South Sudan Consultations
On 17 October, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous is scheduled to brief Council members in consultations on South Sudan. The meeting is expected to focus on the Secretary-General’s second confidential monthly assessment, covering the period from 9 September to 8 October, on the deployment and future requirements of the Regional Protection Force, as well as obstacles to setting up the force and impediments to the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) in carrying out its mandate. These monthly assessments are in accordance with resolution 2304, which authorised a Regional Protection Force (RPF) to facilitate movement into, out of and around Juba; to protect key facilities in Juba, including the airport; and to “promptly and effectively engage any actor that is…preparing attacks, or engages in attacks, against” UN facilities (including protection-of-civilians sites), UN personnel, humanitarian actors or civilians.
Ladsous is expected to inform members that while UNMISS’s access to government officials has been good, little has been done by South Sudan to enhance the operational environment for the mission and humanitarian actors, nor to plan for the deployment of the Regional Protection Force. Restrictions on humanitarian access and the freedom of movement of UNMISS have continued, in spite of the government’s commitment to remove such restrictions in the 4 September communiqué it jointly agreed with the Council.
Ladsous may further indicate that the government is proposing limitations on the mandate of the RPF as envisioned in resolution 2304. The government gave its consent to the Regional Protection Force in the 4 September communiqué, although it was agreed that UNMISS and the government would continue to “work through the modalities of deployment”.
A number of factors regarding the Force still need to be agreed. Shortly after the Council’s visit in early September, Michael Makuei Lueth, the Information Minister of South Sudan, stipulated that his government should be able to determine the number of troops deployed, the Force’s composition, and the types of arms available to the Force. Makuei Lueth reiterated these conditions during a press conference in Juba on 7 October. During a 4 October meeting of a joint government-UNMISS technical working group, government representatives apparently submitted a document proposing that the Regional Protection Force be permitted only to protect UN compounds and installations and that other facilities be protected only by government forces. Ethiopia, Kenya and Rwanda have expressed a willingness to participate in the Protection Force but the timeframe for their deployment, assuming the South Sudanese government agrees to the deployment of troops from these states, remains unclear. Where these troops will be located in Juba also has not been determined, and the government of South Sudan has reportedly linked the request for land for the Protection Force to renegotiation of the UNMISS Status of Forces Agreement.
It is unclear how Council members will react to Ladsous’s briefing. Resolution 2304 stipulates that the Council will consider “appropriate measures,” including an arms embargo and additional targeted sanctions (assets freezes and travel bans), if the Secretary-General reports that the government places impediments on the operationalisation of the Regional Protection Force or obstructs UNMISS in performing its mandate. It is possible that members that have publicly called for an arms embargo in the past—such as France, Spain and the United Kingdom—may reiterate their calls for one next week. Some other members appear inclined to support an embargo as well. Nonetheless, there are still a number of members with little or no appetite to pursue an arms embargo. Resolution 2304 was controversial as it was adopted with abstentions by China, Egypt, Russia and Venezuela—members that have tended to emphasise the importance of host country consent in South Sudan and have also long been wary of a possible arms embargo on the country. The US has been ambivalent about proposals for an arms embargo, although in recent months it has said that it is prepared to support this measure if government obstructions continue. It was not clear at press time at what point the US will believe that the obstructions have continued to the point where an embargo should be pursued.
During the visiting mission to South Sudan in early September, all members (including those that abstained on resolution 2304) were unified in urging the government to implement the resolution. However, there may be differing interpretations of the Secretary-General’s monthly assessment. While some may focus on the continued obstructions of the mission and the restrictions proposed on the deployment of the Regional Protection Force, others may urge more time and patience, given that government officials have at least engaged with UN actors to discuss the mission’s concerns.
Since several members are not willing to support an arms embargo or targeted sanctions at the current time, a possible option would be for members to pursue a statement reminding the government of the need to implement resolution 2304 and to adhere to its commitments in the joint communiqué, as a means of maintaining pressure on the government.
An underlying source of consternation among a number of Council members is that the peace process appears to be further unravelling. Riek Machar, now in exile, recently urged his forces to continue fighting against the government led by Salva Kiir, and violence has been reported in recent weeks in Central Equatoria and in the Greater Upper Nile area. Furthermore, it is not clear how much support First Vice President Taban Deng Gai, who was appointed by Kiir to replace Machar after the July violence in Juba, has among the rank and file opposition fighters. Without progress on the political front, some believe that fighting will increase during the dry season, which begins in the coming weeks, when the movement of military forces is easier.