posted on Tue 17 Sep 2019 5:38 PM
UN Mission in South Sudan: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow (18 September), Special Representative for South Sudan and head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) David Shearer is expected to brief the Security Council on the Secretary-General’s 90-day report on the situation in South Sudan (S/2019/722)  and the Secretary-General’s report (S/2019/741) on “future planning for the protection of civilians sites” in South Sudan, as requested in resolution 2459 of 15 March. Consultations will follow the briefing.

Shearer is expected to highlight key aspects of the Secretary-General’s 90-day report, which covers the period between 29 May and 27 August, in relation to political and security developments, the humanitarian and human rights situation, and progress in the implementation of the mission’s mandate. Tomorrow’s briefing takes place following the one-year anniversary of the signing of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) on 12 September 2018.

On the political situation, Shearer may echo the findings of the most recent report of the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (RJMEC) on the status of the implementation of the R-ARCSS, covering 1 April to 30 June, which concluded that “there was a marked slow-down in implementation” and that “very little progress was made in accomplishing the pre-transitional tasks” required under the R-ARCSS. Of the 59 activities required to be completed during the pre-transitional period, 27 are complete, 17 are ongoing, and 15 are still pending, the report said. Critical outstanding tasks include the cantonment and training of a unified army and agreement on the number and boundaries of states. In this regard, in a statement on 12 September, the RJMEC Interim Chairperson noted that while “some progress has been made on the operationalization of cantonment sites, time is running out for the cantonment, selection and training of the 50% of the 83,000 Necessary Unified Force (NUF) to be completed by 30 September”. The Secretary-General’s report similarly noted that implementation “remained limited” as the “lack of political consensus and resource constraints continued to undermine the completion of critical tasks during the extended pre-transition period”.

Council members may be interested in hearing Shearer’s assessment of the political situation following the 9 and 10 September meeting between President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar in Juba, where they expressed their recommitment to form a transitional government by the 12 November deadline. According to the terms of the R-ARCSS, 12 May was to mark the end of the eight-month pre-transitional period and the start of the 36-month transitional period, with elections to be held 60 days before the end of the transitional period. In early May, the parties extended the pre-transitional period by six months, until 12 November, to complete outstanding tasks required by the R-ARCSS.

Members will also be interested in learning from Shearer further details on the mission’s role in supporting the peace process in light of resolution 2459, which specified “advice or technical assistance, within existing resources” as part of the mission’s mandate. According to the Secretary-General’s report, UNMISS has continued to provide technical assistance to the National Constitutional Amendment Committee on security reform bills and support to security bodies; participated in consultative meetings and activities of the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring Mechanism, the National Pre-Transitional Committee and the RJMEC; and “support to civil military dialogue, peace conferences and rapprochement activities”.

On the security situation, Shearer is expected to mention that the permanent ceasefire continues to hold, but with sporadic clashes between government forces and non-signatory groups in parts of the country, particularly in Central Equatoria.  According to the Secretary-General’s report, this has “result[ed] in forced displacement and targeted attacks on civilians, including women and children, as well as those perceived to be associated with opposition groups”. Shearer may reiterate concern over the levels of inter-communal violence, as well as the high levels of criminality and sexual violence across the country, as described in the report.

On the issue of protection of civilians, Shearer is expected to refer to the findings and recommendations of the 12 September report from the Secretary-General on future planning for the protection of civilian sites (S/2019/741). Resolution 2459 of 15 March requested that the report include “an assessment of each protection of civilians site, a review of the current model for providing security to these sites, recommendations clarifying the roles and responsibilities of UNMISS and other relevant stakeholders, and recommendations for steps necessary to foster a secure environment for the safe, informed, voluntary, and dignified return or relocation of residents of protection of civilians sites”. The request for the report was included in the initial draft of resolution 2459 circulated by the US, the penholder on South Sudan, and was supported by Council members. The request for such a report followed observations conveyed by Shearer, including during a press conference in New York on 5 February, that since the signing of the R-ARCSS some refugees have returned to South Sudan, and some people have started to leave UNMISS protection sites or have requested assistance to move back to their homes.

The report finds “an increasing willingness and desire to return home”, but says that “several impediments exist, including uncertainty about the peace process, insecurity in home areas and the absence of basic services in places of return”. It outlines several steps the government needs to take in this regard. In relation to the role of UNMISS, the report states that “the continued dedication of UNMISS resources to the protection of civilians sites at current levels is disproportionate when considered alongside broader protection requirements…which require a proactive and preventive deployment of its military forces beyond the sites”. It says that while “the Mission will, in coordination with humanitarian actors, continue its commitment to physically protect and support the provision of life-saving assistance at the protection of civilians sites, the imperative remains to provide protection to the most vulnerable, wherever they are located”. In this regard, it welcomes the mission’s approach “to strengthen its early warning and surveillance capabilities and its shift to a more mobile and robust posture to match the prevailing threat environment while retaining flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances”. It encourages the mission “to pursue options for more remote and sustained long-duration patrols, which will contribute to a secure environment and build confidence in areas of return”, including “non-military forms of protection to maximize community engagement, human rights monitoring and confidence-building”.

Shearer is likely to note that the humanitarian situation continues to result in the suffering of millions and that the number of people facing a critical lack of food is at its highest level ever. He may point out that while the number of internally displaced persons decreased from 2.1 million in the previous period to an estimated 1.83 million, the number of refugees remained the same at 2.31 million, according to the Secretary-General’s 90-day report. The report notes that as “more displaced persons return to their areas of origin, it is vital that the United Nations work closely with the Government and partners to ensure their peaceful reintegration and access to services”.

On the human rights situation, Shearer may highlight the UNMISS report published on 3 July presenting the findings of an investigation conducted by the UNMISS Human Rights Division (HRD) into violations and abuses of international human rights law and violations of international humanitarian law attributed to government forces and opposition armed groups in the Central Equatoria region between September 2018 and April. The report said that the “persistence of human rights violations and abuses in this area…represents a significant negative trend”. During the reporting period, the HRD documented 95 incidents, including 30 attacks on villages, leading to the unlawful killing of 104 civilians and the wounding of 35 others, as well as the abduction of at least 187 civilians for forced recruitment, forced labour and sexual slavery. At least 99 women and girls, some as young as 12, were targeted with acts of rape and other forms of sexual violence during the reporting period.