Informal Interactive Dialogue on the South Sudan Mediation Process
Tomorrow morning (27 June) the Security Council is planning to hold an informal interactive dialogue with Seyoum Mesfim, the chief mediator of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)-facilitated South Sudan peace talks in Addis Ababa. The informal interactive dialogue is being used as Mesfin is not a UN official, and given the format, the meeting will be private and off the record. (The informal dialogues are private and off-the-record meetings presided by the Council President and take place in a meeting room other than the Council Chamber or Consultations Room.)
Council members have been keen to hear from an IGAD representative about the mediation process for several months. Although they have been following the Addis Ababa talks, tomorrow’s interactive dialogue will be the first time Council members will receive a comprehensive overview of the negotiations from a key player in the mediation process. Members will likely be interested in receiving an update from Mesfin on recent developments in the talks, and what steps can be taken to invigorate the peace process, as the most recent round of negotiations collapsed on 23 June. In particular, Council members will likely value Mesfin’s input on how the Council can most constructively facilitate the peace process moving forward.
In recent weeks, the peace talks have been mired in process, stalled by disagreements between the parties on the form and substance of civil society participation, as well as disenchantment with the mediation. On 10 June, President Salva Kiir and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) in Opposition leader Riek Machar agreed to finalise negotiations on the creation of a transitional government of national unity within 60 days and recommitted to stop the fighting.
Since then, progress has been slow. Remarks allegedly made by IGAD Executive Secretary Mahboub Maalim on 16 June, calling both Kiir and Machar “stupid” if they believed that the crisis in South Sudan could be solved militarily, temporarily stalled the talks. It seems Kiir wrote to Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia demanding an apology and explanation for the remarks. The government of South Sudan has also expressed unhappiness that both sides are “uniformly and randomly blamed for any violations” by IGAD, and it also does not believe that pro-opposition civil society figures should participate in the negotiations.
Meanwhile, the SPLM in Opposition has complained about the IGAD-led selection process for participants in the negotiations. It believes that the talks should be between the government and the SPLM in Opposition only, with all other stakeholders aligning behind the party of their choice. Following a boycott of the talks by the SPLM in Opposition, IGAD attempted to restart the negotiations on 20 June but these negotiations—which included only the government, some civil society representatives and former high-level SPLM detainees—collapsed by 23 June.
While the Council has been supportive of IGAD efforts, there is growing frustration with the lack of progress in the talks, and a number of Council members are questioning the level of commitment of the government and the SPLM in Opposition to the peace process. (Prior to the 10 June agreement, three previous ceasefire agreements signed by South Sudan and the SPLM in Opposition on 23 January, 6 May and 9 May have been violated.) There may be interest in learning from Mesfin whether there are plans for the government and the SPLM in Opposition to reconvene, when this might happen, and how receptive the two parties are to reengaging. Council members may also seek information on how civil society participants were chosen for the negotiations, as well as who they are, given the concerns of the government and the SPLM in Opposition as to who should have a seat at the negotiating table. Along these lines, Mesfin might address whether (and how) to balance these concerns with the commitments made by both sides to include other key stakeholders in the talks.
Another important issue that may be raised in tomorrow’s discussion is whether coercive measures (i.e. targeted sanctions) should be imposed on members of the government and the SPLM in Opposition to induce them to negotiate in good faith and stop obstructing the peace process. Both IGAD and the AU have recognised that punitive measures may be needed to exert leverage on the parties. On 10 June, IGAD issued a communiqué stating that its members “will take further collective action to pressure any party who fails to honour its commitments…including through imposition of punitive measures.” Recent media reports have also indicated that IGAD may ask for the Security Council to impose targeted sanctions against the relevant parties. In a 12 June communiqué, the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) reiterated its readiness to implement targeted sanctions and other measures, upon IGAD’s recommendation, on any party that continues to undermine the peace process and fails to uphold its commitments. This is not the first time that the PSC has floated sanctions as a possible option: it also did so in the communiqué issued at its 30 December 2013 summit meeting in Banjul, Gambia.
Several Council members believe that the Council should consider targeted sanctions against those who are responsible for the violence and continue to block the peace process. Others, notably Russia, appear to be more wary of targeted sanctions, stating during the 2 May briefing (S/PV.7168) on South Sudan that “this subject [the use of targeted sanctions] needs to be fully fleshed out, taking into account both internal and regional factors.” It is possible that if the AU and IGAD were to implement sanctions on the parties first, this could create additional impetus for the Security Council to do so, following the lead of the key regional and sub-regional organisations.
The question of timing of any potential targeted measures remains unclear. Some Council members note, for example, that the 10 June Kiir-Machar agreement gave the parties 60 days (until 9 August) to finalise negotiations on the creation of a transitional government of national unity, and that consideration of targeted measures should only come if there is no progress once the deadline passes. On the other hand, the parties have repeatedly failed to honour their commitments to the mediation process. For example, it should be noted that the 10 June IGAD communiqué, which commends Kiir and Machar for recommitting to the peace process, also calls on the parties “to refrain from behaviour that stands in the way of an inclusive process”, something that the two sides appear reluctant to do.
Along these lines, members may try to get Mesfin to elaborate on Machar’s recent letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. In the 23 June letter, Machar reportedly said that the SPLM in Opposition was willing to continue the negotiations, but wanted to negotiate directly with the government to expedite the process because of IGAD’s 60-day deadline. It seems that the letter indicated that other stakeholders should play a “consultative” part in the talks.
Although not part of the mediation process, another issue that may be raised tomorrow is the deployment of the IGAD Protection Force, which will serve under the command of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and will provide protection for the IGAD monitors investigating human rights violations, in addition to other UNMISS-mandated tasks. Approximately 2,500 troops are expected to serve in the IGAD Protection Force and to come from Ethiopia, Kenya and Rwanda. On 19 June, the first of these troops–approximately 90 peacekeepers from Ethiopia–arrived in Juba. Council members may be interested in discussing the timeframe for the deployment of the remaining troops in the Protection Force.