September 2020 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 August 2020
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South Sudan

Expected Council Action 

In September, the Security Council expects to hold a meeting on South Sudan, during which it will discuss the quarterly report on the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and developments in the country. Special Representative and head of UNMISS David Shearer is the most likely briefer.  

Key Recent Developments 

After significant delays, the parties to the September 2018 Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict (R-ARCSS) in South Sudan have made progress in allocating senior state-level positions. On 17 June, they decided that the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Government (SPLM-IG), led by President Salva Kiir, would be accorded six of the ten state governorships while three would be chosen by the SPLM in Opposition (SPLM-IO), led by First Vice President Riek Machar, and one by the South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA). On 10 August, the parties reached another power-sharing arrangement on state-level positions, agreeing to allocate state deputy governorships as follows: three each to the SPLM-IG, the SPLM-IO, and the Other Political Parties (OPP) and one to the SSOA.   

In spite of this progress, a key impasse remains with regard to naming the governor of oilrich Upper Nile State as the SPLM-IG has not accepted the SPLM-IO’s proposed candidate for this post. On 2 July, Ateny Wek Ateny, a spokesman for President Kiir, told a local radio station that the candidate, SPLM-IO General Johnson Olony, would not be appointed because “he is a warmonger” who is “still in the bush and [whose] forces have not yet gone into cantonment sites”.   

On 14 July, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) held a summit via videoconference (VTC), during which it issued a communiqué underscoring a broad range of challenges facing its constituent member states. While the communiqué thanked South Sudan’s leadership for their determination to implement provisions of the September 2018 peace agreement, it nonetheless highlighted a number of additional steps that it believed needed to be taken to advance the peace process. In this regard, the communiqué:   

  • urged the government to provide the requisite funds and logistical support to expedite security arrangements, “particularly the completion of the training, graduation, and redeployment of the national unified forces”; 
  • requested the government “to provide adequate financial support to the Disarmament and Demobilization Commission (DDRC) to undertake a comprehensive reintegration process”; and 
  • appealed to President Kiir to dissolve the current Transitional National Legislative Assembly before 26 July and to the parties to constitute a new assembly, as stipulated by the September 2018 peace agreement, within seven days of its dissolution.  

At the time of writing, these measures had yet to be taken.   

The South Sudan military’s recent disarmament campaign led to significant violence and loss of life in Warrap state’s Tonj region starting on 9 August, when civilians at a marketplace would not relinquish their weapons to the military. On 14 August, the spokesperson of the UN Secretary-General said local authorities had reported that at least 150 people had died in the fighting and that 5,000 families had been displaced. He added that UNMISS—which had deployed 45 troops, two military observers and two community liaison officers to the area—was conducting patrols to prevent a recurrence of violence and to assist in reconciliation efforts.  

While the ceasefire in South Sudan has generally held, there have nonetheless been reports of violations. For example, during the week of 22 July, the South Sudan People’s Defence Force (SSPDF), the government’s forces, clashed with the National Salvation Front (NAS) in parts of Central and Western Equatoria states.  

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread in South Sudan, contributing to the difficult humanitarian and economic situation in the country. At 28 August, 2,514 cases and 47 deaths from the novel coronavirus had been officially reported in South Sudan although the numbers could be much higher given the limited testing capacity in the country. Barney Afako, a member of the UN Human Rights Council’s (HRC) Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, noted in a 14 August commission press release that “on-going conflict and the departure of humanitarian staff due to COVID-19 are severely overburdening and stretching thin the ability of aid actors to reach vulnerable populations”. He added: “In a country where approximately 6.5 million individuals remain food insecure, conflict is severely exacerbating the spiralling food prices and inflation due to COVID-19”.  

Council members held a VTC meeting on South Sudan on 23 June. Special Representative Shearer and Edmund Yakaniexecutive director of the Community Empowerment for Progress Organization, provided the briefings. Shearer highlighted the impact of COVID-19 on South Sudan. In addition to noting the direct impact of the virus, he expressed particular trepidation about its potential effect on the country’s fragile health care systemDisruption to vaccinations, maternal health services or routine treatment for curable diseases like malaria, diarrhoea and pneumonia will result in a devastating increase in deaths—likely greater than the predicted loss of life from COVID-19, he said. Shearer further commented on the political undertones of intercommunal conflict in states such as Jonglei, Unity, Warrap, and Western Equatorianoting that uniformed fighters have been observed in these skirmishes, “suggesting that organized forces may be joining the conflict, which risks unraveling the ceasefire”. He added that a “truly unified national leadership would have acted promptly and stepped in to curb the conflict”, instead of allowing it to unfold. 

