Briefing on South Sudan by Human Rights High Commissioner and Prevention of Genocide Special Adviser
Tomorrow (2 May) afternoon the Security Council is scheduled to hold a public briefing on South Sudan. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng are expected to brief on their 28-30 April visit to South Sudan. Council members will then make their statements. It appears that several members were supportive of an open briefing, rather than consultations, to enable them to emphasise publicly the severity of the crisis.
Council members will be interested in receiving an assessment from Pillay and Dieng of the current human rights situation in South Sudan based on their recent visit. Both Pillay and Dieng have underscored the gravity of the situation in South Sudan, with Dieng warning that “all possible measures must be taken…to protect populations from another Rwanda,” and Pillay stating that it must be impressed “on the country’s political leaders that they must stop blindly dragging their people down the path of self-destruction.”
Since the political crisis in South Sudan erupted into a civil war on 15 December 2013, there has been widespread concern among Council members about the inter-ethnic violence that has been an element of the fighting. The massacre of several hundred people in Bentiu from 14-16 April after opposition forces entered the town, and the killing of scores of civilians at the UN compound in Bor on 17 April were particularly worrying to Council members, as they represented an escalation of targeted inter-ethnic killings in South Sudan. In a 24 April press statement (SC/11363), Council members expressed their “horror and anger” at the violence in Bentiu, and reiterated their condemnation of the attack on the UN compound in Bor.
Pillay and Dieng are expected to share the details of their trip to Bor, where they met with the survivors of the attack on the UN base. It is also likely that they will share with Council members details of the discussions they had with President Salva Kiir of South Sudan and other government officials, as well as with former Vice President Riek Machar, the leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) in Opposition. In a press conference in Juba on 30 April, Pillay said that the visit had “reinforced the view that the country’s leaders…have…embarked on a personal power struggle that has brought their people to the verge of catastrophe.” Also on 30 April, Dieng said that both leaders had agreed to send strong messages about the importance of unity and respect of all South Sudanese and to take immediate measures to end the violence. Council members may be looking to Dieng for an assessment of whether the two leaders would fulfill this commitment.
Pillay and Dieng may also emphasise the importance of accountability for those who have committed serious human rights violations. In statements made on 30 April in Juba, both emphasised that holding to account those responsible for egregious human rights crimes will play an important role in ending the cycle of violence.
Several Council members have raised the need for accountability in recent consultations and may be inclined to press this point in their remarks tomorrow. They may thus emphasis the critical importance of the work of the AU Commission of Inquiry, which has been entrusted with investigating human rights violations committed during the conflict and recommending ways to ensure accountability and promote reconciliation. It appears that several Council members are considering the option of targeted sanctions against those who have been responsible for egregious violations of human rights and/or obstructed the peace process, although at least one or two members appear concerned that sanctioning key political leaders may make them less inclined to negotiate a political settlement.
Child protection issues may also be raised during tomorrow’s briefing. In her 30 April press conference, Pillay stated that according to UNICEF over 9,000 children have been recruited to fight in the conflict by both parties, while they have also attacked 20 clinics and health centres and taken control of 32 schools. On 20 April, following the attack in Bor, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, condemned the attack and expressed concern over reports of underage recruitment. (Recruitment of child soldiers and repeated attacks on hospitals and schools are violations of international law subject to inclusion in the annexes of the Secretary-General’s reports on Children and Armed Conflict. In the 2013 report, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army is listed for the recruitment and use of children.)
While the briefing is expected to focus on human rights, it is possible that the dire humanitarian situation will enter into the discussion. Approximately 1.2 million people have been displaced by the fighting, and food insecurity has reached crisis proportions in South Sudan, with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warning of possible famine in the near future. Pillay said that she “was appalled by the apparent lack of concern about the risk of famine” from both Kiir and Machar.
The Council is going through a period of intense engagement on South Sudan. Council members were last briefed on South Sudan on 23 April, and it appears that, in addition to tomorrow’s meeting, there will be another meeting next week, likely in consultations, that will include a briefing from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations regarding force generation for and capacities of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), among other issues. This is particularly relevant, as it seems that Council members are discussing revisions to UNMISS’ mandate, to give it a heavier focus on protection of civilians, facilitation of humanitarian access, and human rights monitoring. While a draft resolution has yet to be circulated by the US, the penholder on South Sudan, it appears that several members believe that such a draft will be circulated soon and that a resolution amending UNMISS’ mandate may be adopted later this month.