South Sudan: Consultations on the UN Mission and the Human Rights Situation
Tomorrow (23 February), in a meeting requested by the US, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations El Ghassim Wane and Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour are scheduled to brief on the situation in South Sudan. The meeting is expected to focus on the following three areas:
• the Secretary-General’s 30-day assessment of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), including the deployment and future requirements of the Regional Protection Force (RPF), obstacles to setting up the force and impediments to UNMISS in carrying out its mandate;
• the implementation of the recommendations of the independent special investigation regarding the violence in Juba in July 2016, and the response of UNMISS to this violence; and
• the human rights situation in South Sudan.
Wane will provide the overview of the Secretary-General’s 30-day assessment, a confidential document that was circulated to Council members on 13 February. The assessment reportedly noted that UNMISS continues to face obstacles in carrying out its responsibilities. The freedom of movement of UNMISS personnel continues to be restricted by government forces [i.e. the Sudan People’s Liberation Army or SPLA], including to places where civilians have been displaced and where there are allegations that they have been subjected to violence at the hands of the SPLA. Humanitarian access to populations in need continues to be hindered, an ongoing problem that takes on heightened urgency in light of the 20 February announcement by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Program (WFP) that famine has been declared in Unity State in South Sudan. The three agencies warned that “the total number of food insecure people is expected to rise to 5.5 million … [in South Sudan] at the height of the lean season in July if nothing is done to avert the spread of the food crisis”.
There will most likely be interest in learning more about interactions between UN officials and the government regarding repeated violations of the Status of Forces Agreement. Members will want to know from Wane about efforts undertaken to lift or limit the restrictions imposed by the government on the freedom of movement of UN personnel and on humanitarian access in various parts of the country. Of particular concern over the past week has been the fate of some 30,000 people displaced by fighting in Wau Shilluk and Malakal in Upper Nile State. An UNMISS patrol to Wau Shilluk was stopped by government troops on 16 February.
Another issue that will be raised in the meeting is the planning for the deployment of the RPF, which is expected to consist of 4,000 troops who will be responsible for protecting UN staff, humanitarian actors and civilians in Juba. One outstanding issue is that the government has indicated to UNMISS that it cannot allocate one of two plots of land identified to house the Force. Members may be interested in knowing if there have been additional discussions on this issue with the government, and whether other potential sites to locate the troops have been considered or discussed with the government.
The timing of deployment of the RPF is another issue that will most likely be discussed. The RPF was originally authorised in August 2016 but will probably not be deployed for several months. Council members may inquire about the timeframe for the deployment of enablers such as construction engineering, hospital and unmanned aerial systems units followed by the infantry battalions that constitute the Force. Ethiopia and Rwanda have committed to provide infantry for the RPF. It now appears that Kenya is again willing to contribute troops to the RPF, based on the results of a 29 January meeting between Secretary General António Guterres and President Uhuru Kenyatta on the margins of the AU Summit in Addis Ababa. This represents a reengagement by Kenya with UNMISS, as it had rescinded its original offer to take part in the RPF on 2 November 2016 following the dismissal of the UNMISS Force Commander, a Kenyan national, by then Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in response to findings of poor performance by the independent special investigation into the July 2016 violence in Juba.
In early November 2016, following the public release of the executive summary of the report of the independent special investigation, the UN Secretariat established a taskforce, headed by Wane, to implement the recommendations of the report of the special investigation within three months. Among others, the following recommendations were made in the executive summary and may be discussed in tomorrow’s meeting: “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. Members will be interested in the status of implementation of these and other recommendations from the report, whether there are any impediments, and if so, how these can be overcome.
Gilmour is expected to brief Council members on his mission to South Sudan earlier this month, including on his visit to Malakal. On 17 February, following his trip, Gilmour released a statement describing the “brutal reality” of the situation in the country as a war being “waged against the men, women and children of South Sudan.” He called for the perpetrators of human rights violations, including rape and gang rape and arbitrary detention, to be held accountable, expressed concern at the severe access restrictions faced by UNMISS, and said that elements of the SPLA had engaged in what could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
In light of his findings during the visit, members may be interested in Gilmour’s views on the potential establishment of an independent investigative mechanism to collect information on human rights violations that could be used by the Hybrid Court for South Sudan, envisioned in the August 2015 peace agreement. The establishment of such a mechanism was proposed on 17 February by the three members of the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, which was established by the UN Human Rights Council in March 2016.