Expected Council Action
In February, the Council will follow closely the situation in South Sudan. There may 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 and reports of fighting in various parts of the country. There are now more than 1.85 million internally displaced people in South Sudan, and 1.3 million refugees have fled to neighbouring countries, including 450,000 since the July 2016 violence. Approximately one-third of the population requires emergency food assistance, and the World Food Programme estimates that the “situation is expected to further deteriorate during the peak of the lean season from May to July 2017.”
South Sudanese government officials continue to express ambivalence about the deployment of the Regional Protection Force (RPF), which the Council first authorised in August 2016 to, among other things, protect UN staff, humanitarian actors and civilians in Juba. On 10 January, Defence Minister Kuol Manyang Juuk said that the RPF was no longer needed, claiming that security had returned to Juba. On 13 January, Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth said that the government did not object to the force but that the Council would need to adopt a new resolution for it because its initial mandate under resolution 2304 had expired on 15 December 2016. Makuei’s statement failed to recognise that the mandate of the RPF was reauthorised by the Council through resolution 2327 adopted on 16 December 2016.
A number of outstanding issues remain regarding the planning for the deployment of the RPF. While the government has agreed to provide land next to UN House in Juba for the force, on 12 January it rescinded its offer to allocate additional land near the UN’s Tomping base. There also continues to be disagreement between the government and UNMISS on the RPF’s mandate to protect the airport; on 20 January, President Salva Kiir said that while South Sudan would accept the force, it “will not hand over the control of the airport to foreigners”.
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 foreseeable future.
Obstructions of the operations of UNMISS continue. In recent months, there have been reports that government forces have restricted the freedom of movement of UNMISS personnel or otherwise obstructed its operations in various parts of the country, including Central Equatoria, Eastern Equatoria, Western Equatoria, Jonglei, Lakes, Unity, Upper Nile and Western Bahr el-Ghazal states.
On 19 December 2016, 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 the dialogue as a process that will include local-level consultations, followed by regional peace conferences and, lastly, a national conference in Juba. Opposition leader Riek Machar, currently in exile in South Africa, has criticised plans for the national dialogue, reportedly saying that negotiations to end the civil war must take place first.
On 14 January, Kiir issued a decree increasing the number of states in South Sudan from 28 to 32. The decree, which has been condemned by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement in Opposition headed by Machar, is reminiscent of Kiir’s late 2015 order that divided the country’s ten states into 28 states. That decision was controversial in large part because it was perceived as increasing the control of the Dinka ethnic group over oil-producing areas of the Upper Nile region, and because it elicited concerns about the creation of ethnic enclaves that would exacerbate inter-communal tensions.
Secretary-General António Guterres spoke at length with Council members about South Sudan on 9 January during his first monthly luncheon with them since taking office. Among the key issues he raised at this meeting were the importance of revitalising the political process; the need to deploy the RPF, which the Council first authorised in August 2016, and the importance of raising awareness of the risk of atrocities in South Sudan.
On 23 January, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous briefed Council members in consultations on South Sudan. Ahead of the consultations, they held an informal interactive dialogue with Festus Mogae, former President of Botswana and the chair of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, responsible for overseeing the implementation of the August 2015 South Sudan peace agreement. Ambassador Olof Skoog (Sweden), President of the Council in January, read out elements to the press on behalf of Council members at the stakeout after the meetings. Among other things, members expressed concern about the fighting throughout South Sudan, called on all actors to end hate speech, called on the government to work constructively with the UN on a swift deployment of the RPF and encouraged the engagement of the Secretary-General in a reinvigorated political process.
On 29 January, high-ranking officials from the AU, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and the UN convened on the margins of the AU summit in Addis Ababa for a meeting on South Sudan. They issued a joint press statement that called for “an immediate cessation of hostilities and urged the parties to ensure inclusivity of the political process, both in the proposed National Dialogue and in the implementation of the” August 2015 peace agreement.
Newly appointed Special Representative of the Secretary-General David Shearer of New Zealand arrived in Juba on 20 January to assume his post.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 16 January, UNMISS and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released a joint report on human rights violations and abuses and breaches of international humanitarian law, including killings, rapes and arbitrary detention, committed in Juba between 8 and 12 July 2016 during and after fighting between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army in Opposition (SPLM/A-IO). The report found that the two sides appeared to “deliberately target civilians, including on the basis of ethnicity” and concluded that some of the violations and abuses possibly amount to war crimes.
The key underlying issue for the Council is what role it can play in reinvigorating the political process and in supporting those aspects of the August 2015 peace agreement that remain valid. This will require it to calibrate how it can add value to and coordinate with the efforts of the various regional, sub-regional and national actors with an interest in promoting peace in South Sudan. The Council further needs to determine how to approach Kiir’s “national dialogue”; to date, Council members have merely emphasised the need for this process to be “truly inclusive”.
Along with the search for a political process, another key and related issue is how to prevent the inter-ethnic conflict in South Sudan from descending into full-blown inter-ethnic warfare resulting in mass atrocities, given the warning signs that this is a possibility.
One option is for the Council to request a briefing from the Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, Nicholas Haysom, to learn about his engagement in the peace process in conjunction with key regional actors and get his input on how the Council could most effectively support the mediation process.
Council members could also request to meet with AU High Representative for South Sudan Alpha Konaré to get his views on the mediation and how the Council could best support his efforts.
A further option is for the Council to adopt a resolution or presidential statement that:
- demands an immediate cessation of hostilities;
- reminds the government of its responsibility to protect civilians from atrocity crimes;
- encourages IGAD, the AU and the UN to vigorously pursue a mediated solution to the conflict;
- urges member states to provide operational support for the mediation efforts of the AU High Representative for South Sudan, given indications that resource constraints have hindered his work; and
- condemns restrictions on the freedom movement of UNMISS personnel and obstacles to humanitarian access imposed by the government.
The Council could also consider holding an Arria-formula meeting 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. The meeting could be open to the wider membership and webcast in order to continue to raise awareness of the risk of mass atrocities in South Sudan.
Council members remain very concerned about the potential for the ongoing fighting in South Sudan to deteriorate into an all-out inter-ethnic war leading to mass atrocities and for the severe humanitarian crisis gripping the country to continue to worsen. While members have been emphasising the need for an overarching political strategy to resolve the crisis, it is not clear what the elements of that strategy will be. Furthermore, members do not have a unified approach regarding how to exert leverage on the parties to resolve the crisis, with strong divisions persisting on the usefulness of pursuing an arms embargo and targeted sanctions.
Some members have noted that decisions pertinent to South Sudan that emerge from the AU Summit (scheduled for 22-31 January in Addis Ababa) will most likely help to inform the Council’s next steps on South Sudan.
The US is the penholder on South Sudan.
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.|
|12 August 2016 S/RES/2304||This resolution authorised the Regional Protection Force.|
|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.|