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South Sudan

Expected Council Action

In March, the Council will renew the mandate of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and the authorisation for the Regional Protection Force (RPF), before their 15 March expiration.

Key Recent Developments

The human cost of the conflict in South Sudan has reached “epic proportions” UNHCR head Filippo Grandi said on 1 February, following his visit to South Sudanese refugee camps in Uganda and Kenya. The number of refugees is now projected to exceed 3 million by the end of this year, making South Sudan Africa’s largest refugee crisis since the Rwanda genocide. UNHCR has launched a funding appeal for $1.5 billion to support South Sudanese refugees and $1.7 billion for those in need in the country. Approximately 1.9 million people are displaced inside South Sudan and more than 2 million refugees are in neighbouring countries. Over 5.1 million people (nearly half the population) are severely food insecure.

On 14 December 2017, UNMISS’s current mandate was rolled over until 15 March, to allow for the completion of the independent review of UNMISS initiated by the Secretary-General in October 2017, one of the eight major peacekeeping operations to be reviewed by June. On 20 February, Council members received the Secretary-General’s special report presenting a summary of the review team’s findings as well as observations and recommendations. The review team’s findings included that the mission should increase protection of civilians to the maximum extent possible within existing resources, adjust the RPF’s mandate as the threat of military conflict in Juba has considerably diminished, and reinforce the protection of civic space. The Secretary-General’s observations and recommendations included that the current UNMISS mandate remains valid and should be extended for another year, with some modifications. While the current language on the mission’s protection of civilians mandate was deemed valid, the Secretary-General has directed UNMISS and DPKO to review the current model for providing security to protection of civilians sites and explore whether a more efficient model requiring fewer troops could be contemplated, with an overall aim to free up more troops for outward projection of the mission’s military footprint. The Secretary-General’s recommendations on the mandate included the addition of capacity-building and training of security and government institutions, and strengthening outreach and advocacy to raise the visibility of the human rights situation. The Security Council should continue supporting the peace process, including by holding the parties accountable.

The second phase of the South Sudan High-Level Revitalization Forum (HLRF), convened by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), took place from 5 to 16 February in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The stated areas of focus at the outset of the second phase were on a permanent ceasefire; the full implementation of the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (ARCSS) signed in August 2015; and a revised and realistic elections timeline. According to a 16 February joint statement by the parties attending the second phase, broad consensus was reached on key principles for guiding deliberations and on certain provisions and proposed adjustments to the ARCSS, on which deliberations are set to continue when the forum reconvenes in March. In the joint statement, the parties also recommitted to the 21 December 2017 Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA), concluded at the first phase of the HLRF, which has been violated on several occasions. The members of the Troika (Norway, the UK and the US) said in a statement on 16 February that useful dialogue had taken place but that there was much more for the parties to do, calling on them to reconvene as soon as possible without preconditions. The statement also emphasised that elections in 2018 are not viable given the continuing conflict, lack of security, displacement of one-third of the population, and severe food insecurity affecting half the population.

On 2 February, the EU imposed sanctions on three current and former South Sudanese officials implicated in human rights violations and obstructing the peace process. The sanctions come five months after the US took similar action against the same three individuals. Also on 2 February, the US Department of State announced that it was implementing restrictions on the export of defence articles and services to South Sudan, and that the US was seeking support for a Security Council arms embargo.

The AU Peace and Security Council adopted a communiqué on South Sudan on 8 February, which among other things urged the AU Commission, in consultation with IGAD, to develop and submit possible punitive measures that could be applied against all those who continue to obstruct efforts towards the restoration of peace and security in South Sudan. It also called on UNMISS, the South Sudanese government, and the troop-contributing countries to ensure that the deployment of the RPF was completed in the next three months.

On 27 February, the Council received a briefing on South Sudan from Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Bintou Keita and IGAD Special Envoy for South Sudan Ismail Wais (the meeting had not yet taken place at press time).

