only been at his post for three weeks at the time of the July violence, would be relieved of his duties. On 2 November, the Kenyan government issued a statement in which it maintained that rather than address the “fundamental structural and systemic dysfunctionality” of UNMISS, the UN decided to unfairly blame the force commander; as a result, Kenya announced that it would remove its troops from UNMISS and discontinue plans to take part in the RPF. The Secretariat is currently in the process of trying to identify potential troop contributors to replace the more than 1,000 Kenyan troops in UNMISS and to take the place of Kenya in the RPF. Kenya, along with Ethiopia and Rwanda, had committed to participate in the force.
Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng made a visit to South Sudan from 7 to 11 November prompted by growing alarm at inter-ethnic violence in the country. In a media briefing in Juba at the conclusion of his trip, Dieng said that what he had “seen and heard here has confirmed my concerns that there is a strong risk of violence escalating along ethnic lines, with the potential for genocide”. He noted that targeted killings and rape based on ethnic affiliation were elements of the conflict and expressed concern about hate speech, propagated through the media (including social media) and through letters that had recently been circulated. Dieng said that the situation in Yei, where tens of thousands of people have been displaced by violence in recent months, “merits a full-scale fact-finding investigation and enhanced humanitarian support”. Dieng’s analysis is consistent with that of the Secretary-General’s 10 November report to the Council, which said that there is “a very real risk of mass atrocities being committed in South Sudan”, and with that of the South Sudan Sanctions Committee’s Panel of Experts, which described the hate speech in its mid-term report, providing in an extensive annex to its report several samples of incitement to violence along ethnic lines in social media and in letters.
Council members held consultations on South Sudan on 3 November, during which they were briefed by Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous. Ladsous reported on fighting occurring in various parts of the country and the growing incidence of hate speech.
On 17 November, the Council held a briefing, followed by consultations, on UNMISS and the situation in South Sudan. UNMISS head and Special Representative of the Secretary-General Ellen Margrethe Løj and Special Adviser Dieng briefed the Council. At the meeting, the US circulated a draft resolution calling for an arms embargo and additional targeted sanctions (assets freezes and travel bans).
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 25 October, High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein released a statement warning that rising ethnic rhetoric, hate speech and incitement to violence against certain ethnic groups in South Sudan was highly dangerous and could result in mass atrocities if not reined in by community and political leaders at the highest levels. According to the statement, over the preceding two weeks, letters with graphic warnings of violence against people from the Equatoria region were left outside the gates of humanitarian organisations in Aweil West in Northern Bahr el Ghazal state in the north-western part of the country. The High Commissioner urged President Salva Kiir and all political and community leaders with influence to urgently and unambiguously condemn the incitement to violence and to take urgent measures to defuse the tensions, including a prompt and transparent investigation into the incidents.
The three-person Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, established by the Human Rights Council (HRC) on 23 March for one year, undertook their second field mission to South Sudan, Kenya and Ethiopia from 21 November to 7 December. They met with government officials including key ministers, members of civil society, religious leaders, diplomats and UN agencies to discuss the current human rights situation in the country. They also met with the president, the two vice presidents, the chief justice and members of the judiciary, as well as the chief of general staff of the South Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army (SPLA). They visited UN civilian protection sites. In Ethiopia and Kenya, the Commission engaged with AU leaders, IGAD and senior UN officials, as well as other members of the international community and civil society. In Ethiopia, they visited Gambella refugee camp to meet with South Sudanese refugees. The Commission will present its report to the HRC in March 2017.
The underlying key issue for the Council is what role it can play in developing a new political framework to bring peace to South Sudan and in supporting those aspects of the August 2015 peace agreement that can be salvaged. In the shorter term, the Council will need to determine how it can help prevent South Sudan from descending into full-blown genocide, given the warning signs that this is a possibility.
Another key issue for the Council is the government’s unwillingness to cooperate in the establishment of the RPF as envisioned in resolution 2304 and its continuing obstructions of the operations of UNMISS and humanitarian actors.
Existing political and ethnic tensions have been exacerbated by the conflict since December 2013 and by short-sighted decisions by the government, including the October 2015 decision to establish 28 states, which aroused the ire of minority ethnic communities, who view the decision as an effort to confiscate land and power for the benefit of the Dinka, Kiir’s ethnic group. Significant efforts will be needed to promote healing, reconciliation and the creation of a stronger sense of national identity among the country’s 64 ethnic groups.
Meanwhile, UNMISS is forced to operate under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. It is a peacekeeping mission in a war-fighting environment, confronting a host country whose consent has been very limited and whose forces continue to attack civilians whom the mission is mandated to protect. Furthermore, it was never envisioned that this mission—or any other peacekeeping operation—would be responsible for the security, humanitarian and legal challenges of protecting tens of thousands of displaced civilians in and around its premises for extended periods of time.
The most likely option is for the Council to renew UNMISS, maintaining core elements of the mandate such as the protection of civilians, monitoring and verification of human rights violations and facilitation of humanitarian access. In doing so, the Council might consider:
- authorising the deployment of additional 196 individual police officers to enhance security inside the protection of civilians sites, as recommended by the Secretary-General in his latest UNMISS report;
- emphasising the importance of the mission’s efforts to facilitate local-level mediation and calling on member states to contribute aerial assets to provide logistical support for these efforts;
- urging the mission to produce more frequent human rights reports;
- condemning ceasefire violations and restrictions on the freedom of movement of UNMISS;
- demanding that government and opposition leaders condemn hate speech and statements inciting people to commit violence; and
- urging member states with large numbers of South Sudanese expatriates to develop strategies to counteract hate speech related to South Sudan, as hate speech has been propagated from the diaspora through social media.
Another option is for the Council to engage with key AU, IGAD and UN officials in an informal interactive dialogue to discuss strategies for reinvigorating the peace process. The meeting could entail a discussion of how to develop a coherent political strategy for South Sudan, building on elements of the August 2015 peace agreement that are still workable.
The Council could also consider holding a briefing on ways to combat hate speech and incitement to ethnic violence in South Sudan, inviting the participation of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, international NGOs with a presence in South Sudan and key South Sudanese religious figures, among others.
There is a widespread recognition that the political process needs to be revitalised to bring peace to South Sudan. However, different views on the way forward continue to hinder the Council’s engagement. The last three resolutions on the UNMISS mandate were adopted non-consensually, and there are sharp divisions in the Council regarding whether an arms embargo and additional targeted sanctions should be pursued.
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.|
|10 November 2016 S/2016/951||This was an UNMISS report.|
|Security Council Press Statement|
|18 November 2016 SC/12596||This statement called on the government of South Sudan to address increasing hate speech and ethnic violence and to promote reconciliation.|
|Sanctions Committee Document|
|15 November 2016 S/2016/963||This was the South Sudan Sanctions Committee’s mid-term report.|
|1 November 2016 S/2016/924||This was the Executive Summary of the report of the special independent investigation into the July 2016 violence in Juba.|