posted on Wed 22 Mar 2017 4:10 PM
South Sudan Briefing

Tomorrow (23 March), the Security Council will hold a high-level briefing on South Sudan. Secretary-General António Guterres, Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) Chairman Festus Mogae, Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zainab Bangura and a South Sudanese civil society speaker are expected to brief. The meeting will be chaired by UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Boris Johnson. Council members are expected to deliver statements following the briefings. At press time, members were negotiating a draft presidential statement, which is expected to be adopted tomorrow assuming that an apparently minor difference of perspective regarding the tone of the text has been resolved.

The briefing takes place amidst ongoing conflict in various parts of South Sudan, growing food insecurity that led to a declaration of famine in Leer and Mayendit counties in the Unity State last month, widespread displacement, and a faltering political process. These difficulties have been compounded by restrictions placed on the freedom of movement of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) by government forces, and impediments to the work of humanitarian personnel including the imposition of exorbitant fees to acquire work permits.

Briefings

Since assuming office, Guterres has made the conflict in South Sudan a priority. In his first monthly luncheon with Council members on 9 January, he underscored the importance of revitalising the political process, the need to deploy the Regional Protection Force (RPF), which the Council first authorised in August 2016, and the importance of raising awareness of the risk of atrocities in South Sudan. In tomorrow’s meeting, he may echo these themes.

In addition, Guterres will most likely emphasise the urgent need for a cessation of hostilities and discuss efforts to engage with the government on the political process. He may emphasise the need for inclusivity and for an enabling environment free of intimidation and fear in the envisioned “national dialogue” that President Salva Kiir has proposed. He may further underscore the UN’s commitment to cooperate with the African Union (AU) and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in support of the peace process, which was highlighted in the joint UN, AU and IGAD press statement on South Sudan on 29 January.

Guterres may express concerns about the difficult operating environment in South Sudan, including the ongoing obstructions imposed on the freedom of movement of UNMISS and restrictions placed on the efforts of humanitarian workers. In a press conference given on 21 March at the conclusion of his visit to South Sudan, outgoing Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous said that during the visit he had spoken about the impediments to the operations of the mission and of humanitarian actors with President Kiir, who told him that “this is not going to happen further.” In spite of similar assurances in the past, violations of the Status of Forces Agreement have been a consistent problem.

The planning for the deployment of the RPF may also be raised by Guterres. In the press conference, Ladsous said that the deployment had been delayed because of the slowness in getting clearances and authorisations, possibly a reference to government delays in issuing clearances for the equipment of RPF personnel; he did, however, affirm that he believed the first units of the RPF would be deployed in the “next few weeks.” One of the mandated tasks of the RPF is to protect the Juba airport to ensure that it remains operational; however, precisely how much latitude the RPF would have with regard to operations at the airport remains an issue that the mission is still negotiating with the government, which has previously said that the RPF should be permitted to protect only the UNMISS terminal and installations. The RPF was initially authorised in resolution 2304 on 12 August 2016.

JMEC Chair Mogae will brief on the obstacles to the implementation of the peace agreement and steps that need to be taken to move forward. Mogae, who briefed the AU Peace and Security Council on this issue on 17 March in Addis Ababa, will most likely underscore the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation, marked by ongoing conflict in the Upper Nile and Equatoria regions between government and opposition forces in violation of the August 2015 peace agreement.

He may reiterate the call for “peace, relief and inclusivity” that he made during his statement to the AU Peace and Security Council. During that briefing, he noted that these three issues are interconnected, as political exclusion in South Sudan had sparked violence and insecurity, which had in turn fomented a humanitarian crisis. He may emphasise the importance of inclusivity in the “national dialogue”, and the need for it to be led by an impartial actor. These conditions for the “national dialogue” were also advocated by AU High Representative for South Sudan Alpha Konaré during his visit to South Sudan earlier this month.

It is possible that Mogae may raise the need for accountability in his statement, in keeping with Chapter V of the peace agreement. In his address to the AU Peace and Security Council, he emphasised that “[t]here must be accountability for the atrocities…committed daily across South Sudan,” noting that he had yet to receive news from the AU Commission regarding the establishment of the Hybrid Court for South Sudan envisioned in the agreement.

Special Representative Bangura, who briefed the South Sudan Sanctions Committee on 21 March, will most likely describe the widespread problem of rape and other forms of sexual violence in South Sudan. During her briefing to the Sanctions Committee, she apparently referred to the Committee’s power to designate for targeted sanctions those who commit acts of sexual violence. Sexual and gender-based violence in South Sudan has long been a significant concern to the UN community. According to a statement released on 2 December 2016 by the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, established by the Human Rights Council (HRC) last year, the “sexual violence has reached epic proportions in the conflict in South Sudan and requires the urgent attention of the world.” The scale of gang rape of civilian women as well as the horrendous nature of the rapes by armed men belonging to all groups is utterly repugnant”.

Presidential Statement

Council members recognise the gravity of the situation in South Sudan and the importance of their continued engagement on this issue. In keeping with the desire to demonstrate its concern and send a unified signal to the parties, the Council is expected to adopt a presidential statement tomorrow. It was circulated by the US, the penholder on South Sudan, on Monday evening (20 March) and negotiations have been conducted through email exchanges. The statement is expected to emphasise the need for a political solution to the conflict in South Sudan and call for all parties to the conflict to adhere to a permanent ceasefire. It is further expected to support the mediation efforts of the AU and IGAD, and to underscore the need for an inclusive and credible national dialogue process. It will most likely express alarm at the humanitarian situation, urge an end to restrictions on humanitarian assistance, and call for an end to obstructions to the operations of UNMISS.

It does not appear that there has been difficulty negotiating this text. Members agree on the fundamental points expressed. Minor differences related to the tone of the text rather than the key messages were still being discussed at press time.