South Sudan Consultations
Tomorrow afternoon (4 November), Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Ellen Margrethe Løj and UNMISS Force Commander Yohannes Gebremeskel Tesfamariam are expected to brief the Council via video teleconference from Juba on recent developments in South Sudan. It seems that the briefing is taking place at the request of the US, the penholder on South Sudan, and that it will likely focus on the recent violence in Bentiu and Rubkona in oil-rich Unity State, and on the recent unrest in some of the UNMISS “protection of civilians” sites, which are sheltering roughly 100,000 civilians across the country. There may also be discussion about the status of the peace talks; in spite of reports of some constructive developments in October, the recent fighting appears to have been a significant setback. Although unclear at press time, a press statement deploring the fighting in Bentiu and Rubkona and urging the parties to recommit to the peace process could be an option for the Council.
There have been numerous clashes between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA, i.e. government forces) and the SPLA in Opposition in recent weeks. Most recently, last week, the parties engaged in heavy fighting in Bentiu and Rubkona. On 29 October, the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) mediators issued a press statement that condemned the SPLA in Opposition for initiating the fighting. Thus, there may be interest in the views of Løj and Tesfamariam on these recent clashes, including how the events unfolded and who instigated them, whether there is any indication that the parties are exercising restraint and what this fighting means for UNMISS’ operations moving forward. The onset of the dry season is of particular concern, as Council members understand that, absent a political solution, fighting will likely escalate, as troops and supplies will not get bogged down in the rain and mud typical of the wet season.
Council members may also be interested in the implications of the recent fighting for the peace talks, and what the next steps might be to engage the parties in constructive dialogue, particularly given media reports today that the government has withdrawn its negotiators from the talks in Ethiopia in response to the recent violence in Unity State. While IGAD’s chief mediator Seyoum Mesfin said in Juba on 23 October that the SPLM and the SPLM in Opposition had achieved “a breakthrough” in the talks, power-sharing in the proposed transitional government of national unity has remained a significant sticking point.
Council members had questions about the peace process when Løj last briefed the Council on 22 October, but she was unable to provide up-to-date details at the time, as significant developments in the peace process, including the signing on 20 October of an intra-SPLM communiqué in Arusha, Tanzania, in which the parties accepted “collective responsibility for the crisis in South Sudan” took place while she was on her way to New York. Løj may now be in a position to share her views on these developments.
Another issue that will likely be raised tomorrow is the insecurity in the UNMISS “protection of civilian (POC) sites.” On 26 October, clashes occurred at the POC site in Juba, near UN House, in which over 60 civilians were wounded in the fighting. On 27 October, fighting also broke out in the POC site in Malakal, with reported clashes between Shilluk and Nuer youth; one person died and four were wounded in these clashes. Council members may be looking for further details on what precipitated these violent incidents, as well as an update on the mission’s efforts to maintain safety and security in the camps under very challenging conditions.
Another potential topic of discussion tomorrow is what can be done more broadly to protect civilians throughout South Sudan, given that this is a core element of the UNMISS mandate and that fighting is expected to get worse with the dry season. In this sense, it should be noted that the approximately 100,000 civilians in the POC sites represent only a small fraction of the more than 1.8 million people who remain displaced by the conflict, including the 1.4 million people internally displaced and the 463,000 refugees in neighbouring countries. Council members may request additional information on efforts being made to patrol outside of the camps, as well as an update on the deployment of additional personnel to enable the mission to reach its troop ceiling of 12,500 and police ceiling of 1,323.
The issue of targeted sanctions (i.e. assets freeze and travel ban) against spoilers to the peace process on both sides and a potential arms embargo may be raised at tomorrow’s meeting as well. Several Council members appear to support both measures, although there has been reluctance to move forward with either approach without the support of IGAD, which has been divided on whether to initiate such coercive measures against the parties in South Sudan. China and Russia, in particular, have expressed reservations about targeted sanctions, especially without IGAD’s support.
Later this month, the Council is expected to adopt a resolution renewing the mandate of UNMISS prior to its 30 November expiration. Although negotiations have yet to begin, at this point, it appears that Council members are committed to maintaining the current focus of the mandate on protecting civilians, facilitating humanitarian access and monitoring and investigating human rights developments.