Expected Council Action
In January, the Council will closely follow the situation in South Sudan. There is likely to be a meeting to consider the Secretary-General’s 30-day assessment of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), including the deployment and future requirements of the Regional Protection Force (RPF), obstacles to setting up the force and impediments to UNMISS in carrying out its mandate. Given the gravity of the situation, other meetings could be scheduled on South Sudan during the month depending on developments in the country.
The UNMISS mandate expires on 15 December 2017.
Key Recent Developments
The security and humanitarian environment in South Sudan continues to deteriorate amidst a faltering political process. Fighting in the Equatoria region, in Western Bahr el-Ghazal state and in Unity state between government and opposition forces has deepened the security crisis, with reports of rape, looting, and destruction of property by armed actors. There are now more than 1.87 million internally displaced people in South Sudan, while 1.15 million refugees have fled to neighbouring countries since the start of the civil war in December 2013. OCHA has estimated that 4.8 million people, more than one-third of the population, were confronted with food insecurity in 2016. Hunger could get worse in 2017, in large part because of persistent fighting and a weak economy.
Violations of the Status of Forces Agreement have continued in various parts of South Sudan, while impediments to humanitarian access have gotten worse. The government continues to demand that UNMISS notify it in writing prior to the movement of mission personnel, and UNMISS staff face harassment.
On 30 November 2016, the Council received a letter from Martin Elia Lomuro, South Sudan’s Minister of Cabinet Affairs, indicating that the government had agreed to accept the RPF, which is mandated to include 4,000 troops intended, among other things, to facilitate safe and free movement in and around Juba, protect the Juba airport and other key infrastructure and protect UN staff, humanitarian actors and civilians. Since then, South Sudan has challenged any distinct and exclusive right of UNMISS to protect the Juba airport, other than the mission’s own facilities there. The RPF, originally mandated through resolution 2304 in August 2016, has yet to be deployed, although Ethiopia and Rwanda have agreed to commit infantry battalions to the force.
Kenya, which has originally pledged to participate in the Force, rescinded its offer on 2 November 2016 and decided to withdraw its more than 1,000 troops already in South Sudan, following the dismissal of the UNMISS Force Commander, a Kenyan national. The Force Commander was relieved of his duties after the findings of the independent special investigation regarding the violence in Juba in July, publicly released on 1 November, strongly criticised his performance.
On 19 December 2016, President Salva Kiir issued a presidential decree authorising a South Sudan national dialogue process. Kiir had outlined his plans for the national dialogue in an address to the national legislative assembly on 14 December, during which he said that the objectives of the dialogue would be “to end violent conflicts in South Sudan, reconstitute national consensus, … save the country from disintegration and usher in a new era of peace, stability and prosperity”. Kiir envisions that the dialogue would include local-level consultations, followed by regional peace conferences and, lastly, a national conference in Juba. Opposition leader Riek Machar has criticised plans for the national dialogue, reportedly saying that negotiations to end the civil war must take place first.
The Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) issued a communiqué on South Sudan at its summit in Addis Ababa on 9 December. The communiqué underscored that “an arms embargo or sanctions on South Sudan will not provide the solution being sought for permanent peace and stability in the country” and stressed the need for all parties in South Sudan to engage in dialogue and reconciliation to implement the August 2015 peace agreement.
On 16 December 2016, following a one-day technical roll-over resolution, the Security Council adopted resolution 2327, which reauthorised the mandate of UNMISS, including the Regional Protection Force. The resolution maintains the core-elements of the mandate—the “protection of civilians”, “monitoring and investigating human rights”, “creating the conditions conducive to the delivery of humanitarian assistance” and “supporting the implementation of the [August 2015] Agreement”. It further calls for “appropriate measures” in case of impediments to making the RPF operational or obstructions to UNMISS in fulfilling its mandate as a result of the actions of the government and “all other parties to the conflict in South Sudan”.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien briefed the Council on South Sudan on 19 December 2016, after which members discussed the issue in consultations. Ban said that the responsibility for the crisis in South Sudan lies with the country’s leaders, who “have betrayed the public trust”. Calling genocide a process, Ban warned “that process is about to begin unless immediate action is taken”, given the ethnic nature of the fighting. He reiterated his call for an arms embargo on South Sudan and emphasised that the “parties must reinvigorate an inclusive political process that is deemed credible by the people of South Sudan and the international community”. O’Brien underscored that the humanitarian situation in the country had significantly deteriorated and that it would “cascade beyond…control” if there was no political solution to the conflict.
On 23 December 2016, the Council voted on a draft resolution to impose an arms embargo on South Sudan and targeted sanctions (assets freezes and travel bans) on three key government and opposition figures—Paul Malong, Chief of Staff of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) (i.e. the government’s army); Michael Makuei Lueth, South Sudan’s Minister of Information; and opposition leader Riek Machar. The US had originally intended to put this draft to a vote in late November, but the draft was not tabled because of concerns that it would not receive the nine votes needed for adoption. When the vote finally took place, positions had not changed. The draft resolution failed to be adopted, receiving seven affirmative votes (France, New Zealand, Spain, Ukraine, Uruguay, the UK and the US) and eight abstentions (Angola, China, Egypt, Japan, Malaysia, Russia, Senegal and Venezuela).
