What's In Blue

Posted Mon 22 Jun 2020

South Sudan Meeting: Open and Closed VTC

On Tuesday (23 June) the Security Council will hold an open videoconference (VTC), followed by a closed VTC, on the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). Special Representative and head of UNMISS David Shearer and a South Sudanese civil society representative are expected to brief.

The current status of the implementation of the September 2018 “Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan” will be a key element of tomorrow’s briefing and the ensuing interventions. While Council members were encouraged by the formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity on 22 February, many of them have concerns about the faltering progress in implementing several key elements of the agreement.

Council members are likely to want an update on power-sharing arrangements under the peace agreement, particularly the distribution of the ten state governorships. On 17 June, Minister for Presidential Affairs Nhial Deng Nhial announced that the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Government (SPLM-IG), led by President Salva Kiir, would be accorded six of the ten state governorships, while three would be chosen by the SPLM in Opposition, led by First Vice President Riek Machar. The South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA), a coalition of opposition parties, expects to receive one governorship. Members may be interested in hearing Shearer’s views on the sustainability of the deal between the SPLM-IG and the SPLM in Opposition, whether the SSOA is satisfied with having one governorship, and the position of the Other Political Parties (OPP) on these arrangements. The agreement to have ten states—based on the recommendation of an independent boundary commission, and a sharp reduction from the previous 32 states—fulfilled part of the peace agreement but has complicated the commitment to give the OPP 8% of the state governorships.

The difficulties in carrying out transitional security arrangements may also be discussed in the meeting. Members may want to learn more about the process of cantoning and training troops as a means toward forming a unified national army—as well as efforts to disarm, demobilise, and reintegrate those who will not serve in the army. According to the Secretary-General’s recent UNMISS report—as well as the final report of the South Sudan Sanctions Committee Panel of Experts in April 2020—the cantonment and training sites lack resources, which has led a high number of soldiers to quit them. Members may want to know what is being done to support improved conditions in these sites, and how UNMISS is supporting transitional security arrangements more generally.

Shearer and some member states are likely to raise serious concerns about the steep rise of inter-communal violence in South Sudan in recent months. The Secretary-General’s recent UNMISS report maintains that inter-communal conflict in recent months has been “fuelled in part by a governance and security vacuum resulting from the delay in the appointment of governors” and that the “spillover of this violence risks destabilizing the country, eroding peace gains, and spilling into politically charged conflict with disastrous consequences”.  UNMISS released a press statement on 9 June voicing similar concerns.  It noted that violence involving Dinka, Nuer and Murle communities in Jonglei since 2019 had led to hundreds of deaths and injuries, the abduction of women and children, and the stealing of cattle. One alarming trend, according to the statement, is that “fighters in uniform have been observed amongst those engaged in the violence indicating that more organized forces may be joining”. Council members may be interested in learning about the measures that UNMISS is pursuing to address this challenge—including by patrolling in areas at risk of intercommunal conflict, facilitating dialogue between different communities, and assisting in the return of abductees.

The impact of COVID-19 on the security, humanitarian and economic situation in South Sudan and on the work of UNMISS is likely to be a topic of discussion. The number of reported cases of COVID-19 in South Sudan—1,864 as of 21 June—continues to rise steadily. Among those infected are three of the country’s five vice presidents, including First Vice President Riek Machar, and Machar’s wife, Defence Minister Angelina Teny. The virus could have a devastating impact on the country, given the possibility of its spread in overcrowded camps for internally displaced persons and the burdens that a spike in cases would have on South Sudan’s fragile and under-resourced health care system.

Shearer may update members on the measures that the mission has taken to try to limit the spread of the virus and discuss what more could be done in this regard.  In a 7 May virtual press briefing, he described activities that the mission and UN agencies had already undertaken, including pre-positioning nutritional supplies for vulnerable populations, distributing soap and buckets, and developing an education campaign about COVID-19, among other measures.

Resolution 2521, which was adopted in late May and extended the South Sudan sanctions regime for one year, was the most recent Council product on South Sudan. The negotiations on that resolution represented the contrasting views in the Council on South Sudan, with some members maintaining that implementation of the peace agreement is lagging and that it is important to maintain pressure on South Sudan through sanctions, and others arguing that the Council needs to encourage the political progress that has been made and that sanctions are counterproductive. Three members (China, Russia and South Africa) abstained on resolution 2521. Even some of the 12 members that voted in favour of the resolution (for example, Niger, Tunisia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines) had their reservations.  Niger and St. Vincent and the Grenadines referred to the incorporation into the text of a mid-term review of the sanctions regime in December; this appears to have played a part in their decisions to cast affirmative votes. The divisions that accompanied the negotiations on resolution 2521 may again be reflected in the statements during tomorrow’s meeting.

Sexual violence, the recruitment of child soldiers, and the lack of progress in launching the Hybrid Court are among other concerns about South Sudan that may be discussed in tomorrow’s meeting.

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