What's In Blue

Posted Tue 21 Oct 2014

South Sudan Briefing by Head of UN Mission

Tomorrow morning (22 October), Ellen Margrethe Lǿj, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), is expected to brief the Council on the situation in South Sudan and the current UNMISS report (S/2014/708). Zainab Hawa Bangura, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, is also expected to brief via video tele-conference from Geneva, likely focusing on her 5-11 October trip to South Sudan. Consultations will follow.

This will be the first formal briefing by Lǿj since officially assuming her position in early September.(Lǿj was in South Sudan in August to meet Council members when they visited the country but was not yet officially head of mission.) Council members will be interested in her overall impressions of the situation in South Sudan and suggestions for how the Council could enhance the mission’s effectiveness, especially considering that the mandate of UNMISS is up for renewal next month before it expires on 30 November.

An underlying concern of Council members that will likely be raised tomorrow is the mission’s ability to protect civilians. Thousands have died in the conflict that began last December, and there are 1.4 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and approximately 467,000 refugees who have fled to neighbouring countries. Approximately 96,000 of those displaced are living in UNMISS bases for fear of being subjected to violence if they attempt to leave, in spite of the insecurity, squalor and overcrowding that many of the IDPs contend with at these sites. Council members will likely want an update on the efforts of UNMISS, in collaboration with other actors, to improve living conditions in these bases and to protect the people residing in them. Given that only a small fraction of the displaced live in the UNMISS bases, there will also probably be interest in the mission’s current capacity to patrol and protect civilians outside the camps.

A related issue that may be discussed is the deployment schedule of the remaining UNMISS troops and police, and how these additional personnel might be able to enhance the mission’s capacities with respect to protecting civilians, facilitating humanitarian access and monitoring human rights. In May, resolution 2155 raised the mission’s troop ceiling from 7,000 to 12,500 military personnel and from 900 to 1,323 police. But, according to the Secretary-General’s recent UNMISS report (S/2014/708), there was still a significant shortfall of troops and police as of 24 September.

Bangura is likely to give a gloomy assessment of the conditions facing women and girls in South Sudan. At a press briefing at UN headquarters in New York on 20 October, she said that in her 30 years of experience she had never witnessed anything like what she had seen at the UN camp in Bentiu, where in her words “the IDPs seeking refuge there face a combination of chronic insecurity, unimaginable living conditions, acute day-to-day protection concerns and rampant sexual violence.” According to Bangura, sexual violence has been committed by both sides in the South Sudan conflict, with interlocutors on her trip describing rape, gang rape, forced marriage, sexual slavery and abduction among the crimes being committed. She noted as well that during her trip she had signed a joint communiqué with the government outlining steps it can take to prevent and address sexual violence— including the “issuance and enforcement of clear orders through the army chain of command prohibiting sexual violence [and] assistance for survivors”. She was unable to secure a similar communiqué from rebel leader Riek Machar.

Council members will likely want to get Bangura’s ideas on how UNMISS and other international actors can enhance efforts to combat sexual violence in South Sudan and on how to ensure that the government makes a serious effort to implement the commitments made in the communiqué. It is possible that there may be some questions about why Machar refused to sign a similar document and how to improve the behavior of his forces with regard to sexual violence.

On the security and political tracks, there will probably be interest in the status of the conflict on the ground and the negotiations in Ethiopia. Regarding the security situation, recent developments are not promising, with sporadic fighting reported in recent weeks in oil-rich Upper Nile State in violation of the cessation of hostilities agreements signed by the parties. With the dry season fast approaching—and creating conditions that facilitate enhanced movement—analysts believe that the fighting will likely get worse, absent a political solution to the crisis. Council members may also want to discuss the peace talks. In particular, members may be interested in strategies the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which is mediating the talks, may be developing to break the impasse between the parties.

There may also be interest in discussing the framework agreement that the government of South Sudan [Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM)], the SPLM in Opposition, and SPLM former detainees (high-level SPLM officials who were detained by the government but subsequently released) signed in Arusha, Tanzania, on 20 October. Media reports have indicated that this agreement commits the parties to intra-SPLM democracy, and that while the discussions in Arusha, facilitated by Tanzania’s ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party, reinforce the IGAD-mediated process in Ethiopia, they are distinct from them. Council members may be interested in getting Loj’s assessment of the talks, how the negotiations relate to the IGAD process and what role the Arusha track could or should play moving forward.

The need for accountability for crimes committed in South Sudan has been emphasised by Council members since the early days of the conflict. In this sense, there may be interest in any information the briefers may be able to provide on the work of the AU Commission of Inquiry, which is expected to release a report in the coming weeks with recommendations for healing, reconciliation, and accountability for human rights violations in South Sudan. According to the 19 September report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in South Sudan (A/HRC/27/74), “no concrete steps have been taken by either the Government or the SPLM/A-IO to indicate that they had begun to seriously pursue justice and redress for victims.”

With discussion on the mandate looming, it is possible that Council members may also want to revisit whether and how the mission will collaborate with South Sudan’s police moving forward. On the one hand, there is recognition by the Council that local police could potentially coordinate with UNMISS to protect civilians, especially when conditions improve enough for the displaced to begin to return home. On the other hand, some Council members still harbour significant distrust of South Sudan’s police, given the role that it has played in perpetrating human rights violations in the conflict, including, for example, in the massacre of Nuer civilians in Juba at the outset of the crisis.

Finally, the issue of sanctions may again be a topic of discussion in tomorrow’s meeting. The threat of targeted sanctions (i.e. a travel ban and assets freeze) against spoilers to the peace process and significant human rights violators has been a part of the Council’s discussion on South Sudan for several months. Some Council members have also been entertaining the idea of an arms embargo on South Sudan. However, political dynamics on this issue within IGAD have made the pursuit of potential sanctions by the Council a very challenging matter. Countries neighbouring South Sudan are divided on whether to support the imposition of sanctions on South Sudan. Absent the support and enforcement of countries in the region, the impact of a Security Council resolution imposing such measures is likely to be diminished. Furthermore, it seems that China and Russia, both veto-wielding Council members, would be reluctant to support sanctions without the support of IGAD.