Renewal of Mandate of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) in Limbo at the UN

Posted: December 17, 2016 by PaanLuel Wël in Junub Sudan

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December 17, 2016 (SSB) — Today (15 December), the Security Council is scheduled to vote on a draft resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) for an additional year.

After discussions among the permanent members of the Council, the draft was circulated to the full Council on Friday, 9 December. The UNMISS mandate expires today and the adoption had originally been scheduled for Tuesday 13 December, but it had to be postponed after Council members failed to come to an agreement following one round of negotiations on Monday (12 December). Following a second round on 13 December, the US, the penholder on South Sudan, circulated a revised draft last evening and indicated it would ask for it to be put in blue this morning. While the US has made a number of concessions, it is unclear whether these will be sufficient to satisfy all members. It seems that the negotiations were difficult, and consistent with recent voting on South Sudan, the adoption may not be unanimous.

At least one member proposed that the Council consider a brief technical rollover to allow more time for negotiations. This is what happened when the Council adopted resolution 2302 on 29 July, extending the UNMISS mandate until 12 August. However, the penholder did not support this option. Although unclear, one potential rationale may be that given the stark divisions on South Sudan, finding a resolution to them would be unlikely in the short time frame allotted by a technical rollover.

The draft resolution uses as its basis agreed language from UNMISS resolution 2252 of 15 December 2015, and resolution 2304 of 12 August 2016. This means that the draft maintains the core elements of the mission’s mandate – “protection of civilians”, “monitoring and investigating human rights”, “creating the conditions conducive to the delivery of humanitarian assistance”, and “supporting the implementation of the [August 2015] Agreement”. It would also reauthorise the yet to be deployed Regional Protection Force (RPF), which is inter alia intended to facilitate safe and free movement in and around Juba, protect the Juba airport and other key infrastructure, and protect UN staff, humanitarian actors and civilians.

While the draft thus maintains the mission’s core functions, new language has been added expanding and refining the UNMISS mandate and altering the force structure of the mission. The draft includes new text requesting that the mission deter and prevent sexual violence within its capacity and areas of deployment. Language has been added calling on the mission to monitor, investigate and report incidents of hate speech and incitement to violence, in cooperation with the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide. In keeping with the Secretary-General’s request in his most recent UNMISS report for an additional 196 police to bolster security in the protection of civilians sites, the police ceiling of the mission will be raised to 2,101 police personnel.

Also consistent with the observations in the Secretary-General’s report, there is new text emphasising the need for a reinvigorated political process. The draft reaffirms the vital role of the UN in advancing political dialogue and promoting an inclusive peace process in coordination with regional and other actors.

At the request of Venezuela, new language on unarmed civilian protection strategies has been incorporated into the text. The final draft recognises that unarmed civilian protection can often complement efforts to create a protective environment and encourages UNMISS to explore how such strategies could help it protect civilians.

Council divisions continue to hamper its approach to South Sudan. Resolutions 2252 and 2304, which form the basis of the draft, did not receive the unanimous support of the Council. In keeping with this trend, there were a number of disagreements over the draft under consideration.

A number of members—France, New Zealand, Spain, the UK, the US, Ukraine and Uruguay—are in favour of both additional targeted sanctions and an arms embargo. However, the other Council members are either more cautious about imposing such measures at the present time or are opposed to them. As a result, some members appear to be unfavourably disposed toward the current draft’s affirmation of the Council’s intention “to consider appropriate measures” (i.e. additional targeted sanctions and an arms embargo) if the government of South Sudan continues to obstruct the mission or prevents the Regional Protection Force from becoming operational. This threat had been made in resolution 2304, and was controversial then, being one of the reasons why there were abstentions by four Council members (China, Egypt, Russia and Venezuela.) Then, as now, it seems that there is unease among at least some of these members with threatening “appropriate measures” in the context of a resolution renewing a peacekeeping mandate.

Another concern among several Council members is that the penholder had expanded the potential trigger for consideration of “appropriate measures” in the initial draft to include the continuance of widespread violence and disregard for the ceasefire – in addition to obstructions to UNMISS and the Regional Protection Force. This appears to have concerned both those members strongly opposed to additional sanctions regarding South Sudan and those who are not as strongly opposed, but nonetheless have their reservations. In response, the penholder removed the language regarding widespread violence and disregard for the ceasefire as a trigger for the consideration of “appropriate measures.”

The threat of further “appropriate measures” in South Sudan has long been controversial in the Council. Most recently, in late November, the US had planned to table a draft resolution that would have imposed an arms embargo and targeted sanctions (assets freezes and travel bans) on three key government and opposition figures— Paul Malong, Chief of Staff of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) (i.e. the government’s army); Michael Makuei Lueth, South Sudan’s Minister of Information; and opposition leader Riek Machar. When it became apparent that there were not enough votes to adopt the draft resolution, the US decided not to table the draft. It seems that only seven members were prepared to support the draft.

Another issue that was raised in the negotiations was the order of the four mandated tasks of the mission. Some members would have preferred that “supporting the implementation of the Agreement” be moved up in the resolution, so that it would be second in the order of tasks, just below “protection of civilians”. The argument for this reordering is that it would give heightened importance to the need to reinvigorate the political process, which has been faltering in recent months. Other members, however, were less keen to move the section, apparently maintaining that much of the section on supporting implementation of the peace agreement is more relevant to operational issues than broader strategic political processes. Ultimately, the draft retains the ordering of the mission’s mandated tasks from resolution 2252.

As in resolution 2252, the draft requests the Secretary-General to provide technical assistance to the AU Commission and the Transitional Government of National Unity regarding the establishment of the Hybrid Court for South Sudan. New language had been added as well on this issue in the initial draft. The first draft requested the Secretary-General to report within 90 days on options relevant to the provision of technical assistance and the facilitation of the collection and preservation of evidence for use by the Court’s prosecutor. This was controversial to members such as China, Egypt, Russia and Venezuela, who maintain that the establishment of the Court is the AU’s prerogative according to the August 2015 peace agreement, and that the language on UN engagement was excessive. More of an emphasis on truth and reconciliation was preferable to at least some of these members.

As a compromise, the penholder removed references to detailed reporting from the Secretary-General on technical assistance and the facilitation of the collection and preservation of data. The final draft simply requests the UN Secretary-General to report on technical assistance provided by the UN to the AU in establishing the Court in his regular 90-day reports to the Council. As a further concession, language was added to the final text on truth and reconciliation, noting that the Commission of Truth, Reconciliation and Healing envisioned in the August 2015 peace agreement is vital to peacebuilding in South Sudan.

China, Russia and Venezuela were reportedly uncomfortable during the negotiations with a reference to unarmed unmanned aerial systems in the draft resolution. This largely relates to concerns about the sovereignty of South Sudan, as the government has long resisted the deployment of these aerial systems, which the Department of Peacekeeping Operations has supported as a way of enhancing the mission’s early warning and situational awareness capacity related to the protection of civilians mandate of UNMISS. However, it appears that the reference to unmanned aerial systems has been retained in the draft.

Looking ahead, the US has requested a briefing on the Secretary-General’s most recent 30-day report on South Sudan, which is expected to take place on Monday (19 December).

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