Expected Council Action
In December, the Council will renew the mandate of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and the authorisation for the Regional Protection Force (RPF), before their 15 December expiration. The Council is also expected to receive a briefing, followed by consultations, on the Secretary-General’s 90-day report on UNMISS, together with his monthly assessment of the deployment and future requirements of the RPF and impediments to UNMISS in carrying out its mandate.
Key Recent Developments
Nearly four years since the 13 December 2013 initial outbreak of violence, the security, humanitarian and human rights situations in South Sudan remain a cause for grave concern. Violent clashes between government and opposition forces in several areas of the country continue, including in the greater Upper Nile and Equatorias regions. Fighting, displacement and violations against civilians risk further escalation in the coming months with the onset of the dry season and improved mobility, which traditionally leads to increased levels of violence. Extrajudicial killings of civilians, arbitrary arrests and detentions, hate speech, and the harassment of political opponents are rampant.
According to OCHA, the number of internally displaced South Sudanese is 1.86 million, and an additional 2.1 million people have taken refuge in neighbouring countries. Intense fighting in Central Equatoria in late October forced more than 17,300 already displaced people to flee to new locations, with the majority reportedly crossing into Uganda. Approximately 4.8 million people face severe food insecurity, with the situation projected to deteriorate further at the start of 2018 to an estimated 5.1 million people. On 9 November, President Salva Kiir issued a decree ordering “free, unimpeded and unhindered movement” for humanitarian aid convoys, including the removal of roadblocks, and declaring that anyone who obstructs aid or imposes taxes on aid convoys “shall be held accountable”. In a 13 November statement, OCHA urged swift implementation of the order on the ground.
On 12 November, a weeklong stand-off between the government and Paul Malong, former chief of staff of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA)—which had raised fears of renewed fighting in Juba—was peacefully resolved after dozens of government tanks and troops, deployed along the road leading to Malong’s home in Juba, were withdrawn. They were deployed after Malong initially refused a presidential order to reduce the number of soldiers guarding his home from 35 to three. Malong was subsequently released from house arrest, which he had been under since Kiir dismissed him in May.
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) continues its efforts to revitalise the peace process in preparation for its initiative to convene a high-level revitalisation forum in the coming months. A summary of findings of IGAD-led consultations held separately with government, opposition and civil society actors in October was submitted to the IGAD Council of Ministers, which met informally on 28 November, and is expected to discuss its recommendations on the process in a formal meeting on 11 and 12 December. The release of a timeline by IGAD regarding next steps and the convening of the high-level forum is subsequently expected.
Deployment of the RPF, which was initially authorised in August 2016 and is expected eventually to comprise 4,000 troops, is continuing. The main body of the Rwandan infantry battalion is expected to complete its deployment by the end of the year. Deployment of the Ethiopian advance company was completed on 22 October, and transportation of the Ethiopian infantry battalion’s equipment has commenced through Kenya.
At the initiative of the Secretary-General, a strategic review of UNMISS began in mid-November, as one among several comprehensive reviews of peacekeeping operations. An integrated review team visited South Sudan at the end of November to consider the security and humanitarian situations and to consult with a wide range of actors, including the government, the international and humanitarian communities, and UNMISS, both in Juba and in more remote parts of the country. The team also travelled to Addis Ababa, where it met with other South Sudanese groups, including the opposition, as well as regional actors. The review team will report back to the Secretary-General, who is expected to submit a report early next year to the Security Council.
On 28 November, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Bintou Keita briefed the Council on the situation in South Sudan and expressed concern over the real risk of an escalation in violence with the onset of the dry season, and the government’s push to assert military dominance across the country. She also underlined the importance of having unified and unconditional international support to the political process, which will involve “very difficult and arduous discussions”.
On 6 October, the Coordinator of the South Sudan Panel of Experts briefed members of the 2206 South Sudan Sanctions Committee on the panel’s 120-day report. The report concluded that the panel continues to view an arms embargo and targeted sanctions “as important tools for shifting the focus of key leaders away from military options and towards political solutions”.
On 10 November, there was a joint meeting of the Sudan (1591), Libya (1970) and South Sudan (2206) Sanctions Committees on the presence and activities of Darfuri rebel groups in South Sudan and Libya. The Panels of Experts for each committee briefed.
On 15 November, the South Sudan Sanctions Committee held informal consultations on the interim report of the Panel of Experts. The report states that “absent a change in the current conflict dynamics, the coming dry season will see further fighting and civilian suffering, as the government continues to pursue military victory over political compromise.”
Key Issues and Options
An immediate issue is the need to renew the mandate of UNMISS ahead of its 15 December expiration. A likely option is for the Council to adopt a technical rollover of the mandate until early 2018. This would allow members to consider the findings of the strategic review, which may inform decisions regarding any possible changes to the mandate. By that time, there may also be progress on IGAD’s efforts, which could further inform Council action.
Another key issue for the Council is how to support efforts to revitalise the political process in South Sudan. The Council could adopt a resolution or a presidential statement which:
• emphasises the Council’s support for regional efforts to pursue a mediated solution to the conflict;
• strongly condemns violence perpetrated by government forces and armed groups and calls for an immediate ceasefire; and
• condemns restrictions on the freedom of movement of UNMISS personnel and obstacles to humanitarian access.
In an effort to reduce the level of violence and exert leverage on the parties, Council members could decide to revisit the proposals for an arms embargo and targeted sanctions.
Another important issue is how much impact the deployment of the RPF, which is mandated to provide a secure environment in and around Juba and in other areas in extremis, will have on improving the security environment in South Sudan. A démarche from the Council President to the South Sudanese ambassador regarding delays in receiving clearances and visas from the South Sudanese government for RPF personnel could help address these issues and expedite the deployment of the force.
There is widespread concern about the political and humanitarian situation in South Sudan and general support among Council members for IGAD’s efforts to revitalise the peace process. However, different views on the way forward continue to hinder the Council’s engagement. For example, there has been a longstanding divide on whether to impose an arms embargo and further targeted sanctions in an effort to exert leverage on the parties. All 15 Council members made statements during the 28 November briefing, where differences in this regard were again made apparent.
Although last year’s resolution renewing UNMISS’s mandate was adopted unanimously, following a one-day technical rollover in an effort to obtain broader support, the previous three resolutions were adopted without a consensus. Ahead of the mission’s mandate renewal in December, the majority of Council members, including the US as penholder on the issue, appear to support adopting a technical rollover in anticipation of receiving the Secretary-General’s report on the strategic review of UNMISS in early 2018.
The US is the penholder on South Sudan.
UN Documents on South Sudan
|Security Council Resolution|
|16 December 2016 S/RES/2327||This extended the mandate of UNMISS for one year and reauthorised the Regional Protection Force.|
|15 September 2017 S/2017/784||This was the 90-day report on UNMISS.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|28 November 2017 S/PV.8115||This was a briefing by Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Bintou Keita.|
|16 December 2016 S/PV.7840||This was the meeting to adopt the resolution renewing UNMISS’ mandate.|
|Sanctions Committee Documents|
|20 November 2017 S/2017/979||This was the interim report of the Panel of Experts on South Sudan.|
|20 September 2017 S/2017/789||This was the 120-day report of the Panel of Experts on South Sudan.|