What's In Blue

Posted Thu 11 Mar 2021

UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Mandate Renewal*

Tomorrow afternoon (12 March), the Security Council is expected to announce the voting results of a resolution to renew the mandate of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) for one year. The initial draft was circulated to the full Council by the US, the penholder on South Sudan, on 1 March. Two rounds of formal negotiations were held on 3 and 8 March. A draft was put under silence until 5 pm on Wednesday (10 March). Silence was broken by Russia on language relating to climate change. A draft was put into blue this afternoon (11 March). The 24-hour period written voting procedure then commenced, based on rules established during the COVID-19 pandemic to accommodate restrictions on in-person meetings.

The draft extends the mandate of UNMISS until 15 March 2022, maintaining the overall force levels at the troop ceiling of 17,000 troops and the police ceiling of 2,101 police personnel. The independent strategic review (ISR), which was requested in last year’s UNMISS mandate renewal (S/RES/2514), recommended reducing the troop ceiling to 15,000 (to bring it closer to the 14,621 troops currently deployed in the country). The draft expresses the Council’s readiness to consider adjustments to the force levels, including based on the security situation on the ground.

The draft retains the four core elements of the mandate: (i) protection of civilians; (ii) creating the conditions conducive to the delivery of humanitarian assistance; (iii) supporting the implementation of the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) and the peace process; and (iv) monitoring and investigating human rights. During negotiations, members such as China and Russia—along with Kenya, Niger, Tunisia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (the “A3 plus 1”)—took the position that the mandated responsibilities should be re-ordered with support to the R-ARCSS and peace process as the new first pillar. However, this proposal was not accepted.

The penholder put forward a draft text that sought to streamline the mandated tasks within the four pillars to the current circumstances on the ground. It seems this approach was generally welcomed by Council members. Language was amended in three of the four pillars of the mandate; the fourth pillar on monitoring and investigating human rights remains unchanged.

Under the first pillar on protection of civilians, language was included on protection of civilian sites that have been re-designated as internally displaced person (IDP) camps since the last mandate renewal. It calls on UNMISS to maintain a flexible posture linked to threat analysis, contingency plans for protecting sites in a crisis, and the ability to scale up its presence and protect re-designated sites if the security situation deteriorates. It also includes a new paragraph mandating the mission to use technical assistance and capacity-building to support the government to restore and reform the rule of law and justice sector in order to strengthen the protection of civilians, combat impunity and promote accountability. According to the draft, concrete examples of such measures include the investigation and prosecution of gender-based violence and conflict-related sexual violence, and human rights violations and abuses. Some members objected to mentioning specific types of investigation, while others supported this.

Under the second pillar on humanitarian assistance, opposing views were expressed during negotiations, including around reference to applicable international humanitarian law. Apparently, Russia insisted that the text refer to the UN guiding principles of humanitarian assistance. These guiding principles are included in UN General Assembly resolution 46/182 of 19 December 1991 and call for the “sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity of States” to be fully respected in accordance with the UN Charter. Russia has recently emphasised the guiding principles in negotiations on several outcomes in recent months, including those related to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic and Somalia, among others.  It seems the penholder was able to reach a compromise by retaining one reference to the guiding principles.

Under the third pillar on support to the peace process, coordination with relevant regional actors was added to the mandate. The ISR noted that it is critical for the UN, and in particular UNMISS, to enhance their role in supporting the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). During negotiations, the A3 plus one, along with France and others, emphasised the importance of UNMISS continuing to provide technical assistance to support the implementation of the peace agreement.

The penholder presented a clearer strategic direction for the mission by including a new paragraph deciding that UNMISS will advance a three-year strategic vision to prevent a return to civil war, build durable peace and to support elections. While members welcomed this, it seems that some would have preferred in this context a demand for a reduction in violence; such language had been in an earlier draft but was not retained.

The penholder also added three new sub-headings to the draft text: “South Sudan Peace Process”; “UNMISS Operations”; and “UN and International Support”.

  • Under “South Sudan Peace Process”, the draft calls on the government of South Sudan and all relevant actors to fulfil a series of priority measures before the end of UNMISS’s mandate in March 2022. These include providing security to re-designated protection of civilian sites; the graduation and deployment of necessary unified forces; and signing the Memorandum of Understanding with the AU to establish the Hybrid Court. It seems this was put forward in an attempt to incentivise the parties to increase implementation on key outstanding tasks required under the R-ARCSS.
  • Under “UNMISS Operations”, new language was added indicating that any future re-designation of protection of civilian sites—which are now designated as “IDP camps”—be based on comprehensive security assessments. New text was also included on gender mainstreaming; women, peace and security; and sexual and gender-based violence. For example, it calls for ensuring gender-sensitive conflict analysis is mainstreamed across all early warning and conflict prevention efforts. Reference was included to resolution 2467 on sexual violence in conflict on which Russia and China abstained. This section also contains a new paragraph on implementing women, peace and security priorities under resolution 1325 and all resolutions addressing women, peace, and security. These amendments appear to be consistent with the ISR’s recommendation that UNMISS improve gender-mainstreaming throughout its areas of work. These references had the support of most members but were opposed by others.
  • Under “UN and International Support”, new text was incorporated encouraging consultation between regional entities and the Secretary-General and his Special Representative on an action plan as well as on common messaging to urge South Sudan’s leaders to meet commitments made under the R-ARCSS.

As in previous years, an area of disagreement among Council members was the extent to which positive language on the situation should be included. Some members were of the view that the draft could have included more such language.

Also as in previous years, references to the South Sudan sanctions regime, and the arms embargo in particular, were contentious, with China and Russia particularly critical of such references. The draft in blue ultimately retains previously agreed language on this from resolution 2514. Council members are expecting further discussions on the sanctions regime following the report of the Secretary-General on proposed benchmarks to assess the arms embargo, expected at the end of this month.

It appears that one of the most difficult issues was whether to include language on climate change, despite the support of most Council members, including the penholder. (The Biden administration is supportive of Council engagement on this issue, in sharp contrast with the Trump administration.) During negotiations last year on resolution 2514, Germany, with support from multiple members, sought the addition of a new preambular paragraph on climate change that was opposed by some members. A compromise was reached at the time, with the Council recognising “the adverse effects of extreme weather events on the humanitarian situation and stability in South Sudan”. This year, the draft in blue recognises the adverse effects of climate change instead of extreme weather events.

Finally, the draft contains a new request that by 15 July the Secretary-General provide the Council with a needs assessment on security, procedural and logistical requirements to create an enabling environment for elections. In the draft in blue, the Council also requests the Secretary-General to continue to report to the Security Council on implementation of the UNMISS mandate every 90 days, including in relation to advancing the three-year strategic vision, as well as on implementation of the priorities the government should fulfil by March 2022.


*Post-script: On 12 March, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2567, renewing the mandate of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) for one year.

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