UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS): Vote on Mandate Renewal Resolution*
Tomorrow morning (15 March), the Security Council is expected to vote on a draft resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) for one year. The US, the penholder on South Sudan, circulated an initial draft of the text to all Council members on 26 February and then convened two rounds of negotiations, on 3 and 8 March. A draft was put under silence until 2 pm on Friday (10 March). Silence was subsequently broken by China, followed by Russia. The penholder then put a revised draft in blue later that day.
The draft resolution in blue extends UNMISS’ mandate until 15 March 2024, maintaining the mission’s overall force levels at a ceiling of 17,000 troops and 2,101 police personnel. The draft retains the four core elements of the mission’s 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 the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS) and the peace process; and (iv) monitoring, investigating, and reporting on violations of international humanitarian law and violations and abuses of human rights.
It seems that disagreements during the negotiations largely focused on proposed language aimed at strengthening UNMISS’ protection of civilians mandate. The initial draft text called on the mission to “take all necessary measures” to ensure the protection of civilians and authorised it to effectively engage with any actor—including “the Government of South Sudan and its proxies”—that is credibly found to be preparing and/ or engaging in attacks against civilians, internally displaced persons (IDP) camps, and the UNMISS protection of civilians sites. The initial draft also stressed the importance of a “proactive, offensive military posture” to respond to threats of violence against civilians. China and Russia apparently opposed the inclusion of these new provisions in the mandate, and several other Council members—including Brazil and the A3 (Gabon, Ghana, and Mozambique)—expressed concerns about the suggested language.
Council members’ diverging views on such issues were evident in the last Council briefing on UNMISS, held on 6 March. In its remarks, China noted that in recent years, some aspects of UNMISS’ mandate have “expanded to an extent that clearly goes beyond the competence of a peacekeeping mission”, and argued that this could undermine the trust between the mission and the host government. It added that the international community should focus on assisting the country in its efforts towards enhancing security sector reform (SSR) and advancing the deployment of the Necessary Unified Forces (NUF), among other things. At the meeting, Russia urged UNMISS to focus on stabilising the security situation and assisting South Sudan’s government in the timely implementation of the roadmap signed in August 2022, which extended the transitional period by 24 months to enable the implementation of its key outstanding tasks, and the holding of the general elections planned for December 2024. On the other hand, the US argued that the transitional government “has not upheld its primary responsibility to protect the civilians of South Sudan”. It urged UNMISS to become more proactive in implementing its protection of civilians mandate and to “deploy peacekeepers to areas of heightened violence—irrespective of approval of the local or national authorities—where civilians are at the greatest risk of physical violence”.
The draft resolution in blue retains language from resolution 2625 of 15 March 2022—which most recently extended UNMISS’ mandate—calling on the mission to “use all necessary means” to implement its mandate. It adds new text directing UNMISS to “ensure effective, timely, and dynamic protection of civilians under threat of physical violence through a comprehensive and integrated approach, irrespective of the source or location of such violence”. Another new provision mandates the mission to “prevent, deter, and stop violence against civilians, including politically driven violence, particularly in high-risk areas”. In this regard, the draft resolution in blue retains language from the initial draft authorising the mission to “promptly and effectively” engage any actor that is credibly found to be preparing and/ or engaging in attacks against civilians, IDP camps, and the UNMISS protection of civilians sites, but omits the reference to the “Government of South Sudan and its proxies”. Furthermore, the reference to an “offensive” military posture was changed to a “robust” military posture in the draft resolution in blue, in light of concerns raised by several Council members.
Text was also added to this year’s resolution calling on the mission to maintain a flexible, robust, and effective posture, including by conducting active patrolling by foot and by vehicle, in particular in high-risk areas, IDP camps, and the UNMISS protection of civilians sites. In addition, the draft resolution in blue stresses that the protection of civilians will be prioritised in decisions about the use of the mission’s available capacity and resources.
The draft resolution in blue contains additional new language underscoring that “elections should be viewed as a phased approach and UNMISS should focus in the near-term on key conditions, including the prevention of a further escalation of political violence and creating conditions for an inclusive, constitutional drafting and review process and the inclusive civic space that is a prerequisite to the conduct of free and fair elections”. Some Council members—including China and Russia—apparently disagreed with describing the holding of elections as a phased approach. It seems that this language was retained over these members’ objections.
New language on the fourth pillar of the mandate concerning human rights is also included in the draft text in blue. It calls on the mission to monitor, investigate, verify, and report immediately and publicly on “the chains of command and the decision-making structures that led to abuses and violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including those that may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity”.
The draft resolution in blue retains the Secretary-General’s 90-day reporting cycle to the Council, as set out in resolution 2625. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) apparently requested the addition of new language requesting the Secretary-General to include in his regular reporting an analysis of “risks associated with climate change that may adversely impact peace and security in South Sudan and implementation of the UNMISS mandate”. The UAE’s proposal was supported by several Council members, including Malta and Switzerland. Despite objections from several other members—including Brazil, China, and Russia—this language was ultimately retained in the draft resolution in blue.
A new reporting requirement in the draft text in blue requests the Secretary-General to provide, by 15 October, an independently-conducted impact assessment of the mission’s implementation of its protection of civilians mandate, with a focus on the mission’s protection of civilians strategy and any obstacles to the mission’s ability to fulfil its mandate, including obstruction by the host government or other forces.
The draft resolution in blue also requests the Secretary-General to submit a separate report by 15 October that provides:
- a detailed analysis of the political, security, and economic factors delaying the implementation of the R-ARCSS and their causes, including the causes of ongoing subnational violence;
- an assessment of certain conditions that are necessary pre-requisites for credible elections, such as an inclusive constitution-making process and drafting of critical legal frameworks, expansion of civic space, and further prevention of political violence;
- an integrated UN transition strategy focusing on the self-reliance of South Sudan and the critical gaps to be addressed to build durable peace at the local and national levels; and
- recommendations for how UNMISS could adapt in light of the report’s findings.
*Post-script: On 15 March, the Security Council adopted resolution 2677, renewing the mandate of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) until 15 March 2024. It was adopted with 13 votes in favour and two abstentions (China and Russia).