What's In Blue

Posted Wed 2 Nov 2016

Security Council Consultations: Abyei and South Sudan

Tomorrow morning (3 November), the Security Council is scheduled to hold consultations on the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) and on South Sudan. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous is expected to brief on both issues.


The UNISFA briefing is expected to focus on the most recent report of the Secretary-General (S/2016/864) on Abyei, the disputed area straddling the Sudan-South Sudan border, prior to the Council’s adoption of a resolution renewing the mission’s mandate later in the month. In the report, the Secretary-General describes efforts by the mission to facilitate reconciliation between the Misseriya and Ngok-Dinka groups in Abyei; notes that Sudan has delayed the issuance of visas for police officers in the mission, which has led to significant understaffing of the mission’s police component; and urges Sudan and South Sudan to fulfill their commitments to make the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism along their mutual border fully operational.

The Council has not focused on Abyei in several months as its attention to Sudan/South Sudan issues has been absorbed by crises in South Sudan and, to a lesser extent, Darfur. While Council members remain frustrated by the lack of progress by Sudan and South Sudan in resolving their differences with regard to Abyei (for example, in agreeing on how to establish temporary administrative institutions in the region in the absence of a final settlement on its status), several members recognise that both countries are deeply immersed in their own domestic crises, which they maintain makes it difficult for them to expend significant time and energy on addressing the situation in the disputed region.

South Sudan

Tomorrow’s briefing on South Sudan will mostly likely focus on the report of the independent special investigation into “the violence in Juba…in July 2016, and the response of the UN Mission in South Sudan,” established by the Secretary-General in August and headed by Major General (ret) Patrick Cammaert. The Executive Summary, which is nearly 10 pages in length, was made public yesterday and issued as a UN document (S/2016/924). Council members have not received the full report.

The Executive Summary provides a devastating critique of the mission’s performance before, during and after the 8-11 July crisis. The essence of this summary is largely captured in one sentence: “The Special Investigation found that…lack of preparedness, ineffective command and control and a risk-averse or ‘inward looking’ posture resulted in a loss of trust and confidence—particularly by the local population and humanitarian agencies—in the will and skill of UNMISS military, police [sic] to be proactive and show a determined posture to protect civilians under threat, including from sexual violence and human rights violations.” The report describes a lack of leadership from senior UNMISS personnel and poor performance by troops and police in the mission; indicates that the mission did not respond to calls for assistance from people in the Terrain Compound, where multiple rapes occurred; and recommends that “peacekeepers, commanders and relevant troop contributing countries…be held accountable for failures to protect.” Criticism is directly leveled at the performance of the Force Commander (a Kenyan general), the Chinese battalion, and a Nepalese Formed Police Unit.

There have already been considerable repercussions from the investigation. Yesterday, in response to a question from a journalist, the spokesman of the Secretary-General said at the noon briefing that the Force Commander would be relieved of his duties. Today the Kenyan Government issued a statement in which it maintained that rather than address the “fundamental structural and systemic dys-functionality” of UNMISS, the UN decided to unfairly blame the Force Commander; as a result, Kenya would remove its troops from UNMISS, discontinue plans to take part in the Regional Protection Force, and withdraw from the South Sudan peace process.

There are a number of issues that may be raised by Council members during tomorrow’s South Sudan consultations. Members may be interested in knowing about efforts underway by the Secretariat to replace the force commander, to engage with the Kenyan government regarding its decision to withdraw troops from the mission, and to act on the recommendations in the report. They may want to know whether there will be accountability for other high-level mission personnel and peacekeepers found to have underperformed, as well as whether there are other potential troop contributors who would be willing to participate in UNMISS and its Regional Protection Force, if Kenya does not reconsider its decision to disengage from the mission.

Given the various recommendations in the report addressed to the Secretariat on UNMISS and on peacekeeping operations in general – such as the importance of providing clear guidance to new Force Commanders; of ensuring that “missions have rigorous contingency plans in place that are regularly rehearsed”; and of revising “operational and tactical arrangements in Juba to better facilitate crisis management”, among others – Council members may be interested in whether steps are being taken to heed the special investigation’s call to assess its recommendations within the next three months and to “take appropriate follow up-measures.”

Later this month, the Council is scheduled to reconvene on 17 November to consider the Secretary-General’s 90-day report on UNMISS and his second confidential monthly assessment on obstacles to setting up the Regional Protection Force and impediments to UNMISS in carrying out its mandate. The first monthly assessment, submitted to the Council on 8 September, reportedly indicated that the mission continued to be hampered by freedom of movement restrictions, and that the government was placing various caveats on the envisioned mandate of the Force, which contradict the intention of resolution 2304, the Council decision that authorised it.

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