With a moment of calm having arrived in the South Sudanese crisis there is a small window of opportunity. True, the ‘White Army’ is on the march; 121,000 have fled from their homes and the UN has so far only managed to bring a few policeman to Juba to strengthen security. But the fighting has subsided for the time being.

So it is appropriate that the UN considers what to do next. Can it help the regional effort at mediation, led by IGAD? Or should it look to other solutions? This briefing from ‘What’s in Blue’ is a helpful guide.


South Sudan Consultations

Source: What’s in blue – Insights on the work of the UN Security Council

The Security Council is scheduled to hold consultations on South Sudan on Monday (30 December) at 10 am. Special Representative of the Secretary General and head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Hilde Johnson is expected to brief, supported by UNMISS Force Commander Major General Delali Johnson Sakyi, who will be available to answer questions. (Both will participate via videoconference).

Council engagement on South Sudan has been significant since 15 December, when forces within the presidential guard loyal to President Salva Kiir in Juba clashed with those supportive of former Vice President Riek Machar, who was sacked by Kiir in July during a cabinet reshuffle. The 30 December meeting will be Council members’ third briefing in consultations on South Sudan since 20 December. Council members will be particularly interested in hearing the perspectives of UN officials on the ground, as Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous and Assistant-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet, both based at UN headquarters in New York, have provided the previous briefings on this issue on 20 and 23 December respectively. While there will certainly be interest in diplomatic efforts to find a resolution to the crisis, the main focus of the consultations on 30 December is likely to be on the operational aspects of UNMISS’ efforts to protect civilians.

Johnson is likely to provide an update on developments in South Sudan since the consultations on 23 December, when Mulet briefed members on the Secretary-General’s proposed plan (S/2013/758) to augment the capacity of UNMISS. Events in South Sudan have continued to unfold rapidly in recent days. In a press conference on 26 December, Johnson estimated that well over a thousand people had been killed in the conflict. Also on 26 December, the UN Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs estimated that about 63,000 people have sought protection at UN bases across the country among the more than 121,000 displaced in fighting that has now spread to five of South Sudan’s ten states. In addition to targeted killings along Nuer-Dinka ethnic lines, there have also been reports of mass graves. (Kiir is a Dinka and Machar is a Nuer).

All Council members understand the severity of the crisis in South Sudan, and there was widespread support for the Secretary-General’s emergency plan to enhance the military and police strength of the mission in accordance with the recommendations in his 23 December letter (S/2013/758). Accordingly, the Council adopted resolution 2132 on 24 December, temporarily increasing the troop ceiling of the mission from 7,000 to 12,500 troops and the police level from 900 to 1,323, specifically in order to help enhance the mission’s ability to protect civilians and provide humanitarian assistance. The resolution authorises these additional peacekeepers, as well as force enablers and multipliers, to come from other missions—notably the AU/UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA), UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), and UN Operation in Cote d’Ivoire (UNOCI)—subject to agreement from the relevant troop- and police-contributing countries.

At the consultations on 30 December, Council members will be keen to get an update on the implementation of the resolution, given the fact that UNMISS’ capacity has been overstretched. While some troops and other resources have already begun to arrive in South Sudan from other missions, there are several challenges related to the deployment that will likely be on the minds of Council members. There may be interest in knowing how quickly the authorised force levels can be reached, considering that the transfer of personnel from other missions requires the consent of the relevant troop and police contributors. Furthermore, members may be interested in the absorptive capacity of the mission, as well as where the priority areas for the deployment of the additional personnel and other assets are.

Over the longer term, depending on how events unfold on the ground, Council members may need to consider strengthening the mission on a more permanent basis. While negotiations on resolution 2132 went very quickly and were not contentious, one area of disagreement regarded how to take note of the potential need to generate additional forces and assets for the mission, beyond those temporarily provided through inter-mission cooperation, and thus requiring increased funds for UNMISS. These budgetary implications were raised by two permanent members during the negotiations on resolution 2132, and a compromise solution was found when language was added in operative paragraph 5 indicating that the generation of complementary forces and assets would be authorised only “if needed and subject to further Council consideration.”

Another important issue that may be raised in the consultations on 30 December is the steps being taken by UNMISS to monitor and report alleged human rights violations. In her 26 December press conference, Johnson stated that the mission’s human rights officers “have been working around the clock” and that “it is essential that all perpetrators of human rights violations are held accountable for their crimes.” There may therefore be interest among Council members in learning more about the concrete activities of the mission’s human rights staff.

Additionally, Council members may want to know how UNMISS is collaborating with humanitarian actors to facilitate the provision of humanitarian assistance during the crisis. It has been noted, for example, that food, water, health care, and sanitation services have been provided to civilians taking refuge in UN camps.

Council members understand that this is fundamentally a political crisis that requires a political solution, and that the impact of UNMISS, given its limited resources, will become increasingly tenuous if the security situation continues to deteriorate. As such, although the consultations on 30 December will likely focus on operational issues, there may also be interest in the diplomatic efforts that have been committed to bringing an end to the crisis, including by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development and others. (At press time, although the situation remained in flux, the parties had yet to engage in meaningful negotiations. Kiir has agreed to meet with Machar without pre-conditions and has offered to initiate a ceasefire. However, Machar has indicated that any ceasefire would need to be negotiated between the parties and consist of a monitoring mechanism. Furthermore, he has also called for the 11 key SPLM figures who were detained at the outset of the crisis to be released before engaging in talks; to date, Kiir has agreed to release eight of the 11.)