December 2020 Monthly Forecast


South Sudan

Expected Council Action

In December, the Council will be briefed on the Secretary-General’s 90-day report on South Sudan, which members expect to receive by 7 December. Ambassador Dang Dinh Quy (Viet Nam), chair of the 2206 South Sudan Sanctions Committee, is also expected to brief on South Sudan sanctions. Consultations are expected to follow the briefing. An outcome on sanctions is possible.

The mandate of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) expires on 15 March 2021.

Key Recent Developments

After significant delays, the parties to the September 2018 Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) have made some progress at the political level in recent months although critical security sector reform remains stalled. State governors have been appointed, but delays continue in country-level appointments. The cabinet meets irregularly, and the Transitional National Legislative Assembly has yet to be reconstituted, resulting in an inability to pass necessary new laws and delaying progress on the constitution.

The Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (RJMEC), which is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the R-ARCSS, said in its most recent quarterly report covering 1 July to 30 September that there are “ongoing risks and challenges to implementation of the R-ARCSS including the lack of resources for redeployment of the Necessary Unified Forces, intercommunal clashes, persistent National Salvation Front attacks in the Equatorias, and limited efforts at tackling the Transitional Period tasks”. It concluded that none of the 187 activities to be conducted during the Transitional Period have taken place and that two key pre-transitional tasks, namely reconstituting the Transitional National Legislative Assembly and completion of the security arrangements, “continue to trail implementation with no clear timetable for them being accomplished”.

In October, representatives of the Transitional Government of National Unity and the South Sudan Opposition Movement Alliance (SSOMA), which includes holdout groups from the R-ARCSS such as the National Salvation Front led by Thomas Cirilo Swaka, held meetings in Rome mediated by the Rome-based Community of Sant’Egidio. The SSOMA recommitted to adhere to the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement and further meetings were scheduled to take place in Rome between the parties at the end of November.

The National Dialogue Conference (postponed from March, due to the COVID-19 pandemic) took place in Juba from 3 to 14 November. (The National Dialogue was first announced as an initiative of President Salva Kiir in December 2016. Three regional conferences preceded the national conference.) The conference reportedly included over 500 participants from different communities and political parties and sought to address key issues, including governance, the economy, national security, land and social cohesion. A final paper is expected on the outcome.

Humanitarian needs continue to rise because of violence, flooding and the COVID-19 pandemic. An estimated 856,000 people across 39 counties have been affected by flooding in South Sudan since July, with close to 400,000 displaced as a result, according to OCHA, as at 21 October. Security of humanitarian workers remains an issue. At the end of October, UNMISS evacuated 35 humanitarian workers following threats and violent attacks by youth in Renk, a town in the Upper Nile region.

On 31 October, Council members received the report from the Secretary-General requested in paragraph 5 of resolution 2521, assessing the role of the arms embargo in facilitating the implementation of the R-ARCSS. The resolution also requested that the report include options for the elaboration of benchmarks to assess the arms embargo measures. While the report does not contain specific benchmarks, it presents options for developing such benchmarks, including headquarters-based desk review with or without remote consultations and a field-based assessment mission. The Council may use the results of such a review to elaborate a list of benchmarks against which the progress of implementation at the national level may be assessed.

Council members were last briefed on South Sudan on 16 September in an open videoconference (VTC), followed by a closed VTC. The briefers were Special Representative and head of UNMISS David Shearer and Nyachangkuouth Ramban Tai, representing the civil society organisation Assistance Mission for Africa.  Ramban Tai spoke about intercommunal violence in South Sudan and emphasised the Security Council’s protection of civilians role. Shearer described delays in security sector reform and in reconstituting the Transitional National Legislative Assembly in South Sudan.

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 6 October, the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan issued a report (A/HRC/45/CRP.3) documenting how, between January 2017 and November 2018, South Sudanese government forces intentionally deprived Fertit and Luo communities, living under government opposition control, of critical resources, in acts amounting to “collective punishment and starvation as a method of warfare”. The report also found that government commanders authorised their soldiers to “reward themselves” by looting objects “indispensable to survival” of these rural populations.

During its 45th session, the Human Rights Council (HRC) heard an oral update from the commission as part of an enhanced interactive dialogue, as requested by the HRC in resolution 43/27. In a statement, commission chair Yasmin Sooka expressed severe concern about sexual and gender-based violence being “extraordinarily high” and reiterated that South Sudan is witnessing “a war against women and girls and their bodies”. She called for the immediate implementation of Chapter V of the Revitalized Peace Agreement in order to establish the Hybrid Court and the Commission on Truth, Reconciliation, and Healing for the “full range of transitional justice measures” to be enacted. Otherwise, she warned, the ongoing cycle of destruction and impunity will not be broken.

Sanctions-Related Developments

On 20 November 2020, the 2206 South Sudan Sanctions Committee discussed the interim report of its Panel of Experts (S/2020/1141), as requested in resolution 2521. “Amid the inaction in the implementation of the peace agreement, the chains of command of armed groups have fragmented, and some units have prepared to return to conflict”, the report says. It also finds that there is a lack of transparency and oversight in relation to how South Sudan collects and spends oil and non-oil revenue.

Key Issues and Options

Several significant political and security challenges persist in South Sudan related to the delays in implementing the 2018 peace agreement. Numerous security issues also pose hindrances to the peace process. Cantonment and training of security forces, which are a prerequisite to forming a unified national army, have faced major difficulties.

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 and briefers.

Another key issue is the sanctions measures in the context of resolution 2521, in which the Council decided to carry out a midterm review of the measures by 15 December. As part of this review, the resolution expresses the Council’s readiness to consider adjusting the measures, “including through modifying, suspending, lifting or strengthening”, to respond to the situation. An option would be to consider the 31 October report from the Secretary-General requested in resolution 2521 and decide on one of the three options presented to conduct the review. The Council could also consider adopting an outcome such as a presidential statement on the issue.

Council Dynamics

Council members agree that the formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity on 22 February was an important achievement. However, many members remain concerned 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 the sanctions help to foster stability in the country, others have reservations about their helpfulness 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. Paragraph 5 on reporting and benchmarking was added before the text went under silence to allay concerns about the utility of the arms embargo. After silence was broken, further amendments were incorporated into the final text that called for the Council to review the targeted sanctions and the arms embargo by 15 December. (For more details, see our What’s in Blue story of 28 May 2020.)

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.
Secretary-General’s Reports
31 October 2020S/2020/1067 This was the report requested in resolution 2521, assessing the role of the arms embargo.
8 September 2020S/2020/890 This was the 90-day report of the Secretary-General on South Sudan.
Security Council Letter
16 September 2020S/2020/914 This was a compilation of the briefings and statements from Council members’ VTC on South Sudan.