What's In Blue

Posted Sun 5 Mar 2023

South Sudan: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow morning (6 March), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing on the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). Special Representative of the Secretary-General for South Sudan and head of UNMISS Nicholas Haysom will brief on the Secretary-General’s latest 90-day report, which covers developments from 1 December 2022 to 15 February. OCHA’s Acting Director of Operations and Advocacy Tareq Talahma is also expected to brief.

On 4 August 2022, all signatories to the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS) agreed to a roadmap extending the transitional period by 24 months to enable the implementation of its key outstanding tasks. The original transitional period agreed to in the R-ARCSS ended on 22 February. The Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (R-TGoNU) announced on 21 February that the extended transition period is scheduled to end on 22 February 2025 with elections to be held in December 2024.

The implementation of the roadmap extending the transitional period is a likely focus of tomorrow’s meeting. Council members are expected to call for an immediate and full implementation of the roadmap within the agreed time frame. Other likely topics of discussion include the continuing sub-national and intercommunal conflict, high levels of conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV), and the dire humanitarian situation in the country.

Haysom may note that during the reporting period of the Secretary-General’s report, there was some progress in the implementation of the R-ARCSS, including in relation to the graduation of the first batch of elements of the Necessary Unified Forces (NUF) and the adoption of key legislation, such as the Constitution-Making Process Bill and the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan (Amendment) Bill. He might also reference the 24 January request by the South Sudanese government for comprehensive UN electoral assistance for the upcoming election process.

Haysom is also likely to emphasise the delays there have been in implementing key aspects of the August 2022 roadmap. During a 2 March plenary meeting of the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (RJMEC)—which is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the R-ARCSS—Deputy Special Representative and deputy head of UNMISS Guang Cong highlighted the need to “expedite the work” in order to meet key benchmarks contained in the roadmap. This includes accelerating the deliberations on the Elections Act to allow for the reconstitution of the National Elections Commission (NEC). He added that further delays will have a domino effect on subsequent benchmarks. During the meeting, Interim Chairperson of the RJMEC Major General (Retired) Charles Tai Gituai noted that critical timelines have been missed in the implementation of governance tasks contained in the roadmap, including the reconstitution of the Political Parties Council (PPC) and the NEC. In this regard, he called on the R-TGoNU to take concrete and deliberate steps to expedite implementation of the critical pending tasks in line with the roadmap.

Some Council members may take note of the recent three-day visit by Pope Francis to South Sudan, which took place from 3 to 5 February. During his visit, Pope Francis urged South Sudanese political leaders to end violence and work together for the benefit of the country’s citizens. He also emphasised the importance of having a role for young people in dialogue and of women’s participation in decision-making processes. On 30 January, the South Sudanese government announced the lifting of the suspension of the Rome peace talks. Under this framework, talks between the government of South Sudan and the South Sudan Opposition Movement Alliance (SSOMA)—which comprises groups that are not signatories to the R-ARCSS—are mediated by the Rome-based community of Sant’Egidio.

Council members remain concerned about the ongoing sub-national and intercommunal violence and the high incidence of sexual and gender-based violence in the country. The Secretary-General’s most recent UNMISS report, dated 22 February, notes that intercommunal violence resulted in 579 civilian casualties during the period covered by the report. It adds that UNMISS conducted several missions to affected areas in Jonglei State and the Greater Pibor Administrative Area to advocate the protection of civilians with the authorities. UNMISS also deployed surge capacity to Upper Nile State, where armed confrontations between the Agwelek and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLA-IO) Kit-Gwang forces included grave human rights abuses. The report notes that a total of 14 incidents of CRSV affecting 27 survivors, including 23 women and four girls, were documented during the reporting period.

Haysom may refer to the findings of the quarterly brief on violence affecting civilians released on 17 February by UNMISS’ Human Rights Division. The brief reported that between October and December 2022, there was a 42 percent increase in violent incidents registered by UNMISS compared with the previous reporting period. During the reporting period, the number of civilians killed increased by 79 percent, and incidents related to CRSV increased by 360 percent compared with the same reporting period in 2021, according to the brief.

The Secretary-General’s 22 February UNMISS report says that violence in Upper Nile State has resulted in the displacement of more than 22,000 people near the UNMISS company operating base in Kodok. The report also notes that, between December 2022 and 10 February, 64 incidents related to humanitarian access constraints were reported, of which 36 involved violence against humanitarian personnel and assets. In addition, the report says that, in the first few weeks of 2023, three humanitarian staff members were killed while on duty.

Haysom and several Council members are likely to express concern about the country’s deteriorating humanitarian situation, rising food insecurity, and worsening health situation. According to OCHA’s South Sudan Humanitarian Response Plan, 9.4 million people—almost 76 percent of South Sudan’s population—will require humanitarian assistance in 2023, including 2.2 million women, 4.9 million children, and 337,000 refugees. As at 2 March, the humanitarian response plan for South Sudan had received 3.5 percent of the required funding, which totals $1.7 billion.

The outbreak of measles has further compounded vulnerabilities in South Sudan. The South Sudanese Ministry of Health declared a measles outbreak in the country on 11 December 2022. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 4,339 suspected measles cases were recorded across the country between January 2022 and 1 February, including 388 confirmed cases and 46 deaths attributed to the disease.

Some Council members may welcome the engagement of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) on South Sudan. On 31 January, the PBC held a meeting to receive a briefing from the Chair of the PBC, Ambassador Muhammad Abdul Muhith (Bangladesh), about a visiting mission he conducted to the country between 6 and 9 December 2022, together with the PBC vice chairs, Egypt and the Dominican Republic. In a  press statement issued following the meeting, the PBC “noted the urgency of staying the course” on implementation of the outstanding provisions of the peace agreement in line with the timeline contained in the August 2022 roadmap. It further encouraged the South Sudanese government to promote the participation of all stakeholders in the peace process.

Some Council members are expected to emphasise the need for inclusive political and decision-making processes, including the enhanced participation of women, youth, and civil society. In his latest briefing to the Council on 13 December 2022, Haysom noted that the issue of implementation of quotas for women remains unresolved. (The R-ARCSS stipulated a 35 percent quota for women’s participation in transitional institutions.) He encouraged the parties to reach a compromise on the issue and to finalise the related legislation at the earliest possible moment.

Although Council members share similar concerns about some aspects of the South Sudan file—including the delays in implementing the R-ARCSS and the worsening security and humanitarian situations—they have diverging opinions on such issues as the extent to which the Council can and should apply pressure on the parties to fully implement the R-ARCSS in line with the roadmap, the utility of sanctions, and the effects of climate change on the situation in the country. Such divisions are expected to colour the discussions at tomorrow’s meeting. For example, only some Council members are likely to highlight the exacerbating effects of climate change on the peace and security challenges in the country.

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