Vote on Resolution Strengthening UN Mission in South Sudan Mandate
Today (12 August), the Security Council is scheduled to vote on a resolution extending until 15 December the mandate of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) which had been rolled over until 12 August on 29 July through resolution 2302. Members have been negotiating a draft resolution renewing and strengthening the UNMISS mandate which was circulated by the US, the penholder on South Sudan, on Sunday (7 August). Following several rounds of negotiations, the draft text was put in blue. While it seems that members would like a unanimous vote, with amendments coming in even after the text was put in blue, it appears that some members still have s concerns, and at press time it was unclear if the vote would be unanimous.
The draft resolution authorises a robust protection force within UNMISS in response to the violence and humanitarian crisis prompted by the outbreak of hostilities in early July. The already desperate humanitarian situation has deteriorated sharply with the most recent outbreak of violence. OCHA has reported 70,000 South Sudanese have fled to Uganda over the last month, some 4.8 million people are severely food insecure with 250,000 children severely malnourished in the midst of a cholera outbreak. The human rights situation has been similarly precarious. Information received by UN human rights officers suggests instances of summary execution of civilians appearing to be of Nuer origin by government soldiers and reports of at least 217 cases of sexual violence in Juba between 8 and 25 July with widespread sexual violence also reported in other parts of the country.
The draft resolution reflects the decisions in the 5 August communiqué adopted by the “IGAD Plus”—the Intergovernmental Authority on Development plus several other regional actors. In its communiqué IGAD Plus called on the Council to “urgently extend the mission of UNMISS with a revised mandate including the deployment of the Regional Protection Force with distinct responsibilities under the direct command of a commander who will report to the overall UNMISS Force Commander, to be based in Juba”. It also noted the position of the government of South Sudan accepting, “in principle” the deployment of the force. The draft resolution increases the force levels of UNMISS from its current 12,000 up to a ceiling of 17,000 troops, including 4,000 troops for a Regional Protection Force which would be deployed largely in Juba. The draft put in blue last night includes the possibility of the Force being deployed under extreme circumstances to other locations, but it seems that some members are uncomfortable with this
Council members are aware of the obstructions to UNMISS’s functioning. The draft resolution that will be voted on later today demands an immediate end to the fighting and that the government of South Sudan comply with its obligations vis-á-vis UNMISS as set out in the status of forces agreement. There have been reports about incidents involving severe restrictions on the mission’s freedom of movement,(including of flights and transportation of vital supplies, as well as acts of hostility such as intimidation, injury and detention of UNMISS staff members. Yesterday (11 August), in consultations under “any other business”, Council members were briefed on these and other developments by Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, El Ghassim Wane. In addition, it seems that on 10 August the Secretary-General sent the Council a letter outlining the dire situation and asking the Council to take action to address the impediments faced by UNMISS in carrying out its mandate. The draft resolution that is in blue highlights the need to prioritise the protection of civilians and the safety and security of UNMISS personnel. While members were open to strengthening the mission’s protection of civilians’ capacity, several members wanted to ensure that the establishment of a Regional Protection Force would be in consultation with the government and that it had a clear exit strategy. The appropriate use of force and how it relates to core peacekeeping principles (i.e., host country consent, impartiality, and the use of force only in self-defence or in defence of the mandate) appears to have been an issue. After the text was put in blue it seems Egypt wanted to remove specific references to robust action and active patrolling in relation to the Force’s mandate. Additionally, during the negotiations some members insisted on including the references to the basic principles of peacekeeping, in the operational paragraphs rather than in the preambular, to emphasise the importance of this language.
An unusual, and for several members controversial, aspect of the draft is the inclusion of a possible trigger mechanism for imposing an arms embargo on South Sudan if the government obstructs either the operationalisation of the Regional Protection Force or UNMISS in the fulfilment of its mandate. The draft resolution requires monthly reports, and if the Secretary-General signals political or operational impediments from the government in these reports, according to the draft in blue the Council shall, within five days, consider appropriate measures, including the arms embargo detailed in an annex of the draft resolution. Earlier drafts made a more direct link between obstruction by the government and the possibility of the imposition of the measures in the annex. It seems the compromise language addresses the concern of several members about the use of an automatic trigger mechanism for an arms embargo in the resolution to be voted on. Some members appeared opposed to an embargo altogether, while others, including the UK and Uruguay, felt that the embargo should be part of the resolution. It seems that this was not enough for Egypt who suggested after the draft resolution was put in blue, that the paragraph on the Council’s response to obstruction from the government be deleted altogether.
During the negotiations members also raised questions about other elements of the draft. Several were concerned about the sovereignty of South Sudan and wanted to be reassured that the government supported the plan, including Russia which indicated that it was prepared to accept whatever measures were acceptable to Juba. While the IGAD Plus communiqué suggested that the government had given its consent, in the next few days there were conflicting reports coming out of Juba. Nevertheless, some of these members may have been persuaded of the need to strengthen UNMISS and support the draft resolution following the statement from the AU Peace and Security Council issued on 11 August, echoing the IGAD Plus communiqué, and calling for the Council to “extend the Mission of UNMISS with a revised mandate” including the deployment of the Regional Protection Force.
Postscript: Resolution 2304 (2016) was adopted by 11 votes in favour to none against, with 4 abstentions (China, Egypt, Russian Federatioin, Venezuela),