South Sudan: Briefing under Any Other Business
This afternoon (17 December) the situation in South Sudan is likely to be raised under “Any Other Business” in consultations following the Security Council’s deliberations on the UN Office for West Africa. It is anticipated that Hervé Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, will be briefing Council members. At press time, a draft statement had yet to be circulated and it was unclear whether one would be distributed during the meeting or shortly afterwards; however, some members have indicated that this is a possibility.
The briefing, which was requested by the US, the penholder on South Sudan, will focus on the recent fighting that erupted in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, on the evening of 15 December and has continued intermittently since then. The fighting has been marked by gunfire in various parts of the city. On 16 December, President Salva Kiir of South Sudan, appearing in military attire, held a press conference, alleging that the violence resulted from an unsuccessful coup attempt sparked by forces loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar, who was sacked by Kiir on 23 July along with the entire cabinet. Kiir declared a curfew from 6pm to 6am in Juba until further notice. He added that the “culprits (would) answer for their crimes” and claimed that the government was “in full control of the security situation.”
In addition to calling for the briefing, it appears that the US, which has a diplomatic presence in Juba, has kept other Council members informed of events on the ground. However, as Council members understand, the circumstances regarding the violence remain unclear. It appears that some opposition figures were arrested, and it has been reported that thousands of civilians, primarily children and women, have sought protection at a UN facility in the Jebel Kujur section of the capital and at the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) base close to the airport. Thus far, it has been reported that more than 26 people have been killed in the clashes. Some media reports have also suggested that the fighting pitted Dinka and Nuer members of the army against one another. (Kiir is from the Dinka community, while Machar is from the Nuer community).
Council members will likely seek greater clarity during today’s briefing on how events transpired in Juba on 15-16 December, as well as the current political and security situation on the ground. Members may seek further information on what precipitated the violence, and the circumstances surrounding the arrests of opposition figures. Several Council members are also very concerned about reports that there is an inter-ethnic component to the fighting, and have noted initial indications that a large percentage of the civilians gathering at UN facilities in Juba are Nuer. It seems that there may also be questions about the political stability of the government moving forward. It is possible that Council members may seek Ladsous’ analysis of such issues.
There may be interest as well in what particular actions UNMISS is taking to address the turmoil in Juba. The mission released a statement yesterday in which Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of UNMISS Hilde Johnson urged “all parties in the fighting to cease hostilities immediately and exercise restraint.” According to the statement, Johnson has also reached out to key leaders urging calm. In another statement released earlier today, Johnson furthermore called on “leaders (of South Sudan) and all political factions and parties, as well as community leaders to refrain from any action that fuels ethnic tensions and exacerbates violence.” Council members may seek information on the identity of those with whom Johnson has spoken, as well as the substance of her conversations. They may also want to learn about any additional efforts that have been taken—or will be taken – by UNMISS to quell the crisis and to mitigate the potential for further violence.