South Sudan Consultations
Council members are scheduled to hold consultations at 3 pm today on the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), and more broadly, the situation in the country. The objective of the meeting appears to be to receive a briefing from Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović on his trip to South Sudan from 14-17 January, to assess the human rights situation in the country after visiting Juba, Bor and Bentiu. Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of UNMISS Hilde Johnson may brief as well (via VTC) on the activities of the mission and the situation on the ground. While unclear at press time, it is possible that the Council may decide to issue a press statement following the meeting, given the ongoing severity of the human rights violations being committed and the recent tensions between the government and UNMISS.
Council members will be interested in receiving from Šimonović a better understanding of the nature of the violations occurring in the conflict. On 17 January, Šimonović said that mass atrocities had been committed by both sides. He also said he had received reports of mass killings, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, sexual violence, widespread destruction of property and the use of children in the conflict. Describing the conflict as a horrifying human rights disaster, he also stressed the need for accountability, a theme that is likely to resonate with several Council members who have been emphasising the importance of holding those responsible for human rights violations to account in recent consultations on South Sudan.
The UN Security Council has already welcomed the 30 December 2013 decision of the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) “to establish a commission of investigation to ensure accountability, reconciliation and healing among all South Sudanese communities”, while also endorsing the PSC’s “intent to take appropriate measures” against those who incite or perpetrate violence or undermine UNMISS’s protection mandate (SC/11244). The establishment of an independent fact-finding mission to investigate the reported crimes, something that Šimonović has already suggested, and targeted sanctions against those who violate human rights are options that the Council might now be willing to consider.
Regarding Johnson’s potential briefing, Council members will be interested in receiving an update on the rapidly evolving situation on the ground and how UNMISS is coping under extremely challenging conditions. Members are particularly concerned about the mission’s ability to protect civilians, given the acts of violence that continue to be committed against civilians and the fact that approximately 70,000 people are being protected within UN compounds around the country, stretching the capacity of UNMISS and its humanitarian partners. Members may want to know how secure the camps are and how personnel are managing sanitary conditions in the camps, given the potential for a cholera outbreak. There may also be interest in knowing whether additional police and troops arriving in South Sudan through inter-mission cooperation have enabled UNMISS to conduct robust patrolling outside of UN facilities.
Another issue that may be discussed is the deteriorating relationship between UNMISS and the government of South Sudan. President Salva Kiir of South Sudan recently accused UNMISS of being a “parallel government” after high-level South Sudan government officials accompanied by troops threatened to force their way into the UNMISS base in Bor, believing that the UN was harbouring armed rebels there. UNMISS repelled the attempted intrusion and denied allegations that it is harbouring rebels. Nonetheless, the incident was symptomatic of the rising tensions between the government of South Sudan and the UN, which has accused South Sudan of numerous violations of the Status of Forces Agreement with UNMISS. Several Council members as well have been alarmed by a recurring pattern of misconduct by government troops, which began well before the recent conflict erupted in December.
Council members may also be interested in information about the status of negotiations in Addis Ababa between parties loyal to Kiir and former vice-president Riek Machar. Media reports today have indicated that a truce has been signed by the parties. There will likely be interest in further information about this.