South Sudan: Briefing by the Secretary General
This afternoon (12 May), the Security Council is expected to hold a briefing, followed by consultations, on South Sudan. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to brief the Council on his recent visit to South Sudan and Ambassador Francis Deng (South Sudan) may also make a statement in the open session. Following the public briefing, Council members are expected to have consultations, with Ban participating. It seems that Ban will brief the press following the consultations.
Council members are expecting the Secretary-General to discuss his efforts to promote a peaceful solution to the conflict in South Sudan. He met with President Salva Kiir of South Sudan and other government officials during his 6 May visit to Juba. He also had a telephone conversation with former Vice President Riek Machar, the leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) in Opposition. Kiir and Machar agreed to convene for negotiations, and on Friday, 9 May, met in Addis Ababa, their first direct contact since the conflict broke out on 15 December 2013.
They signed an agreement for “an immediate Cessation of Hostilities within 24 hours of signing” and the establishment of a transitional government of national unity to “oversee a permanent constitutional process and guide the country to new elections.” Unfortunately, the agreement was violated over the weekend, with fighting reported in Bentiu, and both sides exchanging accusations that the other side broke the ceasefire. Subsequently, the two sides alleged that they had recommitted to the ceasefire, although Machar claimed that Kiir does not have control of the forces fighting against the opposition.
Ban may use the opportunity to urge all parties to the conflict to honour the ceasefire deal for the sake of the people of South Sudan, where over 1.2 million have been displaced since the conflict erupted, thousands have already died as a result of the fighting, and aid agencies have noted that famine is a possibility in the coming months unless something is done to avert it. Ban may also emphasise the role of the UN system in protecting civilians and defending human rights in the midst of the conflict. While in South Sudan, Ban visited Tomping camp, a UN facility which is protecting approximately 21,000 internally displaced persons. Currently, approximately 78,000 civilians are being protected in UN sites across South Sudan with staff from the UN and NGOs operating under extremely difficult conditions. Inter-ethnic tensions have been reported in the overcrowded camps, with concerns expressed by UN officials and aid agencies of the potential for water-borne diseases to break out with the onset of the rainy season. Ban may elaborate on efforts being made to build alternative facilities, including one in Juba adjacent to Tomping camp, given the dangerous sanitary conditions in some of the current facilities.
The nearly immediate violation of the 9 May agreement comes as a major disappointment to Council members. Some members may see this as a further sign of the urgency of a credible and inclusive political process and may wish to discuss what sort of leverage they could exert on those who continue to violate the ceasefire agreement. Targeted sanctions against individuals who undermine efforts toward peace and commit serious human rights violations have been discussed as one option within the Council, although Russia has publicly expressed wariness with this approach and it is unclear whether any member is ready to push for this following the events of the weekend.
Even if the recent violations are a temporary setback and serious efforts are made by the combatants to stop the fighting, Council members will likely have questions about the political process moving forward. Regarding the elements of the 9 May agreement, the terms of “the transitional government of national unity”, including who precisely will participate in it, still need to be negotiated, as do the modalities and timeline for the proposed constitutional process and elections.
Another issue that may be raised during the consultations is the protection of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) monitoring and verification teams that have already been deployed in Bentiu, Bor and Malakal. On 9 May, the Secretary-General submitted a letter to the Council in which he requested the Council to consider authorising the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to provide protection for these teams within its capabilities, and on a temporary basis, until such time as the modalities for the deployment of the IGAD Protection Force are determined. Council members may be looking for more information on the type of protection UNMISS would be expected to provide ahead of providing any sort of endorsement.
Following the consultations this afternoon, Council members plan to hold a preliminary read-through of a draft resolution revising UNMISS’ mandate. The draft resolution on UNMISS was circulated just prior to the 8 May South Sudan consultations. Initial indications are that the draft includes as key elements of the revised mandate: the protection of civilians, the facilitation of humanitarian access, human rights monitoring and investigation, and support for regional mediation efforts. Many Council members appear eager to adopt this resolution expeditiously, ideally before the end of the month, given the severity of the crisis in South Sudan.