South Sudan Briefing and Consultations
Tomorrow (17 November), the Council will hold a briefing, followed by consultations, on the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and on the South Sudan Sanctions Committee. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for South Sudan and head of UNMISS Ellen Margrethe Løj and Special Adviser of the Secretary-General for the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng are expected to brief. Ambassador Fodé Seck of Senegal, the chair of the South Sudan Sanctions Committee, will brief on the work of the sanctions committee.
UNMISS/South Sudan Briefing
Ladsous and Løj, who is leaving her post at the end of November, will cover the dire situation in South Sudan, while focusing on the mission’s activities in an extraordinarily difficult operating environment. Tomorrow’s meeting takes place in the context of a deteriorating political, security and humanitarian situation in the country, marked by escalating inter-communal violence and hate speech that have aroused concerns that, if the country continues on its current course, it could lead to genocide. Fighting continues to escalate in the Equatoria region, and there is conflict in Upper Nile, Unity and Western Bahr el-Ghazal states. There are now 1.73 million internally displaced people in South Sudan, including over 200,000 who have taken refuge in or near UNMISS bases. Approximately 1.05 million refugees have fled from South Sudan to neighbouring countries since the start of the civil war in December 2013, including some 295,000 who have crossed the border into Uganda since July 2016, when government and opposition forces clashed in Juba. Approximately 4.8 million people in the country suffer from severe food insecurity, amidst a dire economic crisis which has resulted in a current inflation rate of over 660 percent.
One issue that will be raised tomorrow—long a concern of Council members—is the various restrictions imposed on the mission’s operations and on humanitarian actors by the host government. Such restrictions inhibit the ability of UNMISS to fulfill its mandate and the ability of humanitarians to assist people in need. While the government undertook to remove impediments on the freedom of movement of UNMISS and on humanitarian access in a joint communiqué issued during the Council’s visiting mission to South Sudan in early September, these commitments have not to date translated into concrete results. The mission’s patrolling has been restricted in parts of Eastern Equatoria and Western Bahr el-Ghazal; UNMISS staff has been subjected to harassment, violence and arrests; and there have been delays in issuing clearances for UNMISS contingent-owned equipment.
Another matter that will probably be discussed is the planning for the deployment of the Regional Protection Force (RPF), mandated by the Council in resolution 2304. In the joint communiqué agreed in early September by the government and the Council, the government consented to the deployment of the RPF as part of UNMISS, agreeing that troop-contributing countries, UNMISS and the government would continue to “work through the modalities of deployment”. However, little progress has been made in this respect. The government maintains that the means of entry to and exit from Juba should be jointly patrolled by government forces and UNMISS, and that at the airport the RPF would only be permitted to protect the UNMISS terminal and installations; this would seem to violate the mandate of resolution 2304, which calls for the Force to protect “the means of ingress and egress from the city and major lines of communication and transport within Juba” and to “protect the airport to ensure [that it] remains operational.”
Another issue that is likely to be raised is troop commitments to the RPF. Kenya, along with Ethiopia and Rwanda, committed to participate, but decided in early November not to take part in the RPF and to withdraw its more than 1,000 troops from UNMISS. This decision followed the Secretary-General’s dismissal of the mission’s Force Commander, a Kenyan national, following the 1 November release of the Executive Summary of the report of the independent special investigation into the July violence in Juba, which found that the Force Commander had exhibited poor leadership during the crisis. Members may be interested in the Secretariat’s plans to secure troop contributions to substitute for the Kenyan pledge to the RPF and to replace the Kenyan peacekeepers leaving the mission.
The special investigation provided a devastating critique of the mission’s performance before, during and after the 8-11 July crisis, describing “ineffective command and control and a risk-averse or ‘inward-looking’ posture” of UNMISS peacekeepers. Among others, it made the following recommendations: “enforcing a forward-leaning, highly mobile posture” among UNMISS troops; revising “operational and tactical arrangements in Juba to better facilitate crisis management”; and ensuring that “integrated dismounted patrols are conducted when possible to include (female) military, police and civilian sections” of the mission in places near the Protection of Civilians sites and other key locations. While the Secretariat established a taskforce earlier this month with a three-month timeframe to implement the recommendations of the report of the special investigation, members may be interested in knowing whether any measures have been taken to date by the mission to assume a more robust posture, including through more active patrolling outside of the protection of civilians sites.
