posted on Tue 21 Jun 2016 3:33 PM
South Sudan Consultations: Protection of Civilians Sites

Tomorrow (22 June), Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for Field Support Atul Khare, and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien are expected to brief Council members in consultations on South Sudan. Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of UN Mission in South Sudan Ellen Margrethe Løj will be available via video-teleconference to answer questions.

The meeting, which was called for by the United States (the penholder on South Sudan), will focus on lessons learned regarding the protection of civilian sites (POC sites) in the country. A confidential report by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) specifically on this issue was submitted to Council members last week. It is likely to be the major focus of the meeting. New Zealand initiated the Council request for a lessons-learned report from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations in April. Two additional confidential documents that focused on the 17-18 February clashes at the Malakal POC site, that resulted in the deaths of some 30 internally displaced persons, were also recently forwarded to Council members and are expected to be addressed in the discussion as well. These include the outcome of the special investigation ordered by the Secretary-General to ascertain responsibilities for the violence at the Malakal POC site on 17-18 February, and a document summarising the main recommendations of the Board of Inquiry report on the same incident.

It seems that the lessons-learned report describes the difficult circumstances that UNMISS and its partners face at the POC sites, and the implications of managing these sites for the mission’s mandate. The documents on the Malakal incident reportedly offer potential recommendations for UNMISS and its partners that may enhance the protection of civilians in South Sudan. Some members anticipate that tomorrow’s discussion will help to inform the renewal of the UNMISS mandate next month.

Ladsous and Khare may emphasise that political solutions, including the effective implementation of the August 2015 peace agreement, are ultimately the best way to protect civilians in South Sudan. However, so long as the POC sites are in operation, they may outline some practical steps that could improve external security of the sites, such as the use of cameras and enhanced lighting at night to monitor the perimeter of the sites. Members may be interested in what can be done to implement these and other measures.

Another matter that may be raised in the meeting is the mission’s efforts to patrol in and around the POC sites to protect civilians engaged in livelihood activities, such as gathering food, water and firewood. Sexual violence against women engaged in such activities has been a recurring problem. Members may want to know about the willingness of UNMISS peacekeepers to patrol in “off-road” areas where civilians go to collect such necessities.

A further important matter that may be discussed is the mission’s efforts to maintain law and order within the protection of civilians sites. UNMISS has undertaken efforts to support community policing and local dispute resolution mechanisms that members may be interested in learning more about. One of the key and persistent problems is what to do with suspects accused of crimes. The mission has limited capacity to detain suspects, and yet, it cannot hand them over to the government because of the limited functionality of state judicial processes. Members may want to know how the mission has managed to cope with this dilemma.

An overarching operational issue that may be discussed is ensuring that all levels and parts of the mission understand their roles and responsibilities with regard to management of the POC sites, that UNMISS peacekeepers fully understand the rules of engagement, and that the necessity to carry out the rules of engagement is emphasised upon deployment. It seems that these issues were among the points highlighted in the document forwarded to Council members on the Board of Inquiry report. Members may choose to ask Løj about efforts the mission would consider undertaking to ensure that these issues are effectively addressed.

O’Brien is expected to discuss the cooperation between UNMISS and its humanitarian partners. He may point to coordination challenges faced by the humanitarian actors working with UNMISS, how these are addressed, and how humanitarian actors strive to maintain their independence from the mission while collaborating with it. He may also address concerns about the fragile security environment outside the POC sites and what this means in terms of planning to provide humanitarian aid to the internally displaced in the sites for the foreseeable future. The discussion may further explore efforts to coordinate between the mission and humanitarians to meet the needs of the internally displaced outside the POC sites.

Council members have recently received the report of the Secretary-General on South Sudan, which covers the period 1 April to 3 June. This will provide the context for next month’s briefing and consultations on South Sudan. Along with the recent documents on the protection of civilians, it will help to inform the Council’s deliberations on the UNMISS mandate, which expires on 31 July.