Expected Council Action
In April, the Council will consider the Secretary-General’s 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 the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) in carrying out its mandate. A briefing is expected by Special Representative of the Secretary-General for South Sudan and head of UNMISS David Shearer.
The mandate of UNMISS expires on 15 December 2017.
Key Recent Developments
A security and humanitarian disaster continues to grip South Sudan, amidst a flagging political process. Fighting continues to be reported in various parts of the country between government and anti-government forces. Food insecurity—brought on by conflict, high prices and poor harvests—affects some 4.9 million people in the country. Starvation faces 100,000 people in Leer and Mayendit counties in Unity State, while an additional 1 million South Sudanese are on the verge of famine. In addition to the 1.9 million internally displaced persons in South Sudan, approximately 1.6 million refugees have fled to neighbouring states, including nearly 200,000 since the beginning of 2017.
On 6 March, Thomas Cirillo Swaka, the former Deputy Chief of the General Staff for Logistics of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA, the South Sudanese army), announced that he was forming a rebel group called the National Salvation Front (NSF) to oust President Salva Kiir from power. Swaka, an Equatorian from the Bare ethnic group, resigned from the SPLA on 11 February, accusing it of being a “partisan and tribal army” that had committed rape and murder and served the interests of Kiir’s Dinka ethnic group. The NSF is one of several new anti-government militias that have formed since the July 2016 fighting in Juba between forces loyal to Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar, who fled the country as a result of the violence.
The operating environment for UNMISS and humanitarian organisations remains very difficult. The freedom of movement of UNMISS personnel continues to be significantly hindered, and in February more than 200 peacekeepers attempting to enter the country faced delays in receiving government clearances. The South Sudanese government announced in early March that it would charge up to $10,000 for work permits for foreign aid workers; fees had been $100 per person. This has raised concerns that the exorbitant fees will decrease the ability of humanitarian workers to serve in South Sudan.
In a 21 March press conference in Juba, outgoing Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous said that during his visit to South Sudan he had spoken about the impediments to the operations of UNMISS and of humanitarian actors with President Kiir, who told him that “this is not going to happen further”. Despite similar assurances in the past, violations of the Status of Forces Agreement have been a consistent problem. Ladsous further affirmed that he believed the first units of the RPF would be deployed in the “next few weeks”.
On 10 March, the Japanese government announced that it would withdraw the 350 members of its Self-Defence Forces, who conduct engineering tasks as a part of UNMISS, by the end of May. Japan has contributed peacekeepers to UNMISS since 2012.
During the 21 February meeting of the Transitional National Legislative Assembly, Kiir announced that the “national dialogue” that he proposed in late 2016 was a government priority in 2017. He has appointed a steering committee for the dialogue that includes 26 people—including parliamentarians, religious leaders and retired military officials—which is expected to create an agenda and timetable for the process.
While visiting Yei in South Sudan’s Central Equatoria State, African Union (AU) High Representative for South Sudan Alpha Oumar Konaré spoke on 7 March about the envisioned “national dialogue” process announced by President Kiir. He said the dialogue “should be led by independent personalities accepted by the people” and that all parties to the conflict, including Machar, should be included. Concerns have been expressed about whether an enabling environment exists in South Sudan for a national dialogue, given restrictions on freedom of speech.
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien briefed the Council on 10 March on the humanitarian situations in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, Kenya, Nigeria and the Lake Chad region. Referring to his 4-5 March visit to South Sudan, O’Brien said the “situation is worse than it has ever been.” He added that “active hostilities, access denials and bureaucratic impediments continue to curtail…efforts to reach people who…need help”, while “aid workers have been killed” and “humanitarian compounds and supplies have been attacked, looted and occupied by armed actors”.
On 23 March, Secretary-General António Guterres, Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission Chairman Festus Mogae and Betty Sunday, the Coordinator of the Women’s Monthly Forum on Peace and Political Processes in South Sudan, briefed the Council in a meeting chaired by UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Boris Johnson. A presidential statement was adopted during the meeting in which the Council called on the parties to adhere to a permanent ceasefire and underscored the need for a political solution to the crisis in South Sudan.
The South Sudan Sanctions Committee was briefed on 21 March by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Bangura, and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui. Bangura described the widespread sexual violence in South Sudan, indicating that soldiers in the armed forces were a major source of this problem. Zerrougui said that child soldiers continued to be recruited by government and opposition forces.
On 29 March, the Sanctions Committee met to discuss the final report of its Panel of Experts. In the report, yet to be publicly released at press time, the panel reportedly advocated an arms embargo on South Sudan.
