Technical Rollover Resolution of the Mandate of the UN Mission in South Sudan
Tomorrow (Friday, 29 July), the Security Council is set to adopt a resolution constituting a technical rollover until 8 August of the mandate of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) which expires on 31 July.
Following a period of intense activity in the immediate aftermath of the 7 July outbreak of violence in Juba, during which the Council held a number of meetings and issued two press statements, members have been in a holding pattern for the last two weeks awaiting proposals from the penholder, the US. It appears that elements of a resolution that would revise the mandate of UNMISS were shared on Tuesday with France and the UK. The key feature of the proposal is a special security force within UNMISS, with a stronger mandate allowing for the undertaking of offensive operations. It seems that an arms embargo as a possible next step in case of government non-cooperation is also an element.
Given the major issues involved in the proposed changes to the mandate and the very short time remaining before the expiry of the current mandate, on Wednesday evening the US circulated a draft rollover resolution that would extend the current mandate until 8 August. Several members, including Egypt and Venezuela, seemed to feel that the time provided for negotiations – essentially just five working days – is not sufficient to negotiate a complicated resolution and would have preferred a rollover for a longer period. In addition, several members felt that a rollover period should be long enough for the Council to be able to undertake a visiting mission to South Sudan, an idea that had been discussed before the most recent outbreak of violence, to engage with actors on the ground before modifying the mandate.
The situation in South Sudan has remained very tense. The fighting in Juba has stopped following a presidential decree from President Salva Kiir and a radio broadcast from First Vice President Riek Machar ordering a ceasefire between their respective forces on 11 July. But since then the political crisis appears to have deepened further. Machar went into hiding, citing fears for his life and announcing that he would return to Juba only after an international security force was deployed. On 21 July, Kiir issued an ultimatum to Machar threatening to dismiss him from his post as First Vice President if he did not return to Juba within 48 hours. Machar remained in hiding, believed to be in the bush outside Juba. Through a presidential decree announced on 25 July, Kiir appointed Taban Deng Gai, a former chief negotiator for South Sudan’s armed opposition, as First Vice President, replacing Machar.
Consent of the parties to the August 2015 peace accord would be one of the key considerations in deciding the establishment of a security force. While Machar appeared to favour an international force, Kiir was at the outset strongly opposed to the idea. In an annex to a 13 July note verbale sent by the South Sudanese mission to the UN to the President of the Security Council (S/2016/618 of 13 July 2016), Martin Elia Lomuro, Minister for Cabinet Affairs, stated that the South Sudanese Council of Ministers “sees no justification and strongly believes that the establishment of an Intervention Brigade is totally unwarranted and will actually complicate the situation and increase insecurity.” During the AU summit in Kigali on 16 July, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development Plus (the eight members of the organisation and several other regional actors) supported the Secretary-General’s proposal during the summit to reinforce UNMISS and proposed revising its mandate to include the deployment of a regional protection force to separate the warring parties. This was subsequently supported by the AU.
News reports on 28 July suggested that Kiir may have changed his position on this matter. Apparently, in a 26 July meeting with Festus Mogae, the chairman of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, a body overseeing the implementation of the August 2015 accord, Kiir signaled his willingness to consider the deployment of a regional protection force.
The human rights and humanitarian situation in South Sudan remains precarious. In addition to the thousands of civilians displaced internally, according to the UN Refugee Agency, more than 26,000 people, almost all of them women and children, fled to Uganda since the early July violent outbreak. Furthermore, UNMISS has documented reports of sexual violence, including rape and gang rape, by soldiers in uniform and men in plain clothes against civilians, including minors, around UN House and in other areas of Juba. At a media briefing today, the deputy spokesperson for the Secretary-General cited 120 cases of sexual violence and rape against civilians. Members are likely to take into consideration the perilous situation for civilians in their future discussions of a more substantive resolution which strengthens the protection capacity of UNMISS. The Secretary-General in a press encounter on 11 July urged the Council to fortify UNMISS to fulfill its mandate to protect civilians, as well as to impose an immediate arms embargo and additional targeted sanctions.