What's In Blue

Posted Wed 13 Dec 2023

South Sudan: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow morning (14 December), 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 (S/2023/976), which was circulated to Council members on 8 December and covers developments from 1 September to 30 November. Ambassador Michel Xavier Biang (Gabon), the chair of the 2206 South Sudan Sanctions Committee, is expected to brief on the committee’s work. Closed consultations are scheduled to follow the open briefing.

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 implement its key outstanding tasks. Crucial aspects of the roadmap relate to the unification of forces and their redeployment, the drafting of a permanent constitution, and the electoral process. 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 first post-independence elections planned for 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 at the earliest possibility to pave the way for elections in December 2024. Other likely topics of discussion include the adverse effects of climate change, the need for an inclusive political process, persisting insecurity, and the dire humanitarian situation in the country. (For background and more information, see the brief on South Sudan in our December 2023 Monthly Forecast.)

On 3 November, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit issued presidential decrees on the commencement of the process to reconstitute South Sudan’s National Constitutional Review Commission (NCRC), National Elections Commission (NEC), and the Political Parties Council (PPC). Furthermore, on 15 November, the South Sudanese government deployed 750 personnel of the Necessary Unified Forces (NUF) to Tonja in Upper Nile State. The deployed forces are part of the 52,000 graduates from Phase I of the NUF’s training and deployment. At tomorrow’s meeting, while welcoming these developments, Haysom and Council members are likely to call on the South Sudanese government to provide the resources needed for the operationalisation of the reconstituted entities and to make further progress on the training and deployment of the NUF.

Several members are expected to reiterate concerns about the slow implementation of the R-ARCSS in their statements tomorrow, echoing the Secretary-General’s latest report on South Sudan. In his remarks during a 16 November meeting of the AU Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) on the situation in South Sudan, Haysom noted that despite the passage of critical legislation, the timelines set out in the roadmap remain behind schedule. He added that continuing security and political tensions across the country have the potential to intensify as the electoral date approaches. Haysom also emphasised the need for the parties to the revitalised agreement to reach consensus on the conditions that are required for elections to be held.

The Secretary-General’s 8 December report notes that UNMISS has initiated a dialogue with the South Sudanese government, in cooperation with the AU and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), regarding implementation of a series of measures necessary to hold credible, peaceful, and inclusive elections. The report describes these measures, which include:

  • Operationalising the electoral security plans of the national police and making significant progress in implementing the transitional security arrangements;
  • confirming the constitution-making process as it relates to elections and electoral timelines;
  • operationalising and funding national institutions critical for elections, namely the NEC and the PPC;
  • clarifying the legal framework, types, and funding of elections, while considering their feasibility within the remaining timeframe;
  • determining the participation of refugees and internally displaced persons in elections; and
  • agreeing on a framework for legitimate political conduct, as well as on the rights of political stakeholders and their ability to participate freely in an expanded civic and political space.

The Secretary-General’s report further notes that “there is an emerging consensus among electoral experts focused on South Sudan that critical decisions or events should be agreed upon or established before the beginning of April 2024”.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are likely to express concern about the country’s deteriorating humanitarian situation, rising food insecurity, and worsening health situation. In a 11 December joint statement, UN Famine Prevention and Response Coordinator Reena Ghelani and Acting Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan Marie-Helene Verney expressed alarm about rising levels of food insecurity in South Sudan. The statement noted that approximately 7.1 million people—almost 56 percent of the country’s population—are experiencing acute food insecurity. The statement further noted that, due to lack of adequate funding, the World Food Programme (WFP) has been forced to prioritise resources to assist only the most severely food insecure households. The statement added that South Sudan is facing the cumulative and compounding effects of multiple inter-connected crises, namely insecurity and conflict—including the spillover effects of the crisis in Sudan—climate shocks, and an economic crisis driven by currency depreciation and rising commodity prices.

Council members remain concerned about the ongoing sub-national and intercommunal violence in the country. During the period covered by the Secretary-General’s most recent report, UNMISS documented and verified 217 incidents of violence affecting 727 civilians, including 63 women and 71 children. In a 30 November press release, UNMISS took note of reported attacks by “pro-government forces” against a base operated by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLM-IO) in Kai Gai, near Leer town in Unity State on 28 November. The statement called on all parties to take immediate measures to deescalate hostilities and confirmed the displacement of thousands of civilians from the affected areas. In the same statement, Haysom expressed concern about defections by some armed personnel, saying that it goes against the spirit of the revitalised agreement. He added that these developments “can destroy the trust and gains between parties to the peace process and worsen the humanitarian situation in Unity State and in the country”.

On 1 December, UNMISS and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a joint report on “Attacks against civilians in Greater Upper Nile, South Sudan”. The report concludes that there are reasonable grounds to believe that, between August and December 2022, gross violations and abuses of international human rights law and serious violations of international humanitarian law were committed in the Greater Upper Nile region during fighting between armed groups that split from the pro-Riek Machar Sudan People’s Liberation Army-in Opposition (SPLA-IO (RM)), namely Agwelek forces and the Kitgwang (which are under the command of General Simon Gatwech Dual). The report further states that fighting during this period resulted in the killing of at least 594 civilians, including 136 women and 92 children, and the injury of at least 290 civilians, including 39 women and two children. The report points out that the investigations conducted by UNMISS’ human rights division have identified at least 22 individuals who may bear responsibility for these violations and abuses.

Some members may also raise concerns about the high incidence of conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) and are likely to stress the need to ensure accountability and justice. A total of 19 CRSV incidents affecting 25 survivors, including 16 women and nine girls, were documented and verified during the period covered by the Secretary-General’s report. Attacks on humanitarian workers and looting of humanitarian assets in recent months is another matter of concern for Council members. During the reporting period, 66 incidents related to humanitarian access restrictions were reported, 20 of which involved violence against humanitarian personnel.

Another issue that Haysom and Council members are likely to raise is the adverse humanitarian, security, and economic effects on South Sudan of the fighting in Sudan that started on 15 April between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary group. In his 16 November remarks at the AUPSC meeting, Haysom said that the “situation in some border areas is shifting from a humanitarian challenge to a security crisis as host, returnee and refugee populations contend for diminishing aid”. The Secretary-General’s 8 December report noted that one of the primary security and protection of civilians concerns during the reporting period related to the impact of returnees from Sudan. The report also indicates an increase in criminality and flow of weapons from Sudan in certain parts of the country. (For background and more information, see the brief on South Sudan in our December 2023 Monthly Forecast and 14 September What’s in Blue story.)

According to data provided by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as at 3 December approximately 407,549 individuals—including 52,835 Sudanese refugees, 3,628 non-Sudanese refugees, and 351,086 refugee returnees—have crossed into South Sudan since the outbreak of fighting in Sudan.

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