South Sudan Consultations
This afternoon the Council is expected to receive a briefing in consultations on the situation in South Sudan. Although not confirmed at press time, it appeared that Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous and Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic would be the briefers. The meeting is expected to focus on the recent attacks against civilians in Bor (Jonglei state) and Bentiu (Unity State). While the Council issued a press statement on 18 April expressing outrage at these attacks (SC/11389), it appears that Council members may consider issuing a presidential statement or another decision, given the additional information that has become available regarding the magnitude of the inter-ethnic killing.
UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and various media outlets have provided detailed information in recent days on violence in Bentiu and Bor. Following the taking of Bentiu during 15 and 16 April, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) in Opposition engaged in the killings of hundreds of non-Nuer civilians and foreigners. Additionally, Nuer civilians hiding at the Bentiu hospital were killed for not cheering the rebels when they entered Bentiu. In one large outburst of violence, the SPLM/A in Opposition reportedly killed over 200 civilians taking refuge in the town’s Kali-Ballee Mosque. There are also reports of hate speech being broadcast on Radio Bentiu FM by some SPLM/A in Opposition commanders. In Bor, youth, mainly from the Dinka-Bor group, attacked the UN site on 17 April, which is protecting more than 5,000 people, mainly from the Nuer group. They tried to force their way over an outer wall at the site, firing inside. At least 48 people died and scores were wounded, before UNMISS peacekeepers repelled the attack. Two UN peacekeepers were also wounded during the incident.
Council members may be interested in getting information from Ladsous of the activities that UNMISS is taking to protect civilians, and his assessment of what additional measures can be taken by the mission moving forward to prevent further attacks. Regarding Simonovic’s briefing, it is possible that he may provide additional information on the various human rights violations that have been committed in Bentiu and Bor.
The timing of the attacks in Bentiu and Bor overlapped with the Council’s 16 April briefing on the prevention and fight against genocide, during which the Council adopted resolution 2150 calling on states “to recommit to prevent and fight against genocide, and other serious crimes under international law” and underscoring “the importance of taking into account lessons learned from the 1994 [Rwandan] Genocide”. The current situation in South Sudan, as in the Central African Republic and Burundi, challenges the UN system and the organisation’s member states to adhere to this resolution, as well as similar commitments made in other contexts.
In this respect, there are various tools available to the Council. Given the nature of the crimes being committed in South Sudan, it is possible that Council members may use tomorrow’s meeting to reiterate the need for accountability for all parties violating human rights in South Sudan. One option for the Council would be to consider targeted sanctions against those committing egregious human rights violations. It appears that some Council members have been giving this option some consideration. A related option, although less likely, would be a referral by the Council to the ICC of those responsible for the most serious crimes. The Council may also consider adopting a statement or a resolution making an urgent request for states to contribute troops to UNMISS to enable the mission to reach its troop ceiling. (The emergency effort to augment the troop strength of UNMISS through inter-mission cooperation since late December 2013 has had limited results, although a number of police have arrived and have played a constructive role in protecting civilians.) Another issue for consideration is what role the Council could play in mediating among the parties to the conflict; it does not appear that the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)-led peace talks in Addis Ababa have made progress of late.
The dire security and humanitarian situation in South Sudan also adds urgency to the Council’s consideration of a revised mandate for UNMISS. Most Council members believe that the mission should remain focused on core tasks it has been engaged in since the outset of the crisis in December 2013 (i.e., the protection of civilians, facilitating the provision of humanitarian access, and monitoring and reporting of human rights), as well as supporting inter-communal and national dialogue and IGAD’s monitoring and verification activities.
While not the focus of tomorrow’s meeting, it appears that several Council members are awaiting information from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations on its discussions with IGAD regarding options for collaboration between the proposed IGAD Protection and Deterrence Force and UNMISS. Additionally, as the Secretariat has requested that the surge capacity of the mission—which raised the ceiling of troops and police to 12,500 and 1,323, respectively—be kept in place for at least an additional year, at least one Council member has expressed interest in receiving more information on the concept of force generation, the capacities of potential new forces, and their precise functions.