What's In Blue

Posted Fri 15 Nov 2013

Briefing and Consultations on South Sudan

On Monday morning (18 November), the Security Council will receive a briefing and its members will hold consultations on the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). Hilde Johnson, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of UNMISS, is scheduled to brief. Among the potential areas to be covered are the ongoing violence in Jonglei state and the protection of civilians, the mistreatment of UNMISS staff by the South Sudan security forces and methods of evaluating the mission.

The violence in Jonglei state as a result of inter-communal clashes, rebel-related actions and misconduct by disruptive security forces has been a matter of concern for many Council members. They may be interested in discussing how UNMISS can best support South Sudan in protecting civilians, an important part of the mission’s mandate and a key concern of several Council members. As outlined in the Secretary-General’s recent report (S/2013/651), the mission’s protection of civilians strategy has three layers: engagement with the government and security forces; aerial and ground patrols; and training of security forces in human rights, rule of law, and other protection-related matters. Council members may be interested in Johnson’s analysis of challenges facing the mission in pursuing the protection of civilians strategy and how they are being addressed.

Council members may also be interested in a timeline for finalising construction of the two county support bases in Akobo and Pibor counties in Jonglei state, given that these bases will enhance UNMISS’ presence in these volatile areas and facilitate its early warning efforts. Furthermore, there may be interest in receiving an update on the status of conversations between the UN Secretariat and Rwanda on the deployment of three more military transport helicopters, which will help address the mission’s mobility challenges and enable it to respond more quickly to unfolding crises.

Another issue that will likely be raised in the meeting is the mistreatment of UNMISS staff by the South Sudan security forces. On 6 November, Margaret Carey, Director of the Africa I division in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, briefed Council members under “any other business” on this issue. (The meeting was apparently convened at the request of the US, the penholder on South Sudan.) Among the cases of misconduct reported by Carey was an incident which occurred on 19 October, when an international UNMISS staffer was beaten and then detained for over an hour by members of the police and military, after a minor traffic incident with a military vehicle in Juba. According to the recent Secretary-General’s report on UNMISS, there had been “67 cases of harassments, threats, physical assaults, arrests and detentions of UN personnel and seizures of UN vehicles” reported between 7 May and 5 November.

While inappropriate behavior by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) against UN personnel has been reported before, several Council members expressed concern during the briefing at the extent of the problem. While some Council members supported issuing a press statement regarding these incidents, it was ultimately decided that the appropriate course for now would be for Ambassador Liu Jieyi (China), the President of the Council this month, to demarche Ambassador Francis Deng (South Sudan) to express the Council’s disquiet over these incidents. This demarche took place shortly thereafter, and while it is too early to tell if it will have any significant impact, Council members may be interested in discussing further how the pattern of misconduct among the South Sudan security forces can be best addressed as well as ways of better protecting UNMISS staff.

An additional issue for discussion might be the two disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) pilot projects that were completed in September in Mapel, Western Bahr-el Ghazal state, for 290 ex-soldiers. According to the Secretary-General’s report, the World Bank is supporting the reintegration of these former troops into civilian life. There may be interest in any lessons learned from these projects and how they can be applied to future DDR efforts in South Sudan. (South Sudan hopes to demobilise some 80,000 SPLA troops within eight years.)

More broadly, Monday’s meeting may include a wider discussion of developments regarding the mission’s benchmarks. Outlined in the Secretary-General’s 26 June 2012 UNMISS report, these benchmarks are designed to measure South Sudan’s progress in the following:

  • preventing, mitigating and resolving conflicts and protecting civilians;
  • creating the foundation for effective, democratic governance both nationally and locally;
  • strengthening institutional capacity to maintain public order and administer justice;
  • monitoring and preventing violations of human rights; and
  • creating a foundation for sustainable development in South Sudan.

Along with UNMISS reports from the Secretary-General, Council members are given a confidential color-coded measurement of progress (or lack of progress) against each benchmark. (For example, a green symbol indicates that progress has been made, while a red one indicates the opposite). Some Council members believe that this system of evaluation is a bit static, arguing that it fails to chart success or failure against benchmarks over extended periods of time.

The issue of benchmarks is relevant to longer-term peace-building and state-building goals in South Sudan. Several members of the Council are concerned that UNMISS has spent considerable time reacting to crisis situations that have distracted its attention from more strategic efforts to help the world’s newest country to achieve durable peace, stability and prosperity.

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