Expected Council Action
In March, the Council will meet to consider the Secretary-General’s 90-day report on the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and his 30-day assessment focusing on 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. Secretary-General António Guterres and AU High Representative for South Sudan Alpha Oumar Konaré are expected to brief the Council in a meeting chaired by UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Boris Johnson.
The UNMISS mandate expires on 15 December 2017.
Key Recent Developments
Amidst an unravelling political process and ongoing fighting in various parts of the country, the security and humanitarian environment in South Sudan has reached near-catastrophic levels. More than 1.5 million refugees have fled to neighbouring countries, including Uganda (698,000), Ethiopia (342,000), Sudan (305,000), Kenya (89,000), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (68,000) and the Central African Republic (4,900). Hunger is prevalent in the country as a result of insecurity, poor harvests and high food prices. On 20 February, a famine was formally declared in parts of South Sudan, with the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, the UN Children’s Fund and the UN World Food Program jointly stating that “100,000 people [are] facing starvation” and that “a further 1 million people are classified as being on the brink of famine.” On 21 February, President Salva Kiir responded by saying that the government would ensure “unimpeded access to the needy population across the country” for aid agencies.
On 7 February, Kiir spoke at a public gathering in Yei town to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the town’s Episcopal church. He said that the “national dialogue”, which he announced in December 2016 with the goal of ending conflict in South Sudan, would commence in March. Opposition leader Riek Machar, currently in exile in South Africa, has said that a national dialogue cannot be held until there is peace in South Sudan.
In mid-February, heavy fighting in the Wau Shilluk area of Upper Nile state led to large-scale displacement west of the Nile River. On 16 February, UNMISS issued a press statement noting that conflict was ongoing in the area and that it did not have information about some 20,000 people displaced by the fighting. An UNMISS patrol to Wau Shilluk was blocked by government troops on 16 February.
Several high-ranking South Sudanese military officials have recently resigned while directing strong criticism at the government. On 11 February, Lieutenant General Thomas Cirillo Swaka, Deputy Chief of General Staff for Logistics, submitted a resignation letter in which he accused the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) of being a “partisan and tribal army” that had committed rape and murder. Less than a week later, Brigadier General Henry Oyay Nyago and Colonel Khalid Ono Loki tendered their resignations. Nyago accused government forces of carrying out “genocidal acts and ethnic cleansing”, while Loki claimed that justice for serious crimes is not meted out against soldiers from Kiir’s ethnic group, the Dinka.
Secretary-General Guterres briefed Council members in consultations on 3 February on his meetings at the AU Summit, held in late January in Addis Ababa, and spoke at length about South Sudan. He reiterated the points made in the joint UN, AU and Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) press statement of 29 January that states that the three organisations would work together on the political process, with AU High Representative Konaré encouraged to conduct shuttle diplomacy in support of the mediation. Guterres also met with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta during his visit. Guterres reportedly indicated that Kenya has now decided to contribute to the RPF after rescinding its commitment to participate following the dismissal of the UNMISS force commander, a Kenyan national.
On 10 February, in a press statement, Council members condemned the ongoing fighting in South Sudan and stressed the importance of the political process. They further expressed their disappointment that the transitional government of national unity had continued to “act inconsistently with…its obligations under the Status of Forces Agreement with the United Nations.”
Council members were briefed in consultations by Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations El Ghassim Wane and Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour on 23 February. In elements to the press read out following the meeting, Council members expressed alarm at the declaration of a famine in parts of South Sudan and widespread food insecurity, calling it a direct result of the conflict and the obstruction of humanitarian access. Council members agreed that the humanitarian crisis would not be resolved without resolution of the political crisis on the basis of the 2015 peace agreement. They also expressed concern at delays to the deployment of the RPF and reiterated their call for the government to work with the UN on this issue.
On 24 February, Uruguay, Senegal and Sweden co-hosted an Arria-formula meeting with the heads of the human rights components of UNMISS, the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC and the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia. Eugene Nindorera, representing UNMISS, said that denial of access to areas where human rights violations are reportedly being committed and to internally displaced persons remains a big challenge. Nindorera also noted that justice and accountability issues need to be addressed before peace can be achieved.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 17 February, Gilmour released a statement following his four-day visit to South Sudan describing the “brutal reality” of the situation in the country as a war being “waged against the men, women and children of South Sudan”. Gilmour called for the perpetrators of human rights violations, including rape, gang rape and arbitrary detention, to be held accountable. He expressed concern at the severe access restrictions faced by UNMISS and said that elements of the SPLA had engaged in what could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
During its 34th session in March, the Human Rights Council is set to hold an interactive dialogue with the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan to discuss its most recent report (A/HRC/34/63).
The immediate key issue for the Council is what role it can play in providing support to the mediation process. To address this, the Council will have to calibrate how it can add value to the efforts of Guterres, Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan Nicholas Haysom and Special Representative for South Sudan David Shearer, as well as the regional and sub-regional mediators. The Council further needs to determine how to help ensure that Kiir’s “national dialogue” is inclusive and conducted in an environment free of fear and intimidation.
Along with the search for a political process, another key issue is how to mitigate the impact of the conflict on civilians, given the continued fighting and the acute humanitarian crisis.
Related to this issue are questions about when the RPF will be deployed and whether it will be able to achieve its goal of, among other things, protecting UN staff, humanitarian actors and civilians in Juba.
One option is for the Council to adopt a resolution or presidential statement that:
- demands an immediate cessation of hostilities;
- condemns atrocity crimes committed in South Sudan and calls for full accountability for these acts;
- condemns restrictions on the freedom of movement of UNMISS personnel and obstacles to humanitarian access imposed by the government;
- encourages member states to support OCHA’s 2017 humanitarian appeal for South Sudan; and
- welcomes the joint UN, AU and IGAD statement of 29 January and encourages the three organisations to pursue a coordinated and coherent mediation strategy.
Another option for the Council is to hold an open debate on South Sudan to highlight the severity of the crisis and provide the Council and the wider membership an opportunity to discuss ways of addressing the crisis.
The Council could also consider holding an Arria-formula meeting on how to combat sexual violence in South Sudan, inviting the participation of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence and relevant NGOs. The meeting could be open to the wider membership and webcast in order to continue to raise awareness of this endemic problem in South Sudan.
Council members remain very concerned about the ongoing violence, the worsening humanitarian crisis and the faltering political process in South Sudan. However, there is a sense of encouragement about the active engagement of the new Secretary-General on this issue and a hope that the partnership among the UN, the AU and IGAD will reap results in the mediation strategy.
Some members, at least in private, are again discussing the possibility of pursuing an arms embargo on South Sudan. However, this continues to be a divisive matter within the Council, and it is unclear how much support such a draft would receive now. In December 2016, a draft resolution that would have authorised an arms embargo and additional targeted sanctions failed to be adopted, garnering only seven affirmative votes.
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.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|10 February 2017 SC/12713||This was a press statement condemning violence in South Sudan.|
|23 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.|