What's In Blue

Posted Mon 15 Dec 2014

Presidential Statement on South Sudan

This afternoon (15 December) the Council is expected to adopt a presidential statement recognising the one year anniversary of the outbreak of the current civil war in South Sudan and once again suggesting appropriate measures against those disrupting the peace process. The US, the penholder on South Sudan, circulated the draft to Council members on Thursday evening (11 December). It went through two brief silence periods today, and is on track for adoption this afternoon.

In the draft presidential statement, the Council expresses its “profound disappointment” that the aspirations of the people of South Sudan, which became independent in July 2011, have not been met, with their leaders’ actions causing fighting and division. It states that South Sudan’s leaders have caused a man-made catastrophe in their country, while looking to President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar to make the compromises needed for peace.

The draft statement commends the efforts of international actors attempting to manage and resolve the conflict. These include the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) for playing a lead mediation role in the peace talks; initiatives of the AU, including the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry to seek reconciliation and accountability; the efforts of actors providing humanitarian assistance which helped prevent a famine in 2014; and the states in the region which have hosted nearly 500,000 refugees from South Sudan. In the draft statement, the Council also expresses appreciation for the actions of countries whose personnel have served in UN Mission in South Sudan to protect civilians and stabilise the security situation, while paying tribute to peacekeepers, who have died carrying out their duties in the country.

The Council cautions in the draft statement that famine, state failure and regionalisation of the conflict remain risks, if the parties do not comply with the 23 January cessation of hostilities agreement and make peace. As such, using strong language from the Council’s 8 August presidential statement on South Sudan (S/PRST/2014/16), it urgently demands that Kiir, Machar and all parties resolve the conflict, engage fully and inclusively in the peace talks in Addis Ababa, keep their commitment to create a transitional government of national unity, and allow for full, safe and unhindered humanitarian access.

Most of the initial draft was acceptable to Council members, but there were some differences over accountability measures outlined in the text, as well as possible steps the Council could take to induce the cooperation of the parties. The initial drafts noted the Council’s intention to commence negotiations, in consultation with relevant actors including IGAD and the AU, on all appropriate measures, including targeted sanctions, against those undermining the peace process. The phrase “all appropriate measures, including targeted sanctions” was used in the Council’s 8 August presidential statement on South Sudan. However, Russia broke silence, apparently preferring that the draft more closely align with the language of operative paragraph 1 of resolution 2187 of 25 November, which renewed the mandate of UN Mission in South Sudan until 30 May 2015. This paragraph indicated that the Council would consider appropriate measures, but it did not indicate that it would begin negotiations, nor did it mention targeted sanctions. As a compromise, in the final draft to be adopted, the Council will express its “intention to commence consideration…on all appropriate measures, including targeted sanctions…”, rather than “commence negotiations…on all appropriate measures, including targeted sanctions…”.

One amendment that was not included in the final version related to language suggesting that the Council consider measures against those who have committed significant violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. (This had been suggested by one elected member, supported by two other elected members.) However, suggested language on combating impunity was incorporated in the final text.

The question of how to compel the parties in South Sudan to stop the violence and forge a sustainable peace has consumed significant effort and attention in the Council in 2013 with little impact on the ground for a number of reasons. The parties continue to fight, over 1.9 million people have been displaced during the past year, and without peace, famine remains a possibility in 2015. Targeted sanctions (i.e. assets freezes and travel bans) against spoilers have been discussed for several months as a potential option supported by several Council members. However, divisions both in the Council and in the region have complicated this potential approach, which is likely why a draft resolution on targeted sanctions has yet to be pursued. China and Russia have expressed reservations about targeted sanctions, and along with some others, they would strongly prefer that IGAD take the lead in pursuing such an approach first before the Council considers such measures. Furthermore, from a practical standpoint, the effectiveness of targeted sanctions would be questionable if the countries neighboring South Sudan, which are divided on this issue, do not cooperate in implementing them.

The possibility of an arms embargo appears even more remote at this juncture. While a number of members also support this approach, some of the same countries on the Council and in the region that are wary of targeted sanctions also appear to have reservations about an arms embargo. As with targeted measures, this raises significant questions about whether the embargo could be effectively implemented, although some Council members supportive of an embargo argue that establishing a sanctions regime could help promote greater transparency in terms of tracking and monitoring weapons flows to South Sudan. Another key complicating factor is that the US, the penholder on South Sudan, apparently also has concerns about the wisdom of pursuing an arms embargo. Media reports indicate that the US is concerned that this could tip the conflict in favour of the opposition.

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