March 2021 Monthly Forecast

Posted 26 February 2021
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South Sudan

Expected Council Action 

In March, the Council is due to renew the mandate of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) before its 15 March expiration. Prior to this, the Council expects a briefing, followed by consultations, on the Secretary-General’s 90-day report.    

Key Recent Developments 

South Sudan will mark ten years of independence in July. The permanent ceasefire continues to hold in most parts of the country, and overall levels of political violence remain lower since the signing of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) on 12 September 2018. However, slow and selective implementation of the R-ARCSS has contributed to uncertainty around the peace process. Localised ethnic and intercommunal violence continues. The human rights, humanitarian, food security, and economic conditions in the country remain dire, with an enormously detrimental effect on civilians.   

One year ago, on 22 February 2020, the Transitional Government of National Unity was established, marking the start of a 36-month transitional period ahead of the holding of elections, as agreed in the R-ARCSS. However, critical aspects of the R-ARCSS have not been implemented in accordance with its timelines. 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 October to 31 December 2020 that the “pace of implementation…slowed markedly during the last quarter”, with very little progress made on the two outstanding pre-transitional tasks, namely the reconstitution of the Transitional National Legislative Assembly (TNLA) and the training and redeployment of the Necessary Unified Forces (NUF). The report concluded that the slow pace of implementation of the R-ARCSS poses significant challenges and risks, including growing defections among the parties to the peace agreement and intercommunal violence, which could destabilise the permanent ceasefire; insufficient resources devoted to the training and redeployment of the NUF, with the potential to derail unification; and a prolonged delay in establishing the TNLA and the Council of States, which could result in the inability to pass legislation critical to the success of the R-ARCSS.  

On 15 December 2020, the Council received the independent strategic review of UNMISS, requested in resolution 2514, which renewed the UNMISS mandate for one year in March 2020The review concluded that the four pillars of the mission’s mandate remain valid overall, namely protecting civilians, creating the conditions conducive to the delivery of humanitarian assistance, supporting the peace process, and monitoring and investigating human rights violations and abuses. It made recommendations for specific adjustments to the mission’s activities in five key areas: supporting the implementation of the R-ARCSS, the peace process and relevant governance processes; protection of civilians; human rights; humanitarian assistance; and gender and women, peace and security. The review emphasised that “the primacy of politics is central to achieving protection goals and building durable peace in South Sudan” and stressed the need for increasing political leverage to help to move the peace process forward. In this regard, it noted that it is critical for the UNand in particular UNMISS, to enhance their role in supporting the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). To achieve this, the report recommends establishing a strong compact with the region and the Aand making more effective use of existing UN resources in the region.  

In December 2020, the Secretary-General released his report on children and armed conflict in South Sudan, covering 1 July 2018 to 30 June 2020. According to the report, grave violations against children have declined overall since the signing of the R-ARCSS, but such violations continue to be committed by all parties, including government security forces.   

Council members were last briefed on South Sudan on 15 December 2020 in an open videoconference (VTC), followed by a closed VTCThe briefers were Special Representative and head of UNMISS David Shearer and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark LowcockIn January, the Secretary-General announced the appointment of Nicholas Haysom (South Africa) as his new Special Representative for South Sudan and head of UNMISS to succeed Shearer.  

Human Rights-Related Developments 

On 2 February, a spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Human Rights welcomed the decision by the government to move forward with the establishment of transitional justice institutions, including the Hybrid Court and the Commission on Truth, Reconciliation and Healing, as agreed under Chapter V of the R-ARCSS. “Over many years, victims of extremely grave human rights violations have awaited the implementation of these key mechanisms,” the spokesperson said while calling on South Sudan to swiftly sign the Memorandum of Understanding on the establishment of the Hybrid Court, already negotiated with the AU. On 10 March, the Human Rights Council is expected to hold an interactive dialogue during its 46th session with the Commission on South Sudan and consider its report (A/HRC/46/53).   

Sanctions-Related Developments   

On 7 February, the 2206 South Sudan Sanctions Committee held a meeting open to all member states during which the coordinator of the Panel of Experts briefed participants on the Panel’s interim report of 25 November 2020The briefing was attended by Committee members, representatives of South Sudan and the regional states and other interested member states.  The Committee held a closed VTC with the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten on 26 February.   

Women, Peace and Security 

In an 11 February press release, Patten welcomed the announcement of the establishment of the Hybrid Court, which is expected to investigate and prosecute sexual violence, among other crimes. Patten expressed her hope that this will signal that perpetrators will be held accountable and that communities and survivors will be heard. She also emphasised the importance of the 35 percent quota for the representation of women in institutions such as the Hybrid Court, as agreed in the R-ARCSS. Patten called upon the government to expedite the establishment of the Hybrid Court and to adopt a survivor-centred approach.  

Key Issues and Options  

An immediate issue for the Council to consider is what changes are necessary to the mandate of UNMISS. The most likely option is for the Council to renew the mandate for one year, maintaining the four pillars of the mission’s mandate while making some adjustmentsIn doing so, Council members will be informed by the findings and recommendations of the independent strategic review, and the 90-day report of the Secretary-General, and might consider some of the following: 

  • reducing the mandated number of troops from 17,000 to 15,000 (14,621 troops are currently deployed in the country); 
  • increasing advice, technical support and good offices engagement in relation to implementation of the R-ARCSS, including the process of drafting a constitution and preparations for elections; 
  • increasing assistance for security sector reform; 
  • enhancing strategic political engagement between the UN, IGAD and the AU;
  • enhancing support to judicial and law enforcement institutions to address widespread impunity and promote the rule of law;
  • increasing protection of human rights defenders and civil society leaders; and 
  • increasing expertise on gender and conflict-related sexual violence.
Council Dynamics 

The mandate of UNMISS was last renewed on 12 March 2020 with the unanimous adoption of resolution 2514As was the case during negotiations on resolution 2459, which renewed the mission’s mandate in 2019Council members again expressed some divergent positions in relation to the preambular paragraphs during last year’s negotiations(Russia abstained on resolution 2459.) Reference to the South Sudan sanctions regime, and the arms embargo in particular, was contentious in 2019 and 2020, with strong opposition from Russia. Language on sexual and gender-based violence and human rights proved difficult during negotiations in 2020, as in prior years(See our What’s In Bluestory from 11 March 2020.)  

Many Council members are increasingly worried about the delays in implementing key elements of the R-ARCSS and the impact this may have on the political and security situationsIt is likely that these members will be in favour of language seeking to encourage UNMISS to enhance advice and technical support for the peace process and to increase its engagement with the AU and IGAD in this regard. Intercommunal violence; human rights violations; sexual and gender-based violence; and the economic and humanitarian crises are also likely to be raised as areas of concern during negotiations.   

Several of the members that joined the Council this year may be particularly engaged on South Sudan. India is the secondhighest troop-contributing country to UNMISS, as at December 2020. Kenya is a member of IGAD. Norway is a member of the Troika on South Sudan, along with the US and the UK.  

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
12 March 2020S/RES/2514 This resolution renewed the mandate of UNMISS until 15 March 2021.
Secretary-General’s Reports
23 February 2021S/2021/172 This was the 90-day report on South Sudan.
15 December 2020S/2020/1224 This letter transmitted the independent strategic review of UNMISS.
Security Council Letters
6 January 2021S/2021/49 This was on the appointment of Nicholas Haysom (South Africa) as Special Representative for South Sudan and head of UNMISS.
15 December 2020S/2020/1237 This was a compilation of the briefings and statements from Council members’ 15 December 2020 VTC on South Sudan.

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