South Sudan Consultations
Tomorrow (14 September), Security Council members will hold consultations on the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous is scheduled to brief on the status of planning for the deployment of a Regional Protection Force authorised in resolution 2304 and obstructions to UNMISS in the performance of its mandate. Ambassador Samantha Power of the US and Ambassador Fodé Seck of Senegal are expected to brief as co-leads on the Council’s recent visiting mission to South Sudan and Ethiopia (1-5 September). Although unconfirmed at press time, members may pursue a press statement urging the government of South Sudan to adhere to the commitments it made in the joint communiqué agreed with Council members on 4 September, during the visit.
According to the communiqué, South Sudan agreed to accept the Regional Protection Force, which is authorised to use all necessary means to provide “a secure environment in and around Juba…and in extremis in other parts of South Sudan as necessary”. The government further committed to permit free movement of UNMISS in accordance with the mission’s mandate, including to protect civilians. It agreed by the end of September to devise a plan with UNMISS on concrete steps to remove obstacles on UNMISS’s ability to fulfill its mandate, and to improve humanitarian access by eliminating illegal checkpoints and working with the UN Humanitarian Coordinator to streamline bureaucratic processes. In the communiqué, the government further signaled its readiness to work with the AU in establishing the Hybrid Court for South Sudan, called for in the August 2015 peace agreement.
Members will be keen to receive information on whether there are indications that the government has taken steps to fulfill commitments it made in the communiqué. In spite of consenting to the Regional Protection Force, the government continues to express reservations about it. South Sudanese President Salva Kiir told Council members during his meeting with them on 4 September that he did not want countries neighbouring South Sudan to participate in the Regional Protection Force. Since then, the government has placed additional caveats on the Force’s deployment, with Information Minister Michael Makuei stipulating that South Sudan should be able to determine the number of troops deployed and the types of arms brought by the Force. Contributors to the Force have yet to be identified with certainty, although some African member states, including Zambia and Zimbabwe, were discussed as potential contributors during the Council’s meeting with the AU Peace and Security Council on 5 September in Addis Ababa.
Another matter which may be raised in the meeting tomorrow is the fact that UNMISS does not currently possess the absorptive capacity required to incorporate an additional 4,000 troops, the mandated size of the Protection Force. This issue was reportedly noted in the Secretary-General’s 8 September letter to the Council. Members may be interested in information on what efforts are underway to secure additional land, as well as enablers such as helicopters and engineers, to accommodate and support the Force.
Obstacles imposed on the movement of UNMISS personnel and its humanitarian partners have long concerned Council members, especially given the dire security and humanitarian crisis that continues to unfold in South Sudan. These concerns were raised by Council members with South Sudanese government officials during the visiting mission. On 3 September, while meeting with cabinet officials, Council members urged the government to remove the procedure requiring UNMISS to receive the government’s consent to conduct armoured patrols. Members will want to know from Ladsous whether there has been progress in the efforts of the government and UNMISS to develop a plan to remove impediments on UNMISS’s movements, and whether the government has taken steps to improve humanitarian access, both commitments made in the joint communiqué.
Restrictions on civil society in South Sudan may be another matter discussed in tomorrow’s meeting. Members have long been worried about the shrinking space for civil society, condemning harassment and targeting of civil society actors, humanitarian personnel and journalists in recent resolutions on South Sudan. During the visiting mission, members met with youth and women civil society groups, as well as religious leaders, who maintained that the people of South Sudan had been traumatised by the violence in the country. Only days after this meeting, UNMISS began receiving reports that some of the civil society representatives in attendance had been intimidated and harassed by the government; the mission expressed its deep concern about these reports in an 8 September press release. On 10 September, Ambassador Power issued a press release stating that the US government condemned restrictions on civil society and stating that the US was “engaging directly with the Government of South Sudan to underscore that intimidation and threats toward civil society must cease immediately.” Members may discuss what steps the Council can take to protect civil society actors in South Sudan more effectively.
Several members maintain that getting the government’s commitment to the communiqué was an important accomplishment of the Council’s visit to South Sudan. However, there are concerns that the government may not make good on its commitments; as a result, several members underscore the importance of maintaining pressure on the government to fulfill its commitments and may want to discuss ways of maintaining this pressure.
One source of leverage the Council has is the threat of an arms embargo. However, it appears unlikely that members will make any major decisions (i.e., consideration of an arms embargo) during or immediately following tomorrow’s meeting, since the 4 September joint communiqué gives the government until 30 September to fulfill its commitments related to removing restrictions to the freedom of movement of UNMISS and improving humanitarian access. As a result, a number of members believe that the government should be given more time to do so. However, if obstructions to UNMISS continue- and if the government refuses to cooperate with the establishment of the Regional Protection Force over the next several weeks – there may be further discussion of an arms embargo or additional targeted sanctions. The outcome of such discussions is uncertain as it is unclear whether Russia and others that have long been opposed to the imposition of an arms embargo will change their positions.