What's In Blue

Posted Thu 19 Dec 2013

South Sudan Consultations

Tomorrow morning (20 December) Council members are scheduled to hold consultations on South Sudan with Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet expected to brief. At press time, it was unclear whether a Council outcome would result from the meeting, although it seemed that this was a strong possibility, given the ongoing political crisis and reports of significant violence and human rights violations in Juba, Bor, Akobo and elsewhere.

The meeting was called by the US, the penholder on South Sudan. Council members will be interested in getting an update on the situation on the ground. Several have noted how quickly events in the country are unfolding, and in recent days, they have been trying to make sense of what appears to be a highly volatile situation. It seems that Council members will be seeking greater clarity of the situation, as much of the information provided by Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous during his briefing under “Any Other Business” on Tuesday (17 December) could not be confirmed at the time and several critical developments have transpired since then.

It appears that tomorrow’s briefing will be multi-faceted, with Mulet likely to give an overview of the political, security, and humanitarian situation throughout the country. He is also likely address concerns about the safety and security of UN personnel, especially in light of the attack on the UN base in Akobo in Jonglei state by Lou-Nuer youth today which appears to have resulted in the deaths of peacekeepers and by the numerous instances of mistreatment of UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) staff by South Sudan security forces in recent months. (It should also be noted that Mulet is expected to brief UNMISS troop-contributing countries separately tomorrow afternoon as well).

Of great concern to Council members is that the fighting appears to be spreading throughout the country. While the situation in Juba appears to have calmed, at least for the time being, significant fighting has been reported elsewhere in South Sudan. Heavy fighting has broken out in Bor, the capital of Jonglei state, along the same ethnic lines as in Juba, with troops from the Nuer community fighting soldiers from the Dinka community. The government lost control of Bor on 18 December, and in addition to the attack on the UN base in Akobo, there have also been reports of violence against civilians in Unity and Warrap states.

An issue of particular interest to Council members is the effort being made by international actors to mediate between the factions of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), the ruling party in South Sudan, in conflict with one another. An Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) ministerial delegation—including officials from Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda—was dispatched to Juba on 19 December, and Council members will be eager to learn about the substance of their talks with key SPLM figures. Members will also be keen to know of additional mediation measures taken by UNMISS or others.

Some Council members have noted the fundamental political nature of the crisis, which was sparked when rival factions of the presidential guard in Juba–those loyal to President Salva Kiir versus those allied with former Vice-President Riek Machar–started fighting one another. During a press conference today, in keeping with this perspective, Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said “the main point…is that this is a political crisis and urgently needs to be dealt with through political dialogue.”

On a more operational level, Council members will be interested in efforts that are being taken by UNMISS to protect civilians, and they will also likely discuss how the mission’s capacity to fulfill its protection mandate can be enhanced. When Ladsous briefed Council members on 17 December, he tentatively estimated that 400-500 people had been killed, and that 600-800 people had been wounded, while also noting that it seemed that over 18,000 civilians had sought protection at two UN facilities in Juba. He also said that there appeared to be an inter-ethnic dimension to the fighting, a matter of great concern to the Council. Since Ladsous’ briefing, there have also been several reports of civilians being targeted specifically because of their communal affiliations.

Another related issue that may be raised in tomorrow’s discussion is how to ensure that unfettered humanitarian access is provided, given the impact that the fighting has had on civilian populations, thousands of whom have been displaced in the turmoil.

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