On 9 December, the Security Council approved the Secretary-General’s appointment of David Shearer of New Zealand as Special Representative for South Sudan and head of UNMISS. Shearer is expected to take up his post in January.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 2 December 2016, the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, established by the Human Rights Council (HRC) on 23 March for one year, released a statement after a 10-day visit to the country, saying “sexual violence has reached epic proportions in the conflict in South Sudan and requires the urgent attention of the world…. The scale of gang rape of civilian women as well as the horrendous nature of the rapes by armed men belonging to all groups is utterly repugnant”. According to the statement, a UN survey found 70 percent of women in Juba had suffered sexual assault since December 2013. The pattern of sexual violence is targeting women all over the country, with rape being used with absolute impunity as one of the tools for ethnic cleansing, it said. The Commission intends to call for the establishment of a special investigative team to go to South Sudan to collect evidence of the rapes so as to form the basis of prosecutions in the future, the statement said.
On 14 December 2016, the HRC held a special session on South Sudan at the request of the US, which was supported by 40 countries. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, one of the briefers, said: “The highest priority must urgently be given to protection for those most at risk from killings, sexual violence and other serious human rights violations. It is time for all national and regional actors to advocate decisively for a political process that was both inclusive and implemented on the ground”. Chairperson of the Commission Yasmin Sooka, Chairperson of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures Yanghee Lee and Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng also briefed. A resolution was adopted, without a vote, that condemned the ongoing violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law in South Sudan, including those involving alleged targeted killings, ethnically targeted violence, rape and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence, the widespread recruitment and use of children, arbitrary arrests and detention, alleged torture, arbitrary denial of humanitarian access and attacks on schools, places of worship, hospitals and UN and associated peacekeeping personnel, by all parties (A/HRC/S-26/L.1). It also reaffirmed the mandate of the Commission, with renewed emphasis on the need to establish the facts and circumstances of alleged violations and abuses of human rights with a view to ensuring accountability; requested the Commission to suggest priority recommendations for the government on how to end sexual and gender-based violence and urged the government to appoint a Special Representative on sexual and gender-based violence. The resolution requested submission of the Commission’s reports to the Security Council, General Assembly, and AU. 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 the inter-ethnic conflict in 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 continuing obstructions to the operations of UNMISS and humanitarian actors, as well as whether it will make good on its commitment to cooperate with the RPF.
A further issue is the fact that the RPF, which was originally authorised for an initial four month period ending on 15 December 2016, had to be reauthorised through resolution 2327, even though it has yet to be deployed and still may not be deployed in the near term future.
One option is for the Council to meet with key AU, IGAD and UN officials to develop a concrete strategy for reinvigorating the peace process. The strategy could build on elements of the August 2015 peace agreement that are still workable, but would need to create a coherent plan for the way forward.
A further option is for the Council to adopt a statement encouraging member states to provide operational support for the mediation efforts of the AU High Representative for South Sudan, Alpha Konaré, given indications that resource constraints have hindered his work.
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, sharp divisions about how to interpret the situation in the country and on the way forward continue to hinder the Council’s engagement. These divisions were manifested by the failure of the Council to adopt a draft resolution on an arms embargo and targeted sanctions on 23 December, with only seven Council members (France, New Zealand, Spain, Ukraine, Uruguay, the UK and the US) supporting the draft and the rest of the members abstaining.
Views assessing the government’s level of cooperation with UNMISS and its commitment to peace vary. Some members, including China and Russia, have pointed to the government’s statement committing to the deployment of the RPF without conditions and the announcement of the national dialogue as signs that the government is acting in good faith. Others, including the P3 and some elected members, are very critical of the government, noting that its deeds have not matched its words, that the situation is deteriorating and that the violence is spiralling out of control.
The US is the penholder on South Sudan while Senegal chairs the South Sudan Sanctions Committee.
UN DOCUMENTS ON SOUTH SUDAN
|Security Council Resolutions|
|16 December 2016 S/RES/2327||This extended the mandate of UNMISS for one year and reauthorised the Regional Protection Force.|
|15 December 2016 S/RES/2326||This was a one-day technical rollover of the UNMISS mandate.|
|12 August 2016 S/RES/2304||This resolution authorised the Regional Protection Force.|
|29 July 2016 S/RES/2302||This was a technical rollover, renewing the UNMISS mandate until 12 August 2016.|
|10 November 2016 S/2016/951||This was an UNMISS report.|
|20 December 2016 S/2016/1085||This was the draft resolution on an arms embargo and targeted sanctions that failed to receive the necessary support to be adopted. It received seven affirmative votes (France, New Zealand, Spain, Ukraine, Uruguay, the UK and the US) and eight abstentions (Angola, China, Egypt, Japan, Malaysia, Russia, Senegal, and Venezuela).|
|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.|