Members agree that the political process is South Sudan needs to be reinvigorated, a point consistently reiterated by the Secretary-General in his reporting to the Council. In his 10 November UNMISS report, the Secretary-General stated that since the 5 August Extraordinary Summit of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Plus of, “efforts to engage the parties have been desultory and unsynchronized.” He added that the “Secretariat would develop a comprehensive political strategy, in close consultations with the AU and IGAD, to achieve a cessation of hostilities and bring the parties back to an inclusive political process.” Members may be interested in what role the Council can play in supporting this strategy as its elements take shape.
A further issue that could be raised is the future leadership of UNMISS. Given that the Force Commander has been dismissed and that Løj will be leaving her post at the end of the month, members may want an update from the Secretariat on efforts to fill these two critical posts.
Special Adviser Dieng will brief members on his 7-11 November visit to South Sudan, undertaken as a result of growing alarm at inter-ethnic violence in the country. In a media briefing in Juba at the conclusion of the trip, Dieng said that what he had “seen and heard here has confirmed my concerns that there is a strong risk of violence escalating along ethnic lines, with the potential for genocide.” He noted that targeted killings and rape based on ethnic affiliation were elements of the conflict, and expressed concern about hate speech, propagated through the media (including social media), as well as through letters that had recently been circulated. Dieng said that the situation in Yei, where tens of thousands of people have been displaced by violence in recent months, “merits a full scale fact-finding investigation and enhanced humanitarian support.” Dieng’s analysis is consistent with that of the Secretary-General’s 10 November report to the Council, which said that there is “a very real risk of mass atrocities being committed in South Sudan”, and with that of the South Sudan Sanctions Committee Panel of Experts, which described the hate speech in its mid-term report, providing several samples of incitement to violence along ethnic lines in social media and in letters in an extensive annex to its report.
Council members will most likely be interested in receiving information from Ladsous, Løj or the Special Advisor on what UNMISS and other actors are doing to counteract the hate speech and what the Council in conjunction with other international actors can do the mitigate the risk of further atrocities. In his recent UNMISS report, the Secretary-General said that the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and the Special Adviser would be developing an action plan designed to prevent atrocity crimes in the country. Members may want to hear more about the preliminary ideas informing this action plan.
While the peace process is at an impasse, there have been efforts by UNMISS and the UN Country Team to support mediation efforts at the local level. In this context, Dieng could highlight the importance of local level engagement with civil society and religious leaders. Members may want to know what can be done to strengthen the capacity of UNMISS and other UN actors to support local mediation processes.
While noting that UN peacekeeping operations do not possess the capacity to stop mass atrocities, the Secretary-General’s report refers to an AU Commission proposal to discuss with the UN how the AU and UN could work together in response to a mass atrocity situation. With this goal in mind, the AU has suggested a potential “over-the-horizon” force, and the UN will shortly dispatch a team to Addis Ababa to discuss this possible option. Members may want to know from the Secretariat what its initial reactions to this proposal are, whether any ideas have been generated on how the force would be configured, and what its precise responsibilities might be.
South Sudan Sanctions
Ambassador Seck will provide the 90-day briefing to members on the work of the South Sudan Sanctions Committee, where he is expected to provide a summary of the mid-term report of the Panel of Experts, describing the dire security, humanitarian, economic and human rights situation in South Sudan. He will probably also convey to Council members his plans to visit South Sudan and neighbouring countries including Ethiopia, Sudan and Uganda in December in his capacity as chair of the Sanctions Committee. This visit would be consistent with paragraph 11 of resolution 2290, which emphasised “the importance of [the Committee/Panel of Experts in] holding regular consultations with concerned Member States…in particular neighboring and regional States” to ensure compliance with the resolution.
In its mid-term report, the Panel reiterated its recommendations for targeted sanctions (i.e., assets freezes and travel bans) on key decision-makers and for an arms embargo on South Sudan. The Secretary-General reiterated these same recommendations in his recent UNMISS report. However, strong divisions remain within the Council on the use of targeted sanctions or a possible arms embargo. Although long reluctant to support an arms embargo, the US last month said that it was ready to table a resolution calling for an arms embargo, given the continued obstruction of UNMISS and the ongoing caveats that South Sudan has placed on the deployment of the RPF, but it has yet to circulate such a draft. While most Council members appear to support an arms embargo, there are concerns among several members about the lack of unity on the matter and how this could affect implementation of a prospective embargo. Veto-wielding permanent members China and Russia appear to be among those most strongly opposed to an embargo.