South Sudan: Briefing and Consultations
Tomorrow afternoon (20 June), the Security Council will hold an open briefing, followed by closed consultations, on the situation in South Sudan. The anticipated briefers are Special Representative of the Secretary-General for South Sudan and head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Nicholas Haysom, Interim Chairperson of the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (RJMEC) Major General (Retired) Charles Tai Gituai, and a civil society representative.
In 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, while the extended transition period is scheduled to end on 22 February 2025, with elections planned for December 2024.
Both Haysom and Gituai—and several Council members—are likely to reiterate concerns about the slow implementation of the R-ARCSS in their statements tomorrow, echoing a point raised by the Secretary-General in his 13 June report on South Sudan. In a 24 May press conference, Haysom noted that, according to UNMISS’ assessment, the constitution-making process, election-planning tasks, and several aspects of the transitional security arrangements are behind schedule. In response to a question on whether the elections could be held in December 2024, Haysom noted that currently the structures are not established for a transparent, free, and fair election. He added that there are numerous steps that the government and other stakeholders need to take to create these conditions, including the passage of the National Electoral Bill, the reconstitution of the Political Parties Council, and progress on the Constitution-Making Process Bill. On 25 May, at a meeting of the RJMEC, which is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the R-ARCSS, Gituai said that there “seems to be no sense of urgency” in meeting timelines for implementing the agreement.
The briefers and several Council members may also emphasise the need to address human rights violations in South Sudan. On 3 April, the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan—which was established by the Human Rights Council in 2016—released a report which strongly criticised government repression in the country, warning that “the space for public debate has now virtually disappeared in South Sudan” and that members of the public who raise human rights issues on social media have been subjected to harassment. The commission added that state security forces violate “protections against arbitrary detention, and the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly”. In his latest briefing to the Council on 6 March, Haysom argued that “the expansion of civic and political space…will be a defining legacy of the transitional period as it constitutes the finishing line—the ultimate criteria—by which the credibility of the electoral process will be judged”.
There may also be discussion at tomorrow’s meeting about efforts to break the impasse in negotiations between the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (R-TGoNU) and the non-signatory South Sudan Opposition Alliance. The Rome-based Christian Community of Sant’Egidio has been mediating talks between the parties since November 2019. The most recent round of negotiations, which took place in Rome from 21 to 23 March, was adjourned after the parties were unable to agree on an agenda for the meeting.
Another issue that is likely to be raised by the briefers and Council members is the adverse humanitarian and economic effects on South Sudan of the recent escalation of violence in Sudan. As at 31 May, over 89,000 people—including South Sudanese returnees, Sudanese refugees, and third country nationals—have fled into South Sudan as a result of fighting in Sudan that started in mid-April between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary group. The Secretary-General’s recent report on South Sudan notes that the population displacement from Sudan may lead to greater competition for scarce resources in South Sudan. The report also states that decreases in the flow of goods and fuel from Sudan into South Sudan resulting from the recent outbreak of hostilities has worsened the economic challenges facing South Sudan. In light of these developments, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths allocated $8 million on 19 May from the UN Central Emergency Fund to South Sudan to support the humanitarian response.
The adverse effects of climate change on the humanitarian and security situation could also be raised at tomorrow’s meeting. This may include a discussion of potential competition between farmers and herders in South Sudan over water, especially if migratory cattle herders from Sudan decide not to return to their country because of the ongoing fighting.
Council members may also be interested in learning about efforts that UNMISS can take to increase the safety and security of humanitarian workers and assets, given the high incidence of attacks on humanitarian workers and convoys in recent months. The Secretary-General’s report noted that, between 1 March and 31 May, there had been 106 incidents related to humanitarian-access restrictions, of which 49 involved violence against humanitarian personnel and assets. In a 24 May press release, the Humanitarian Coordinator ad interim in South Sudan, Peter Van der Auweraert, condemned a targeted attack and looting of humanitarian assets outside the UN compound in Bor, Jonglei State, that took place the previous day. According to the statement, approximately seven metric tonnes of food aid belonging to the World Food Programme (WFP) was looted. In response to the attack, the WFP paused operations out of Bor. The WFP Country Director in South Sudan, Mary-Ellen McGroarty, said that the pause in operations “will have an impact upon more than a million people in Jonglei and Pibor, many of whom are women and children, who rely on the assistance WFP provides”.
Council members share similar concerns about the delays in implementing the R-ARCSS, the economic and humanitarian crises in South Sudan, and the violence perpetrated against civilians in the country. There are differences in tone in members’ statements, however. Some members, such as the US, are more critical than others, such as the A3 (Gabon, Ghana, and Mozambique), about the authorities’ political will to implement the R-ARCSS. For example, addressing the Council on behalf of the A3 during the 6 March meeting, Mozambique “commend[ed] the Government’s determination to maintain the Revitalized Agreement”, while the US called on the transitional authorities to create the civic space needed for South Sudanese citizens to participate in a meaningful way in the peace process. There are also strong divisions among members regarding the utility of the South Sudan sanctions regime. Resolution 2683 of 30 May, which renewed the sanctions on South Sudan for one year, was adopted with ten votes in favour and five abstentions (China, Gabon, Ghana, Mozambique, and Russia).