posted on Tue 12 Jul 2016 4:22 PM
Briefing and Consultations on South Sudan

Tomorrow morning (13 July), the Council will receive a public briefing on South Sudan from Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous, which will be followed by consultations. In addition to Ladsous, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Ellen Margrethe Løj is expected to participate via video-teleconference in the consultations. It is also possible that the UNMISS Force Commander, Yohannes Gebremeskel Tesfamariam, will take part in the consultations via video-teleconference, although this had yet to be confirmed at press time.

The meeting takes place following several days of heavy fighting in the capital city, Juba, between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and those supporting First Vice President Riek Machar. At press time, a ceasefire announced yesterday (11 July) by Kiir and Machar—reportedly obtained through the efforts of IGAD countries and other states, including China and the US—appears to be holding, but concerns remain about the ability of the leaders to control their forces.

Since the recent wave of fighting started on 7 July, several thousand people have been displaced, several hundred combatants and civilians have lost their lives, and two Chinese peacekeepers have died, amidst artillery and mortar fire in various parts of Juba. UNMISS compounds have been caught in the crossfire of the clashes, resulting in the deaths of eight people and the wounding of an additional 67 according to the mission.

The Security Council has been closely following the recent developments, amidst fears that the country could descend into full scale civil war. On the evening of 9 July, Council members issued a press statement in which they condemned the fighting in Juba on 7-8 July and urged the transitional government to take steps to end the fighting and reduce tensions.

On the following day (10 July), members held emergency consultations, called by the US, the penholder on South Sudan, during which they were briefed by Ladsous. Ladsous informed members that while the number of civilian casualties in the recent clashes in Juba was unclear, civilians continued to seek safety at UN facilities in the capital city; an 11 July UNMISS press statement estimated that 7,000 people had sought protection at UN compounds in Juba as a result of the fighting. An arms embargo, additional targeted sanctions, and the reinforcement of UNMISS were among the potential options discussed by Ladsous and members. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon proposed these same options at a press conference yesterday (11 July) at UN headquarters, during which he criticised the “failed leadership” of South Sudan, opining that “rarely has a country squandered so much promise so quickly.” During the consultations, Russia reportedly said that the Council should focus on immediate issues (i.e. resolving the current crisis in Juba) before considering longer term strategic matters such as a potential arms embargo.

During the consultations, members decided to issue another press statement on South Sudan. In this statement, members condemned the escalation of fighting in Juba. They expressed “shock and outrage” at attacks on UN facilities and protection of civilians sites in Juba, urged an end to the fighting, and called on Kiir and Machar to “do their utmost to control their respective forces.” The press statement stressed that attacks on civilians and UN premises and personnel might constitute war crimes. Members “expressed their readiness to consider enhancing UNMISS to better ensure that UNMISS and the international community can prevent and respond to violence in South Sudan,” while encouraging “states in the region to prepare to provide additional troops in the event the Council so decides.”

Yesterday, Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for Field Support Atul Khare and Military Adviser Maqsood Ahmed held an emergency meeting with the UNMISS troop and police contributing countries. It seems that the briefers emphasised a number of objectives, including the importance of opening the Juba airport, grounding attack helicopters and ending the use of heavy weapons, ensuring freedom of movement for the mission, and demilitarising Juba. It appears that Ladsous underscored during the meeting that the protection of civilians is the core of the UNMISS mandate.

At tomorrow’s briefing and consultations, members will be interested in an update on recent developments in Juba, including engagement by UN officials and key regional actors to try to ensure that the parties adhere to the ceasefire, as well as UNMISS’ efforts to protect civilians. The question of how best to protect civilians moving forward will probably be a topic of discussion. Members may be interested in learning the outcome of Ladsous’ interactions with troop and police contributing countries regarding the possibility of increasing their contributions to the mission. Additional troops could be helpful in maintaining security at the protection of civilian sites, patrolling outside the sites, and facilitating access for humanitarian actors. However, it is clear that there are limitations to what the mission can accomplish if full scale violence were to break out again. In an 11 July press release, UNMISS underscored that “its capacity to protect civilians will be increasingly challenged if the heavy attacks around UN compounds and protection of civilians’ sites continue.” Furthermore, as a peacekeeping operation, it is highly unlikely that UNMISS would be able to engage in peace enforcement activities, such as interposing itself between well-equipped armed combatants involved in heavy fighting and trying to disarm them by force.

Another possible option that has been discussed in recent days is to deploy a force intervention brigade with a more robust mandate. Yesterday (11 July), the Council of Ministers of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) met in Nairobi, Kenya. During the meeting, IGAD adopted a communiqué demanding “urgent revision of the UNMISS mandate to establish an intervention brigade and increase number of troops from the region to inter-alia secure Juba.” Later the same day, the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) adopted a communiqué in Kigali in which it endorsed the IGAD communiqué. In particular, the AU PSC communiqué called for “the revision of the…(UNMISS) mandate in order to enable establishment of an African-led Intervention Brigade and for increasing the number of troops to, inter-alia, provide protection to civilians, security in Juba and in the whole country.”

If the Council considers the option of an intervention brigade, members would want to know whether any troop contributors have expressed interest in participating in such a force, what its mandate would entail including its rules of engagement, what the size of such a force should be, and whether it would be under the same command and control as UNMISS. At this point, it is unclear what the dynamics among Council members might be regarding a possible intervention brigade in South Sudan. In the past there have been divisions among Council members in other contexts regarding the appropriate use of force and how it relates to core peacekeeping principles (i.e., host country consent, impartiality, and the use of force only in self-defence or in defence of the mandate). It remains to be seen how the fact that the region has endorsed the proposal for an intervention brigade will affect the considerations of Council members.

In the 10 July press statement, members emphasised that those involved in attacks against civilians and UN sites and personnel during the recent hostilities could be subject to sanctions. Nonetheless, the issue of sanctions with regard to South Sudan- whether an arms embargo or targeted measures —has long been contentious in the Council. It is unclear at this point whether and how the events of recent days have changed the calculations of members on this issue.

Given that there is a ceasefire in place, there may also be questions regarding what the next steps should be to build confidence and resume implementation of the peace process. Even prior to the recent outburst of violence, the parties were slow to implement the transitional governance and security arrangements in accordance with the August 2015 peace agreement.

The conversations tomorrow will be important in shaping the upcoming negotiations on the UNMISS mandate. The mission expires on 31 July and thus needs to be renewed before then.