What's In Blue

Briefing and Consultations on New Priorities for UN Mission in South Sudan

Tomorrow, 18 March, the Council is scheduled to be briefed on the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) by Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous, on the report of the Secretary-General on UNMISS released on 6 March (S/2014/158), and by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngucka, on her visit to South Sudan on 18-19 February. It seems Hilde Johnson, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of UNMISS, may also brief the Council. Council members are expected to hold consultations following the briefing.

The Secretary-General’s report identifies five priority tasks for UNMISS: protecting civilians; enabling humanitarian access; increasing human rights monitoring and reporting; facilitating inter-communal and national dialogue; and supporting mediation and cease-fire monitoring by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). In order to implement the reprioritised mandate, the report recommends that the Council raise the ceilings for military and police strength for 12 months in line with the temporary increase in troop and police strength approved in resolution 2132 adopted on 24 December 2013.

The report suggests putting on hold operational and capacity-building support that could enhance the capacity of those engaged in the conflict while allowing for the retention of certain capacity-building functions in partnership with the government of South Sudan. These would be restricted to states within South Sudan “that have so far been spared by the conflict” and functions that “do not directly contribute to enhancing the fighting capacities of the parties or undermine the Addis Ababa negotiations”. Council members may choose to seek further clarification on how UNMISS would be able to effectively assert the neutrality and impartiality presumably required for effective peacekeeping and mediation support if a capacity-building partnership with the government of South Sudan is retained.

There are other areas of the report that Council members may have questions about, including the current status of peacekeepers deployed through inter-mission cooperation and the rationale behind the phased reinforcement of troops throughout 2014 as outlined in the annex to the report. Another area of interest could be how UNMISS has coped with recurring violations by South Sudan of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and what plans it has for addressing ongoing threats to UN bases and protection sites (i.e. contingency planning for a worst-case scenario).

Council members may also want more information about a recent incident in South Sudan apparently involving the transportation of weapons and ammunition for an UNMISS contingent from Ghana deployed in Bentiu, Unity State. On Friday 7 March, a convoy of UN trucks was stopped for inspection by the government in Rumbek, Lakes State. Although the UN is required by the SOFA to ship weapons within South Sudan by air, weapons and ammunition were found on board the trucks. Speculation ensued online and in media coverage that these supplies also included landmines, but a UNMISS spokesperson has since claimed the boxes held “crowd control equipment”. Anti-UN public protests erupted in Juba on 10 March, while a joint UN-South Sudan investigation has been announced and may now be underway. It is likely that Council members may seek greater clarity from Johnson on what was being shipped as well as the impact of this incident on UNMISS’s image in South Sudan.

Perhaps most critically, Council members are also likely to discuss recent developments regarding IGAD. On 13 March, IGAD issued a communiqué authorising a Protection and Deterrent Force (PDF) to be deployed in South Sudan as part of the Monitoring and Verification Mechanism. IGAD also called upon the UN and the AU to provide “all the necessary support”. Without specifically mentioning Uganda, the communiqué also reiterates IGAD’s call for “the progressive withdrawal of all armed groups and all allied forces invited by either side”. Media reports suggest that the countries contributing troops would be Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda and possibly Djibouti. The potential size of the PDF has not been specified, but apparently the intent is to deploy as rapidly as within one month. Rebel leader Riek Machar has publicly stated his opposition to the PDF and threatened withdrawal from the IGAD mediation process. Council members will undoubtedly be interested in an update on these issues as well as more information from Ladsous and Johnson regarding how an IGAD-authorised PDF would operate in tandem with UNMISS.

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