Human Rights-Related Developments

UNMISS and OHCHR released a joint report on 22 February, on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, documenting 60 verified incidents, including killing, arbitrary arrest and detention; closure, suspension or censorship of newspapers; and blocking of websites from July 2016 to December 2017. The Human Rights Council will hold an interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in South Sudan and consider its most recent report (A/HRC/37/71) during its 37th session in March. The report documents human rights violations against civilians, including massacres; sexual violence; and the destruction of homes, hospitals and schools. The Commission also identified more than forty senior military officials who may bear individual responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the country, whose names have been communicated on a strictly confidential basis to the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Key Issues and Options

An immediate issue for the Council to consider is what changes are necessary to the mandate of UNMISS. The most likely option is for the Council to renew the mandate for one year, maintaining core elements such as the protection of civilians, monitoring and verification of human rights violations, and facilitation of humanitarian access.

In doing so, the Council might consider including language on some of the following findings and recommendations of the special report on UNMISS’s review:

increasing the effectiveness of protection efforts beyond protection of civilians sites;

encouraging current efforts to make the mission more robust, nimble and proactive;

reviewing the RPF’s mandate to adapt to the current political and security environment;

including capacity-building and training of security and government institutions on international humanitarian law, sexual and gender-based violence, and other serious human rights violations; and

urging the mission to increase systematic and detailed documentation of human rights violations through accurate, strategic and timely monitoring and reporting.

Additional language might also be considered in relation to:

increasing the flexibility of the mission’s political strategy and responsibilities to support the ongoing and evolving peace process and regional efforts;

encouraging support of local-level mediation and reconciliation efforts, where appropriate;

emphasising the strategic importance of UNMISS’s presence at Juba airport and at the mission’s adjacent Tomping base; and

“appropriate measures” (i.e. additional targeted sanctions and an arms embargo) if the government continues to obstruct the mission.

Another key issue for the Council is how to support IGAD’s efforts to revitalise the political process in South Sudan and what consequences it should impose on those who undermine the process. In an effort to reduce the level of violence and exert leverage on the parties, Council members could decide to revisit the proposals for an arms embargo and targeted sanctions. In the context of sanctions, an option would be to involve the chair of the 2206 South Sudan Sanctions Committee as a co-penholder.

Council Dynamics

Council members share deep concern about the crisis in South Sudan, as set out in the presidential statement adopted on 14 December 2017. Given the ongoing instability in South Sudan, Council members believe that the protection of civilians, the facilitation of humanitarian access, and human rights monitoring should remain core elements of the UNMISS mandate. Members are concerned about the challenging and unpredictable environment UNMISS operates in, the slow deployment of the RPF (currently at less than a quarter of the authorised personnel), and the violations of the Status of Forces Agreement that UNMISS continues to encounter.

Council members are also closely monitoring the political process and are unified in supporting IGAD’s efforts to revitalise the peace process, but differences still exist over potential consequences in line with the long-standing divide in the Council over whether to impose an arms embargo and further targeted sanctions. The recent presidential statement refers to the need for “cost and consequences for those who undermine the HLRF process”. Potential Council action will likely be determined by assessments of the extent of violations of the CoHA and the level of commitment and progress made by the parties at the third round of the HLRF in March.

The US is the penholder on South Sudan. Poland chairs the 2206 South Sudan Sanctions Committee.

UN Documents on South Sudan

Security Council Resolutions
14 December 2017 S/RES/2392 This resolution extended the mandate of UNMISS until 15 March 2018.
16 December 2016 S/RES/2327 This extended the mandate of UNMISS for one year and reauthorised the Regional Protection Force.
Security Council Presidential Statement
14 December 2017 S/PRST/2017/25 This was a presidential statement on the situation in South Sudan, focusing on IGAD’s efforts to revitalise the peace process.
Secretary-General's Report
20 February 2018 S/2018/143 This was the special report of the Secretary-General on the renewal of the mandate of UNMISS.
Security Council Meeting Record
27 February 2018 S/PV.8192 This was a briefing on South Sudan, including on the Secretary-General’s special report on UNMISS’ mandate.