What's In Blue

Posted Mon 14 Dec 2015

Council to Vote on a Resolution on UN Mission in South Sudan

Tomorrow (15 December), the Council is planning to vote on a resolution renewing and revising the mandate of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). The initial draft was circulated to Council members by the US, the penholder on UNMISS, last Tuesday (8 December).

After an initial read-through of the draft on Tuesday, the US convened members for negotiations on the following day (9 December). Subsequent negotiations were conducted bilaterally, and an amended text was put under silence until 11 am today. Russia and Venezuela broke silence, and disagreements remain on a number of issues. However, the US decided to put the draft into blue early this afternoon, and it is unclear how some members will vote tomorrow.

Many of the same divisions that hampered Council deliberations on the last UNMISS resolution (S/RES/2241 of 9 October) and led to abstentions by Russia and Venezuela have dominated the current negotiations. These include different views on the potential use of unarmed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs); the threat of sanctions; and the planned Hybrid Court for South Sudan, among other issues.

Substance of Draft

The draft would extend UNMISS until 31 July 2016. It maintains core elements of the mission’s mandate from resolution 2241, including the protection of civilians, monitoring and investigating human rights, creating conditions conducive to the delivery of humanitarian assistance, and supporting implementation of the peace agreement. (The peace agreement was signed in August by South Sudanese President Salva Kiir; Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition leader Riek Machar; and Pagan Amum, the representative of the former detainees.)

However, the draft makes some key changes to the mandate, largely consistent with recommendations in the Secretary-General’s 23 November report, which reviewed the mandate and discussed ways to support the South Sudan National Police Service and the Joint Integrated Police described in the August peace agreement (S/2015/899). In particular, the mission’s role in supporting implementation of the agreement would be augmented; UNMISS would be tasked with supporting the constitutional review process, at the request of the yet-to-be-formed transitional government of national unity (TGoNU), and with advising and assisting the National Elections Commission of the TGoNU. Additional language has been added encouraging the Special Representative of the Secretary-General to exercise her good offices role in implementing the agreement, promoting reconciliation, and deescalating violence in and around Juba. So too has language encouraging the Secretary-General to assist the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JEM)—a body of national and international actors entrusted with overseeing implementation of the agreement—while encouraging the parties to communicate key messages in support of the agreement.

The draft enhances the force structure of the mission, increasing the ceiling for military personnel to 13,000 (from 12,500) and for police personnel to 2,001 (from 1,323). It states that training support will be provided to the Joint Integrated Police, one of the rationales for an increase in police personnel outlined in the Secretary-General’s 23 November report (S/2015/899).

Regarding reporting requirements, the draft resolution requests the Secretariat to develop and present to the Council by 15 January 2016 a plan for UNMISS to deter and respond to any escalation of violence in and around Juba, protecting civilians and key infrastructure so that humanitarian and other actors would be able to move about safely. It further requests regular reports every 60 days on the implementation of the mandate.

Council and Wider Dynamics

One of the core areas of contention in the negotiations was the request for the deployment of unarmed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which was also included in the last UNMISS resolution, in spite of concerns expressed by some members at the time. The draft in blue retains the reference to UAVs without this difference of perspective having been addressed to the satisfaction of all members.

While the Department of Peacekeeping Operations has strongly advocated for UAVs in South Sudan to enhance the situational awareness and early warning capacity of UNMISS, the South Sudanese government is opposed to them. The P3 (France, the UK and the US) and some others support the proposal on UAVs; however, Angola, Russia and Venezuela have expressed reservations, noting that their deployment would be disrespectful of South Sudan’s sovereign concerns. In addition, Russia, along with Chad, has stressed the importance of the consent of neighboring countries before their deployment.

Strong differences regarding the threat of targeted sanctions (i.e., assets freezes and travel bans) remain. Several countries (the P3, Chile, New Zealand, Lithuania and Spain) believe that such a threat places pressure on potential spoilers to cooperate with the peace agreement. However, Angola, Russia and Venezuela maintain that the threat of sanctions is counter-productive and could undermine the limited progress that has been made in the implementation of the peace agreement. In spite of reservations by these countries, the draft in blue retains references to the threat of targeted sanctions and “all appropriate measures.”

Regarding accountability issues, there was considerable disagreement on the language related to the Hybrid Court for South Sudan called for in the peace agreement, as was the case during the negotiations on resolution 2241. In that resolution, the Council requested the Secretary-General to make available technical assistance for establishing the Hybrid Court, and to report to the Council within six months on the assistance provided. In the initial version of the current draft, the US added language on accountability in reference to the Hybrid Court; this was eventually deleted, apparently as a concession to Angola, Russia, and Venezuela, which have argued that under the peace agreement issues pertaining to the Court are the responsibility of the AU and not the UN. However, the language on the Hybrid Court from resolution 2241, which Angola, Russia and Venezuela continue to find problematic, remains in the draft in blue.

Another key difference of perspective relates to language affirming the Council’s intention to consider future mandated task for UNMISS to support additional transitional security arrangements in Juba, and requesting the Secretary-General to develop a plan for the mission to deter and respond to any upsurge in violence in and around Juba. This language was incorporated in the draft in blue, even though disagreements remain on its inclusion. Some members believe that the new language is needed because it is important for the mission to be prepared to respond and react to any deterioration of security in Juba. However, others believe that any such plan for UNMISS to deter and respond to increased violence in and around Juba should be formulated in consultation with the government of South Sudan; one reason for this view is that the parties themselves have agreed on transitional security arrangements for Juba.

Members also disagreed on how to calibrate the language on protection of civilians. Several members—the P3 and others—support maintaining the current mandate for UNMISS to protect civilians “under threat of physical violence.” Russia and Venezuela, however, have reportedly said that it is important to focus the mandate, given its wide scope, and that they would have preferred that mandate be narrowed to protect civilians under “imminent” threat of physical violence. In the draft in blue, the penholder retained the original formulation from previous UNMISS resolutions.

Postscript: The Council adopted resolution 2252 by a vote of 13 in favour and two abstentions (Russia and Venezuela).

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