Human Rights-Related Developments
At its 34th session, the Human Rights Council (HRC) held an interactive dialogue with the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan on 14 March to discuss the Commission’s latest report (A/HRC/34/63), which covers the period from July 2016 to February 2017. The report recommended the “immediate establishment of an international, independent investigation, under the auspices of the United Nations, into the most serious crimes committed in South Sudan since December 2013”. The report also concluded that there had been a “massive increase in gross human rights violations and abuses” since the outbreak of violence in July 2016 and that a “process of ethnic cleansing” was underway in South Sudan. Tackling impunity was emphasised as being key to the viability of South Sudan as a nation state, with the report noting that human rights violations have mainly been committed by government and government-aligned forces. In her statement to the HRC, the chair of the Commission, Yasmine Sooka, also briefed members on a number of “worrying developments” since the report was written, including the serious escalation of fighting in parts of Greater Upper Nile and the Greater Equatoria region, government obstruction of humanitarian assistance and UNMISS access, and the increase in the cost of work permits for foreigners following the declaration of the famine. On 24 March, the HRC extended the mandate of the Commission for one year.
The key issue is how the political process in South Sudan can be revitalised and what role the Council can play in supporting this process. The splintering of the opposition would appear to complicate mediation efforts. The Council has emphasised the need for a credible and inclusive national dialogue; however, it needs to determine how it can exert leverage on the government to ensure that this happens.
A further important issue is how to allay the devastating impact on civilians of the ongoing fighting and the acute humanitarian crisis.
Another issue for the Council is how effectively the RPF will be able to fulfil its mandate to facilitate safe and free movement into, out of and around Juba; to protect the airport and other key facilities in Juba; and to provide security for civilians, humanitarian actors, and UNMISS staff. This is a relevant concern given the restrictions the government has consistently imposed on the freedom of movement of UNMISS and given that the government has expressed concerns with the RPF’s activities at the airport, previously indicating that the force should only be permitted to protect the UNMISS terminal and installations.
One option would be for Council members to meet with the UN Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, Nicholas Haysom, and AU High Representative for South Sudan Konaré, to hear their views on how the UN and the AU are collaborating with one another and with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development in pursuit of a political solution to the conflict, and to ask for their input on how the Council could most effectively support their efforts. Neither has yet briefed the Council on South Sudan.
Another option would be for the Council to impose an arms embargo on South Sudan, given the continued fighting in the country. In late 2016, a draft resolution pursuing targeted sanctions and an arms embargo did not receive the requisite support from the Council to be adopted; however, an effort to pursue an arms embargo separately from targeted sanctions has not been attempted.
A further option would be to authorise the establishment of an independent investigatory mechanism to collect and preserve evidence of violations of international humanitarian and human rights law that could be used by the Hybrid Court for South Sudan envisioned in the August 2015 peace agreement. This proposal was endorsed by the HRC-mandated Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan in its March report to the HRC.
All Council members are concerned about the security and humanitarian crisis in South Sudan, which has been marked by ongoing conflict in various parts of the country, famine in some areas, and large-scale displacement. Members are further disturbed by restrictions on the freedom of movement of UNMISS staff and government impediments to the work of humanitarian personnel.
However, while there is general agreement on the gravity of the situation and the need for a political solution to the crisis, there does not seem to be a unified strategy for how to exert leverage on the parties. Tools such as targeted sanctions and an arms embargo have long been controversial in the Council. The failed draft resolution in December 2016 that sought to pursue these measures received only seven affirmative votes along with eight abstentions. (A resolution requires nine votes to be adopted, assuming a veto is not cast by one or more of the permanent members of the Council on a matter that is not procedural.) It is unclear whether a similar resolution regarding an arms embargo and targeted sanctions, or a resolution to impose an arms embargo alone, would now garner enough support to be adopted. In the 23 March briefing, France, Ukraine, the UK and the US mentioned an arms embargo and targeted sanctions as tools available to the Council, while Egypt and Russia reaffirmed their opposition to sanctions against South Sudan.
The US is the penholder on South Sudan, while Senegal chairs the South Sudan Sanctions Committee.
|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.|
|Security Council Presidential Statement|
|23 March 2017 S/PRST/2017/4||This statement emphasised the need for a political solution to the conflict in South Sudan.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|23 March 2017 S/PV.7906||This was a high-level briefing on South Sudan.|
|10 March 2017 S/PV.7897||This was a briefing on humanitarian situation in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Lake Chad Basin.|
|16 March 2017 S/2017/224||This was Secretary-General’s report on UNMISS.|
|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).|