South Sudan: Open and Closed VTCs
On Wednesday (16 September), there will be an open VTC, followed by a closed VTC, on South Sudan. Special Representative and head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) David Shearer, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock, and a civil society representative are the anticipated briefers. The meeting will focus on the findings of the Secretary-General’s report on South Sudan covering 1 June to 31 August (S/2020/890) and recent developments in the country.
Shearer is likely to brief on political and security challenges that persist in South Sudan related to the delays in implementing the September 2018 Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS). Among the key issues facing South Sudan’s transitional government are the need to fill the remaining governorship in Upper Nile State and to reconstitute the National Legislative Assembly. He may further emphasise the need for progress in the cantonment and training of the parties’ security forces—a pre-requisite to forming a unified national army. According to the Secretary-General’s most recent report on South Sudan: “Training centres and cantonment sites continue to be deserted by forces due to lack of food, water, medicine, and other essential services.” The report also finds that while opposition parties have sent large numbers of troops to the centres and sites, government troops have remained in their barracks, failing to date to participate in this integration process.
Several Council members may similarly highlight the importance of addressing these governance and security challenges. Concerns about the slow progress in reconstituting government institutions and forming a unified army were underscored in a 14 July Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) communiqué resulting from a summit-level meeting of the sub-regional body held via VTC. The communiqué indicated that the Chair of IGAD should engage directly with the parties to help them to resolve “outstanding pre-transitional tasks” if they were unable to do so by 13 August; the training and unification of forces is among these pre-transitional tasks. Members may be interested in an update on whether the IGAD chair, which is currently Sudan, has engaged with the parties on this matter, and if so, what has transpired.
Another issue that is likely to be raised in the meeting is the decision to transfer the administration of protection of civilians (POC) sites in Bor and Wau—including policing and security tasks—from UNMISS to the government of South Sudan. The rationale of the UNMISS POC sites, which now shelter nearly 170,000 people in various parts of the country, has been to provide safety to those South Sudanese fearful of violence in their home communities. According to the Secretary-General, however, a recent UNMISS security risk assessment concluded that “there are no identified external threats to the IDPs [internally displaced persons] living in these sites”. This fact, it appears, has allowed for the change in the status of the Bor and Wau sites. Members are likely to be interested in learning from Shearer the extent to which this development will free up UNMISS police and troops to patrol outside of these facilities and to enhance their ability to protect civilians more widely. There may also be questions about how the change in administration of the camps might affect the ability of the mission and its partners to provide humanitarian services to IDPs living there.
A further issue that is likely to be raised is the impact of COVID-19 on the security and humanitarian situation in South Sudan, including in the densely populated POC sites and especially given the country’s fragile health care system. As Shearer noted in his briefing to Council members on 23 June, the government has limited testing capacity and there is social stigma attached to the virus, making it likely that case numbers are higher than the official figures suggest. As of 15 September, there have been 2,578 cases (including 49 fatalities) officially attributed to the virus.
Shearer and Lowcock may describe how the virus has affected efforts by the mission and its partners to provide services to the population. In this regard, in the 23 June briefing, Shearer underscored the devastating potential for the virus to cause knock-on effects: “Disruption to vaccinations, maternal health services or routine treatment for curable diseases like malaria, diarrhoea and pneumonia will result in a devastating increase in deaths—likely greater than the predicted loss of life from COVID-19”. Council members may be interested in an update on UNMISS’ efforts to assist the government in counteracting the pandemic, as well as precautions the mission is taking to protect the health and safety of its staff.
Another issue that will be raised in the meeting, most likely by Lowcock, is food insecurity in South Sudan. As described in the Secretary-General’s report, more than 6 million people in the country are affected by hunger. On 4 September, the Secretariat forwarded a “Note to members of the Security Council” on food insecurity in South Sudan, Yemen, northeast Nigeria, and the DRC, which said that these four cases are among the most significant food crises in the world. On 17 September, Council members will be holding a videoconference with Lowcock and the heads of the World Food Programme and the Food and Agricultural Organisation to discuss this Note.
Among the other issues that may be raised in tomorrow’s meeting include the need to curtail inter-communal violence, the importance of accountability for human rights violations, and the safety and security of peacekeepers and humanitarian workers.