Expected Council Action
In June, Security Council members expect to hold an open videoconference (VTC) meeting, followed by a closed VTC session, on the Secretary-General’s 90-day report on the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and developments in South Sudan. Special Representative and head of UNMISS David Shearer is the likely briefer.
The mandate of UNMISS expires on 15 March 2021.
Key Recent Developments
On 22 February, the Transitional Government of National Unity was established in South Sudan, marking the start of a 36-month transitional period ahead of elections, in accordance with the terms of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) signed on 12 September 2018. Riek Machar was sworn in as First Vice President, followed by four other vice-presidents.
At press time, the parties continued to disagree on the allocation of the ten state governorships. On 7 May, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir declared that the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Government (SPLM-IG) would be accorded six governorships while three would be chosen by the SPLM in Opposition (Machar’s party) and one by the South Sudan Opposition Alliance, a coalition of opposition parties. In a letter later that day to Augostino Njoroge, interim chair of the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, which is responsible for overseeing and monitoring implementation of the peace agreement, Machar rejected Kiir’s decision, writing that it was “not taken by consensus” and arguing that the R-ARCSS “gives the parties the competence to allocate the States and Counties and not the Presidency”. He further requested Njoroge’s intervention in the matter, noting that the “deadlock in the allocation of States still stands”.
Heavy inter-communal fighting between the Murle and Lou Nuer groups was reported in Pieri and the surrounding areas in Jonglei state on 16-17 May. Although the precise number of casualties is unclear, some media sources have estimated that over 200 people died and 300 were wounded in the fighting, which included cattle–raiding, the abduction of women and villages being burned. Doctors Without Borders has reported that more than 50 of the wounded were transferred for medical care to its hospital in Lankien, located some 50 kilometres from Pieri. On 20 May, Special Representative Shearer, quoted on the UNMISS website, said that the violence was “fueled by economic deprivation caused by devastating floods which wiped away many homes and killed thousands of cattle which families rely on for their survival”. The attack is the latest in a series of inter-communal clashes in Jonglei in recent months.
On 22 May, High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet released a statement condemning reports that hundreds of civilians were killed in inter–communal violence across 28 villages in Jonglei State between 16 and 17 May, with many more injured and thousands displaced. According to the statement, despite a decline in politically motivated fighting, inter–communal violence has increased this year to become the main source of violence in the country. During the first quarter of 2020, it resulted in 658 people killed, 452 injured, 592 abducted and 65 subjected to sexual violence, the statement said.
The number of reported cases of COVID-19 in South Sudan continues to rise steadily; as of 29 May, 994 cases had been reported in the country. Among those infected are First Vice President Riek Machar and his wife, Defence Minister Angelina Teny. If not contained, the virus could have a devastating impact on the country, given the tens of thousands of people living in overcrowded camps for internally displaced persons and South Sudan’s fragile and under-resourced health care system.
On 7 May, Special Representative Shearer held a virtual press briefing on the COVID-19 crisis. He said that because of the movement restrictions put in place to combat the virus, the UN had to reduce some operations, such as rotating staff in health centres and patrolling. Nonetheless, he described the measures UNMISS and UN agencies have been able to take, including pre–positioning nutritional supplies for vulnerable populations, distributing soap and buckets, and developing an education campaign to combat the virus, among other examples.
The final report of the South Sudan Sanctions Committee’s Panel of Experts was published on 28 April. The report maintained that “[t]he selective and incomplete implementation of the security compromises made under the revitalized peace agreement threatens the peace, security and stability of South Sudan”. In particular, the report noted that the deadlines for completing transitional security arrangements, including the cantonment of forces and the “formation, training and redeployment of the necessary unified forces” had not been met. It further outlined violations of the arms embargo imposed by the UN Security Council, including weapons shipments to the National Security Service from Sudan’s General Intelligence Service and the presence of Uganda People’s Defence Forces in South Sudan’s Central Equatoria State. The panel recommended that the arms embargo be maintained.
On 29 May, the Council adopted resolution 2521, renewing the South Sudan sanctions regime—including targeted sanctions and the arms embargo—until 31 May 2021 and the mandate of the Panel of Experts until 1 July 2021. While 12 members voted in favour of the resolution, three members (China, Russia, and South Africa) cast abstentions.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue for the Council is how to encourage further progress in implementing the peace agreement, including by breaking the impasse over the allocation of state governorships and addressing security arrangements. Members could request a briefing from the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission to get its assessment of the implementation of the peace agreement. The Council could consider adopting a presidential statement acknowledging the progress that has been made—for example, through the formation of the transitional government and the reduction of political violence—while urging the parties to resolve outstanding issues.
Another important issue is how to address the ongoing inter-communal violence, including between the Murle and Lou Nuer groups in Jonglei states. Members may be keen to learn in June’s meeting the measures that UNMISS is taking to help mitigate such violence.
Given the spread of the coronavirus in South Sudan, another key issue is what further measures the Council can take to help reduce the impact of COVID-19 on the security and humanitarian situation in the country. In their interventions during the open VTC—or in a product, if the Council were to pursue one—Council members could encourage enhanced funding and in-kind support (for example, medical supplies and equipment) from member states for the humanitarian needs facing South Sudan.
Council members agree that the formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity on 22 February was an important step, but many of them share concerns over the need to fully implement the R-ARCSS and create a durable peace. In this regard, when UNMISS was renewed in March, the Council listed support for the peace process as a priority ahead of monitoring and investigating human rights in the order of mandated responsibilities, a departure from previous years. During this month’s briefing, some members may also emphasise the need for an agreement on the allocation of state governors and progress on implementing transitional security arrangement as important factors in consolidating peace in South Sudan.
As demonstrated by the vote on resolution 2521, there are divisions on the Council regarding the utility of sanctions on South Sudan. While some members believe that they help to foster stability in the country, others are concerned that they could undermine the political progress that has been made.
The US is the penholder on South Sudan. Ambassador Dang Dinh Quy (Viet Nam) chairs the 2206 South Sudan Sanctions Committee.
UN DOCUMENTS ON SOUTH SUDAN
|Security Council Resolutions|
|29 May 2020 S/RES/2521||This resolution extended the sanctions on South Sudan until 31 May 2021 and the mandate of the Panel of Experts until 1 July 2021.|
|12 March 2020S/RES/2514||This resolution renewed the mandate of UNMISS until 15 March 2021.|
|Sanctions Committee Document|
|28 April 2020S/2020/342||This was the final report of the South Sudan Sanctions Committee’s Panel of Experts.|