Briefing and Consultations on Implementation of South Sudan Peace Agreement
Tomorrow (31 March), the Council will have a briefing followed by consultations on South Sudan, at the request of the US. This is a follow-up to its 17 March presidential statement which stated that it would review progress made by the parties in the implementation of the August 2015 peace agreement (S/PRST/2016/1). The briefing will take place in the context of Council members’ consideration of expanding sanctions measures against South Sudan, particularly the discussions relating to whether to impose an arms embargo. The briefers are expected to be Special Representative and Head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Ellen Margrethe Løj (by video teleconference), Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien, and Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore. It seems that Festus Mogae, chair of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC), the body responsible for overseeing the agreement’s implementation, will participate under Rule 37.
Council members will be particularly interested in an assessment of progress made since the adoption of the presidential statement. In that statement, the Council had asked the parties to take five steps: adhering to the permanent ceasefire; completing the implementation of security arrangements for Juba; filling the positions of president, first vice-president and vice-president in the transitional government of national unity in Juba; abiding by and taking no action inconsistent with the January 2016 communiqué of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which urged an inclusive national boundary commission to review the government’s proposed 28 states and their boundaries; protecting civilians and civilian facilities; and allowing for full, safe and unhindered humanitarian access.
Members will be looking to Løj, and Mogae to provide an update on developments in the political process. Briefing the Council on 19 February, Mogae emphasised that implementation of the agreement continued to lag behind schedule, and expressed concern about rising violence in Western Equatoria and Western Bahr el Ghazal states. Since that briefing, there have been continued outbreaks of fighting and alleged ceasefire violations in those two states as well as in Upper Nile. Council members will want more information on whether any of these allegations can be substantiated as instances of ceasefire violation. Members may also want more information on what appears to be a shift in the conflict to areas outside the Greater Upper Nile and its implications.
There will be considerable interest in developments related to the security arrangements being made for SPLA in Opposition leader Riek Machar’s return to Juba, originally expected in early March. Last weekend, 25 South Sudanese rebel generals arrived in Juba. Under the agreement, the SPLA in Opposition is to deploy a 3,000 strong force in the capital before he returns. Mogae is expected to provide further details of how the JMEC is helping to facilitate this. Some members are likely to view the return of the rebel generals as a positive sign that allows for some optimism regarding the formation of a national unity government. Other members are more cautious as the timing of Machar’s return is still unclear. Members will therefore be looking for an assessment from the briefers on the prospects of a national unity government being formed in the coming weeks.
Members will want to hear from Løj and O’Brien about the protection of civilians, including at protection of civilians sites, as well as whether there has been better humanitarian access in recent weeks. While the situation at the protection of civilians sites appears calm at the moment, members will be interested in the follow-up to recent incidents, such as in Malakal. In February, fighting in the UNMISS protection of civilians site in Malakal led to the deaths of 25 people. DPKO has conducted a preliminary investigation, and together with the Department of Field Support is expected to convene an independent high-level board of inquiry to investigate UNMISS’s response to the violence. Some members may want to know more about the investigation, including when preliminary findings might be expected. There may also be interest in receiving more information on the fighting that broke out among Nuer inhabitants at a protection of civilians site in Juba on 19 March.
Members will want to know if there has been any movement from the government in reconsidering President Salva Kiir’s October 2015 decree increasing the number of states in the country from ten to 28. The decree has angered minority ethnic communities, who view it as an effort to confiscate land and power for the benefit of the Dinka, Kiir’s ethnic group. Kiir’s decision was made in violation of the August 2015 agreement that envisaged power-sharing ratios in ten states. Many Council members may view a lack of progress on this issue as being out of step with IGAD’s January 2016 communiqué, which urged an inclusive national boundary commission to review the proposal, as well as the Council’s own 17 March presidential statement that asked the parties to abide by the IGAD communiqué.
Members are likely to take advantage of the presence of Gilmore to get an update on the human rights situation, and the findings of the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights into allegations of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law in South Sudan since the outbreak of violence in December 2013 (A/HRC/31/49). The report focuses primarily on violations and abuses committed by state actors and non-state armed groups in 2015 in the worst affected states of Unity and Upper Nile States, as well as Western and Central Equatoria, where the conflict has spread. It finds that killings, sexual violence, displacement, destruction and looting continued unabated, with state actors bearing the greatest responsibility for violations during 2015, some of which may constitute war crimes and/or crimes against humanity. Among its recommendations is for the Council to consider expanding the sanctions regime by imposing a comprehensive arms embargo, as well as referring the situation to the ICC, failing the expeditious establishment of a hybrid court as asked for in the peace agreement. Members may also want to hear if the AU Commission has taken any steps towards this court’s establishment. Proposed language related to the hybrid court for South Sudan in the 17 March presidential statement was eventually deleted, apparently as a concession to Angola, Russia and Venezuela, which have argued that issues pertaining to the court are the responsibility of the AU, and not the UN.
Tomorrow’s briefing and consultations on South Sudan come at a time when Council members are thinking about the renewal of the South Sudan sanctions regime in mid-April. In large part, resolution 2271adopted on 2 March was a technical rollover intended to give the Council more time to consider its options and present a more unified position. The assessment of progress in the peace process will be used by members to chart the Council’s course of action with regard to further sanctions.
Members who have argued against stronger measures are expected to see any progress, even if limited, as a sign that stronger sanctions would be counter-productive at this critical juncture. Other members, who are more sceptical of the real intentions behind some of the recent developments, are expected to continue to argue for the use of sanctions to pressure the parties to comply with the peace agreement. It is unclear if any of the longstanding divisions among Council members on a possible arms embargo can be overcome by the time the South Sudan sanctions regime expires on 15 April, while members are conscious that a clearer signal from the US regarding its willingness to agree to an arms embargo is a key factor.