Yakani said the political will to fulfill the peace agreement in South Sudan in a timely way was not present. Among other things, he called on the Council to enhance support for local peacebuilding efforts, to support the immediate creation of transitional justice mechanisms outlined in the peace agreement, and to ensure that the parties adhere to the ceasefire in South Sudan.    

Human Rights-Related Developments 

The 14 August press release of the HRC Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan also noted with great concern the escalation in violence in six of the ten states, marked by the “killing and injury of hundreds of civilians, and the displacement of more than 80,000 others”. Commission Chair Yasmin Sooka underscored that “the levels of violence and suffering particularly against women, the elderly and children are deeply disturbing, and demonstrate an utter disregard for human life, making the revitalized peace agreement a mockery”. The commission noted that notwithstanding the formation of the Revitalised Government in February 2020, the government response to these attacks remains “woefully inadequate”, which was also conceded by President Kiir in his 8 July address to the nation. In the press release, the commission acknowledged the President’s statement and efforts but remained concerned at the “complete lack of accountability” and absence of “systematic investigations”. While 9 out of 10 state governors have been appointed, the slow pace of establishing functioning local governments has created a vacuum of state authority, which permits on-going inter and intracommunal violence, the commission observed. 

At its 43rd session, the HRC on 22 June adopted resolution 43/27 without a vote, urging the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity to “establish all transitional institutions in accordance with the procedures outlined in the Revitalized Agreement”. The HRC also extended the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan for one year and requested it to “convene two workshops on transitional justice” as well as to “work collaboratively with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights”.  

Key Issues and Options  

A number of significant political and security challenges persist in South Sudan related to the delays in implementing the 2018 peace agreement. Among the key issues facing the transitional government are filling the remaining governorship in Upper Nile State and reconstituting the National Legislative Assembly.   

Several security issues also pose hindrances to the peace process. Cantonment and training of security forces, which are a pre-requisite to forming a unified national army, have faced significant difficulties. In this regard, the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (RJMEC), which is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the peace agreement, said in its report covering 1 April30 June that “there are persistent reports of several of the cantonment sites being abandoned due to a lack of food and essential life support resources”. 

Given the many delays in implementing the peace agreement, the Council could consider holding an informal interactive dialogue (IID) with key RJMEC officials to exchange ideas about how to support the parties in meeting their obligations under the agreement. The IID is a closed format that, unlike consultations, allows for the participation of non-UN officials.  

The Council could also consider adopting an outcome such as a presidential statement that: 

  • emphasises the urgency of making progress on security arrangements and reaching an agreement on a governor for Upper Nile state; 
  • underscores the importance of forming a reconstituted Transitional National Legislative Assembly; 
  • appeals to UN member states to provide financial and technical support to the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring and Verification Mechanism (CTSAMVM), which consists of personnel from 15 countries, echoing the call for such support in IGAD’s 14 July communiqué; and 
  • reiterates the Council’s support for IGAD’s mediation efforts in South Sudan.      
Council Dynamics 

Council members agree that the formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity on 22 February was an important achievement. In this regard, several members are likely to encourage the progress that has been made in filling state-level positions during the September meeting. However, strong concerns are also likely to be expressed about the delays in implementing key elements of the peace agreement (such as the transitional security arrangements or the establishment of a new Transitional National Legislative Assembly), ongoing intercommunal and political violence, and the economic and humanitarian crises that have been exacerbated by COVID-19.   

There are stark divisions on the Council regarding the utility of UN sanctions on South Sudan. While some members believe that they help to foster stability in the country, others have reservations about their utility in the current context.  When the Council last renewed the South Sudan sanctions in May, resolution 2521 was adopted with 12 votes in favour and with China, Russia and South Africa abstaining. 

The US is the penholder on South Sudan. Ambassador Dang Dinh Quy (Viet Nam) chairs the 2206 South Sudan Sanctions Committee. 

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Security Council Resolutions
29 May 2020S/RES/2521 This resolution renewed the South Sudan sanctions regime (targeted sanctions and arms embargo) 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.
Security Council Letter
25 June 2020S/2020/582 This was a compilation of the briefings and statements from Council members’ VTC on South Sudan on 23 June.

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