Expected Council Action
In June, the Council is expected to consider the Secretary-General’s 90-day report on the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and his 30-day assessment of the deployment and future requirements of the Regional Protection Force (RPF). The Secretary-General is also expected to provide a review of the progress made by the parties towards ceasing hostilities, returning to the path of dialogue, and achieving inclusiveness within the government, as well as to recommend any relevant adjustments to the UNMISS mandate.
The UNMISS mandate expires on 15 December 2017.
Key Recent Developments
On 22 May, President Salva Kiir declared a unilateral ceasefire and promised to release political prisoners. At press time it remained unclear how widely it will be adhered to. At the same time, the government of South Sudan announced that the national dialogue committee had officially begun its work. Against the context of the government’s recent military offensives, these announcements appear to be part of a broader strategy to bring some groups into the government camp while eliminating others. President Kiir remains the chair of the dialogue, leading some groups to maintain that the dialogue will not be a genuine effort at reconciliation.
On 24 May, the Council was briefed by the Special Representative for the Secretary-General for South Sudan and head of UNMISS, David Shearer, on the Secretary-General’s 30-day assessment of the deployment and future requirements of the RPF, obstacles to setting up the force, and impediments to UNMISS in carrying out its mandate. Shearer noted that initial elements of the RPF have begun to arrive in Juba, including a number of engineers to prepare base locations in advance of the full deployment of the force. Shearer welcomed the government’s declaration of a ceasefire, and said there would be close scrutiny on whether it is maintained.
Prior to the declaration of the ceasefire, government offensives across the country had continued to displace tens of thousands of civilians. In the Upper Nile region, UNMISS responded to the risks to civilians by reinforcing its presence around Aburoc, where approximately 20,000 civilians have sought shelter. Fighting around Wau has pushed 22,000 civilians to seek shelter in the town. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that 20,000 refugees have crossed into Sudan and estimated that tens of thousands more may seek to enter Sudan before the onset of the rains in the coming weeks makes travel difficult. More than 900,000 people have already fled to Uganda from ongoing violence across the southern Equatorias region.
On 4 May, UNMISS announced that an operating base in Leer, in former Unity state, had been attacked with small arms fire from an unknown party. The attack was repulsed by a Ghanaian contingent without reported casualties to UNMISS or amongst the civilians who have sought protection adjacent to the base.
On 9 May, President Kiir announced the firing of the SPLA army chief, Paul Malong. Malong had previously maintained a position of dominance in the SPLA, and no reason was given for his dismissal. Malong initially reacted to his dismissal by departing Juba, reportedly accompanied by personal bodyguards and a number of SPLA officers, raising fears that he would declare himself in rebellion. These fears were partially reduced by his return to Juba on 13 May, and his reported reconciliation with President Kirr, although his intentions remain unclear.
Human Rights-Related Developments
In a statement on 4 May, the High Commissioner for Human Rights urged the government of South Sudan to refrain from further military offensives towards Aburoc, citing concerns that civilians would be caught between government and opposition forces, with military commanders on both sides having consistently shown a lack of regard for the protection of civilians.
On 19 May, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UNMISS released a joint report on human rights violations and abuses in and around Yei, Central Equatoria, between July 2016 and January 2017. The report concluded that the “vast majority” of violations were committed by the SPLA and allied forces, including 114 cases of arbitrary killing of civilians believed to be opposition supporters and detention and treatment that “could amount to torture”. At the same time, the report found that armed opposition groups, including the SPLA-IO, were implicated in human rights abuses, such as murder, rape and abductions.
On May 24 the Council renewed the mandates of the 2206 South Sudan sanctions regime and the South Sudan Panel of Experts for another year without significant changes or additions. Informal discussions continued between Council members on the question of whether to impose additional targeted sanctions or an arms embargo. At press time, however, a draft resolution proposing such measures had yet to emerge.
The immediate issue for the Council is how to respond to the government’s declared ceasefire, whether by encouraging this gesture, by exerting pressure on the government to back its declaration with concrete actions, or by combining both incentives and disincentives.
Another issue is how to achieve deployment of the RPF and ensure that it enables the redeployment of other UNMISS elements to areas where civilian populations are threatened by ongoing violence.
The larger issue for the Council remains how to encourage greater cooperation by the government, including ending the ongoing violence against civilians and removing impediments to both humanitarian access and UNMISS’s ability to carry out its mandate.
One option would be for the Council to demonstrate consensus on the need for a resolution to the conflict by adopting a presidential statement that:
- welcomes the ceasefire declared by the government and demands an immediate cessation of hostilities by all parties to the conflict;
- reminds the government of its responsibility to protect civilians, especially from atrocity crimes;
- emphasises the Council’s united support for regional efforts in pursuit of a mediated solution to the conflict; and
- condemns restrictions on the freedom of movement of UNMISS personnel and obstacles to humanitarian access imposed by the government.
Another option for the Council is to impose an arms embargo on the country and/or an assets freeze and travel ban on key figures responsible for the ongoing violence.
An alternative option would be for the Council to attempt to incentivise cooperation by the South Sudanese government by offering conditional support, possibly including logistical support, for the national dialogue. Conditions might include adherence to the ceasefire, the government’s commitment to participating in a revived and inclusive political process, and agreement that the national dialogue be chaired by someone other than President Kiir.
The Council is divided on its approach to South Sudan. Some Council members, including France, the UK, and the US, believe that the reported targeting of civilians by SPLA forces requires a firm response, including the imposition of an arms embargo and the application of targeted sanctions against individuals responsible for perpetuating violence. Other Council members, most prominently Russia, argue that additional sanctions would antagonise the relationship between UNMISS and the government, reducing UNMISS’ ability to implement its mandate, and undermine efforts to reach a political solution. At present there appears to be little prospect of agreement on a unified approach.
The US is the penholder on South Sudan, while Senegal chairs the 2206 South Sudan Sanctions Committee.
UN Documents on South Sudan
|Security Council Resolutions|
|24 May 2017 S/RES/2353||This extended the mandate of the South Sudan sanctions regime until May 2018.|
|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 Statements|
|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|
|25 April 2017 S/PV.7930||This was a briefing by the head of UNMISS, David Shearer.|
|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 the humanitarian situation in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Lake Chad Basin.|
|16 March 2017 S/2017/224||This was a 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).|