UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Mandate Renewal*
Tomorrow (15 March), the Security Council is scheduled to vote on a draft resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) for an additional year. The initial draft was circulated by the US, the penholder on South Sudan, on 28 February. A draft was put under silence on Wednesday (12 March) until yesterday afternoon (13 March); however, silence was broken yesterday by China, Russia and South Africa. Following bilateral negotiations, a revised draft was put in blue this morning.
While the mandate is essentially the same, some new text has been added to this year’s UNMISS draft in an effort to reinforce the mission’s good offices role, to bolster its efforts to address sexual violence, and to facilitate efforts by internally displaced persons (IDPs) from UN protection of civilians sites to return home.
A significant development since the mandate was last extended on 15 March 2018 is the signing of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS) in September 2018. The initial draft resolution circulated by the US took note of the R-ARCSS, “as a step forward in the peace process”. However, after several members expressed a desire for more positive language during the negotiations, a revised draft underlined that the R-ARCSS “is an important step forward in the peace process that provides a window of opportunity to achieve sustainable peace and stability in South Sudan”. This formulation is reflected in the draft in blue, although it appears to have been one reason why silence was broken by Russia and China, as both would have preferred if the Council had welcomed the R-ARCSS, a view shared by many Council members.
Language from the initial draft was retained stressing “that the negotiation of power-sharing and security arrangements and the safe return of all South Sudanese parties to Juba are essential to advance the peace process”, while “calling on the parties to ensure full and meaningful participation of women in the peace process and fulfill the commitments set out on inclusivity, including in respect of national diversity, gender, youth and regional representation”. The draft also recognises the reduction of political violence since the signing of the R-ARCSS; the upholding of the permanent ceasefire in most parts of the country; confidence-building measures among signatories; and the formation of most of the required pre-transitional mechanisms.
The draft extends the mandate of UNMISS until 15 March 2020, maintaining the overall force levels at the troop ceiling of 17,000 troops and the police ceiling of 2,101 police personnel. The four core elements of the mandate remain largely unchanged, namely protecting civilians, creating the conditions conducive to the delivery of humanitarian assistance, monitoring and investigating human rights, and supporting the peace process.
Regarding the protection of civilians aspect of the mandate, language was added “to provide support, within existing resources…in developing and implementing gender-sensitive community violence reduction (CVR) programs”. This was proposed by the US, following input from the mission, and is similar to language in resolution 2448 renewing the mandate of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).
Text was also added to this year’s resolution calling on the mission to “support the facilitation of the safe, informed, voluntary, and dignified return or relocation of IDPs from United Nations protection of civilian sites, in coordination with humanitarian actors and other relevant stakeholders, and within existing resources”. Although some members raised concerns over the wording of this addition to the mandate, given the fragile security situation in the country, this addition to the mandate was retained, following slight modifications to the language in the initial draft. At the briefing on 8 March (S/PV.8480), Special Representative and head of UNMISS David Shearer told the Council that “for the first time in three years, people are expressing a willingness to return home” and emphasised that the mission “will support those who want to leave…consistent with international principles and humanitarian non-governmental organization guidelines that returns must be voluntary and dignified.”
Regarding support to the peace process, language was added this year specifying that “advice or technical assistance, within existing resources” can be a part of the mission’s good offices efforts to support the peace process. It seems all members supported this inclusion, which is also in line with the recommendation in the Secretary-General’s report to allow the mission to support the implementation of the R-ARCSS and the peace process “in a nimble and flexible manner, including through the provision of technical assistance for peacebuilding priorities”.
Regional Protection Force
The mission will continue to include the Regional Protection Force (RPF), which was first authorised in resolution 2304 in August 2016, and maintain its troop levels (not exceeding 4,000) as agreed in that resolution. The draft notes the request from the AU Peace and Security Council, outlined in the Secretary General’s letter to the Security Council (S/2019/110), on the proposal from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) that its members, namely Djibouti, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda, contribute troops to fill what it has identified as the RPF’s deficit of 1,695 troops. With regard to this issue, the draft expresses the Council’s “willingness to consider a review of the mandate and composition of the RPF in line with UN peacekeeping principles and standards, subsequent to the parties to the [R-ARCSS] negotiating permanent security arrangements and forming the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity”. It seems this formulation, in particular its conditionality, was acceptable to members. In relation to engagement by regional actors, the draft “encourages their continued firm engagement with South Sudan’s leaders”. During his 8 March briefing to the Council, Shearer told the Council that a “fully engaged IGAD, supported by the efforts of the African Union, is absolutely critical.”
