South Sudan Informal Interactive Dialogue and Consultations
On Monday (23 January),Council members will be briefed by Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous in consultations. Ahead of the consultations, Council members are scheduled to hold an informal interactive dialogue with Festus Mogae, former President of Botswana and the chair of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, tasked with overseeing the implementation of the August 2015 South Sudan peace agreement.
The security, humanitarian and human rights situation in South Sudan remains dire, amidst a faltering political process and ongoing concerns that inter-communal violence could spiral out of control. Secretary-General António Guterres spoke at length with Council members about South Sudan during his monthly luncheon with them on 9 January. Among the key issues he raised at this meeting were the importance of revitalising the political process; the need to deploy the Regional Protection Force (RPF), which the Council first authorised in August 2016 to, among other things, protect UN staff, humanitarian actors and civilians in Juba; and the importance of raising awareness of the risk of atrocities in South Sudan. These issues will most likely all be raised in Monday’s meetings.
This will be the first time Council members will meet on South Sudan since the Council failed to adopt the 23 December 2016 draft resolution that would have imposed an arms embargo on South Sudan and targeted sanctions on three government and opposition leaders. That draft received only 7 affirmative votes, along with 9 abstentions. While it is possible that elements to the press may be issued tomorrow, it does not appear that the Council will attempt to pursue bolder measures at this point. It seems that strong divisions remain on the viability of pursuing an arms embargo and targeted sanctions. In addition, some members have noted that there may be an interest in seeing what decisions pertinent to South Sudan emerge from the AU Summit (scheduled for 22-31 January in Addis Ababa) before the Council pursues its next steps. There is a question about what approach the new administration in the US, the penholder on South Sudan, will assume in the Council with regard to South Sudan.
On the political front, a topic of the discussion may be how the UN plans to work with the AU and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development on the mediation process. Like Guterres, many Council members have emphasised the importance of reinvigorating the political process. A key question that may be raised is whether to include opposition leader Riek Machar in the political process, and if so, how this could be done. Machar fled Juba in July 2016, after his forces clashed with government troops. He is now in exile in South Africa. Kiir has said that he cannot serve with Machar, and Machar has been politically isolated by a number of key states on the continent. However, he does maintain a considerable following in South Sudan, with many of his supporters fighting against government forces.
There may be interest in hearing from Mogae and Ladsous about their impressions of the national dialogue process that Kiir announced on 19 December 2016. Key issues that could be raised with regard to the national dialogue include how to ensure that it is conducted in an inclusive manner without fear and intimidation, and whether or not conditions are suitable for the dialogue to occur in South Sudan or whether another venue may be more suitable.
There have been concerns for several months now about the potential for mass atrocities to be committed in South Sudan. Fighting has been reported in several parts of the country, much of it along ethnic lines. Members will be interested in an assessment from Mogae and Ladsous on the security and human right situation in South Sudan. Of interest to some members might be the activities of the UN working group designed to develop strategies to prevent mass atrocities in South Sudan, jointly chaired by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide. Consistent with the mandate of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, Mogae may be able to give an overview of the location and nature of ceasefire violations in recent months, as well as to discuss efforts to canton opposition troops.
Ladsous’ briefing is expected to focus on the confidential 30-day report to the Council on planning for the deployment of the RPF and obstructions to UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). In recent weeks, government officials have expressed ambivalence about the deployment of the Force. On 10 January, Defence Minister Kuol Manyang Juuk said that the RPF was no longer needed, maintaining that security had returned to Juba. On 13 January, Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth said that while the government did not object to the Force, the Council would need to adopt a new resolution with respect to the Force, as its initial mandate under resolution 2304 had expired on 15 December 2016. Makuei’s statement failed to recognise that the mandate of the RPF was reauthorised by the Council through resolution 2327 adopted on 16 December 2016.
According to the 30-day report, a number of outstanding issues remain regarding the planning for the deployment of the RPF, including the need for the government to issue visas for members of reconnaissance teams of troop contributing countries for the Force, arrangements for the allocation of land for the Force, and the mandate of the Force to protect the Juba airport. Council members may be interested in efforts to persuade the government to issue visas for the members of these reconnaissance teams from states providing enablers to the RPF (including Nepal and Pakistan). While the government has agreed to provide land for the Force next to UN House in Juba, there may also be discussion of the government’s decision to rescind its offer to allocate additional land near the UN’s Tomping base. Finally, members may want information on discussions between the government and UNMISS on the RPF’s mandate to protect the airport, as the government has in the past said that the mission should only be permitted to protect the UNMISS terminal and installations at the airport.
Also with regard to the RPF, members will be interested in plans for the deployment of the main troop contributors. Ethiopia and Rwanda have committed to participate in the RPF. Kenya, which had agreed to take part in the Force, rescinded this offer and announced the withdrawal of its approximately 1,000 troops already in South Sudan, following the dismissal in early November 2016 of the UNMISS Force Commander (a Kenyan national), whose performance was criticised in the report of the independent special investigation concerning the July 2016 violence in Juba. Members may be interested in efforts to engage with Kenya to determine whether it might reconsider its decision.
Additionally, Ladsous is expected to cover the difficult relations between the government and UNMISS on a number of operational issues, as well as efforts to engage with the government to address the ongoing high number of violations of the Status of Forces Agreement. In recent months, there have been reports of government forces restricting the freedom of movement of members of the mission or otherwise obstructing its operations in various parts of the country, including Central Equatoria, Eastern Equatoria, Western Equatoria, Jonglei, Lakes, Unity, Upper Nile and Western Bahr el-Ghazal states.