Another significant development since the mandate was last extended is the decision by the Security Council in resolution 2428, adopted on 13 July 2018, to impose an arms embargo on South Sudan. The Council also decided in resolution 2428 to add “planning, directing, or committing acts involving sexual and gender-based violence in South Sudan” as a designation criterion for the imposition of targeted sanctions against individuals. This controversial resolution obtained the minimum nine affirmative votes needed for adoption; abstentions were registered by six members (Bolivia, China, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, and Russia).
Consistent with the tensions over resolution 2428, references to the sanctions regime, and the arms embargo in particular, were contentious during negotiations on the current draft. The initial draft acknowledged “the important contribution to the peace process…of the sanctions regime mandated by…resolution 2428, including…the arms embargo”. Following contrasting views on this formulation, a compromise was put forward noting the contribution of measures adopted in resolution 2428, including the arms embargo. However, Russia and China, which both sought to have this paragraph removed, were not satisfied with this phrasing, another factor that contributed to their decision to break silence. At the briefing on 8 March, Russia had made clear its disagreement with those Council members “who assert that the visible progress…has been partly enabled by the increase in sanctions pressure…and the imposition of an arms embargo.” South Africa also expressed opposition to this paragraph, and broke silence as well. The draft in blue reflects a concession by only “[n]oting the measures adopted by the Security Council in resolution 2428”.
In spite of differing views on the impact of sanctions on the peace process, new language in this year’s draft was retained stressing “the critical importance of effective implementation of the sanctions regime, including its travel ban measures, and the key role that neighboring states, as well as regional and subregional organizations, can play in this regard and encouraging efforts to further enhance cooperation”.
Sexual Violence and Human Rights
The language on sexual violence has been expanded as compared to resolution 2406, which renewed the UNMISS mandate last year. On 18 December 2018, Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten told the Council that sexual violence “escalated dramatically in 2018” (S/PV.8431). The draft expresses “grave concern at ongoing reports of sexual and gender-based violence”, noting that “persistent levels of conflict-related sexual violence and other forms of violence against women and girls has become normalized and continued after the signing of the [R-ARCSS] and despite the suspension of most military offensives”. In this regard, it refers to the UNMISS-OHCHR joint report published in February, which determined that at least 134 cases of rape or gang rape occurred between September and December 2018 near Bentiu. Reference to the joint report in the initial draft was retained, despite objections from at least two members.
Several members insisted on the importance of sharpening the mandate in relation to combating sexual violence. After a number of proposals on this issue in the early stages of the negotiations, text was incorporated in the draft requesting UNMISS “to strengthen its sexual and gender-based violence prevention and response activities, including by ensuring that risks of sexual and gender-based violence is included in the Mission’s data collection, threat analysis and early warning systems, by engaging with victims of sexual violence, and women’s organizations”. China and Russia appear to have been uncomfortable with this language during negotiations, but it has been retained in the version in blue.
Furthermore, in relation to the request for UNMISS “to intensify its presence and active patrolling in areas of high risk of conflict”, the initial draft contained language also calling for such patrolling in areas at risk of conflict-related sexual violence. Russia and China sought the removal of the reference to conflict-related sexual violence. This was resolved through a compromise with the draft in blue removing this reference while adding “with particular attention to women and children”.
Another area of contention was in connection with references in the draft to the February report of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan. This report concluded that that despite the signing of the R-ARCSS, violations including rape and sexual violence continue to occur and may amount to international crimes, including war crimes and crimes against humanity (A/HRC/40/69). Russia and China sought the removal of one of the two references to this report when they broke silence. This issue was resolved by removing from the draft in blue reference to this report in a preambular paragraph that strongly condemns all human rights violations and abuses. Reference to the report was retained in another preambular paragraph that expresses grave concern regarding reports on the human rights situation, although additional language here with respect to the report’s conclusions was removed.
The draft retains the Secretary-General’s 90-day reporting cycle to the Council, as set out in resolution 2406, while also requesting reporting on “steps taken to deter and prevent sexual and gender-based violence”. It further requests the Secretary-General to provide within 180 days of the mandate renewal a written report on future planning for the protection of civilian sites and sets out several areas to be covered in the report, including recommendations clarifying the roles and responsibilities of UNMISS in this regard.
*The draft in blue was adopted on 15 March with 14 votes in favour and Russia abstaining (S//RES/2459). Following the vote, statements were made by China, Kuwait, Russia and the US (S/PV.8484).