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South Sudan: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow (27 February), the Security Council is scheduled to receive a briefing on the situation in South Sudan from Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Bintou Keita. The Special Envoy for South Sudan of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), Ismail Wais, will also brief. Council members will hold consultations following the briefing. Special Representative for South Sudan and head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) David Shearer and Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan Nicholas Haysom are expected to be present during the consultations. Press elements are a possible outcome.

Keita will brief on the Secretary-General’s confidential 30-day report on the deployment of the Regional Protection Force (RPF) and any obstructions UNMISS is facing in carrying out its mandate. However, the main focus of her briefing is expected to be on the special report of the Secretary-General on the renewal of the mandate of UNMISS (S/2018/143). On 14 December 2017, UNMISS’ current mandate was rolled over until 15 March, to allow for the completion of the independent review of UNMISS initiated by the Secretary-General in October 2017, one of the eight major peacekeeping operations to be reviewed by June. On 20 February, Council members received the Secretary-General’s special report, which presents a summary of the review team’s findings, together with his observations and recommendations.

Keita’s briefing will likely outline aspects of the review team’s findings as set out in the special report. These include that the mission should increase protection of civilians to the maximum extent possible within existing resources, adjust the RPF’s mandate as the threat of military conflict in Juba has considerably diminished, and reinforce the protection of civic space. Keita may highlight some of the Secretary-General’s observations and recommendations in the special report, including that the current UNMISS mandate remains valid and should be extended for another year with some modifications. While the current language on the mission’s protection of civilians mandate was deemed valid, the special report states that the Secretary-General has directed UNMISS and DPKO to review the current model for providing security to protection of civilians sites and explore whether a more efficient model requiring fewer troops could be contemplated, with an overall aim to free up more troops for outward projection of the mission’s military footprint. The Secretary-General’s recommendations on the mandate include the addition of capacity-building and training of security and government institutions, and strengthening outreach and advocacy to raise the visibility of the human rights situation, as well as that the Security Council should continue supporting the peace process, including by holding the parties accountable.

Keita will also most likely provide an update on the humanitarian situation, which continues to be dire. The human cost of the conflict in South Sudan has reached “epic proportions”, High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said on 1 February, following his visit to South Sudanese refugee camps in Uganda and Kenya. The number of refugees is now projected to exceed 3 million by the end of this year, making South Sudan Africa’s largest refugee crisis since the Rwanda genocide. UNHCR has launched a funding appeal for $1.5 billion to support South Sudanese refugees and $1.7 billion for those in need in the country. Approximately 1.9 million people are displaced inside South Sudan, and more than 2 million refugees are in neighbouring countries. The country is on the brink of facing its worst famine yet. More than 7 million people in South Sudan (almost two-thirds of the population) could become severely food insecure in the coming months without sustained humanitarian assistance and access, according to a 26 February joint report by FAO, UNICEF and the World Food Programme. A total of 5.3 million people, 48 percent of the population, are already facing “crisis” or “emergency” situations.

Wais is expected to provide an update on the political process. The second phase of the South Sudan High-Level Revitalization Forum (HLRF), convened by IGAD, took place from 5 to 16 February in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The stated areas of focus at the outset of the second phase were on a permanent ceasefire, the full implementation of the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (ARCSS) signed in August 2015, and a revised and realistic elections timeline. According to a 16 February joint statement by the parties attending the second phase, broad consensus was reached on key principles for guiding deliberations and on certain provisions and proposed adjustments to the ARCSS, on which deliberations are set to continue when the forum reconvenes in March. In the joint statement, the parties also recommitted to the 21 December 2017 Cessation of Hostilities Agreement, concluded at the first phase of the HLRF, which has been violated on several occasions. The members of the Troika (Norway, the UK and the US) said in a statement on 16 February that useful dialogue had taken place, but that there was much more for the parties to do, calling on them to reconvene as soon as possible without preconditions. The statement also emphasised that elections in 2018 are not viable given the continuing conflict, lack of security, displacement of one-third of the population, and severe food insecurity affecting half the population. Council members may also be interested in hearing Haysom’s assessment of the process during consultations, as he attended the second phase of the HLRF.

During consultations, members are expected to discuss the upcoming renewal of the UNMISS mandate, which is to expire on 15 March, in light of the briefing received and the Secretary-General’s special report. The humanitarian, human rights and political situations may also be discussed, with members taking advantage of the presence of Shearer and Haysom to hear their assessments where relevant.

Some Council members may further seek to raise two recent reports on the human rights situation in South Sudan. UNMISS and OHCHR released a joint report on 22 February on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, documenting 60 verified incidents, including killing, arbitrary arrest and detention, closure, suspension or censorship of newspapers and blocking of websites from July 2016 to December 2017. The report of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in South Sudan (A/HRC/37/71), released on 23 February, documents human rights violations against civilians, including massacres, sexual violence and the destruction of homes, hospitals and schools. It also identifies more than forty senior military officials who may bear individual responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the country, whose names have been communicated on a strictly confidential basis to the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The report will be presented on 13 March at the Human Rights Council’s 37th session.

Another issue that may be raised at tomorrow’s meeting is the preliminary investigation into the allegations of sexual exploitation by some members of a Ghanaian Formed Police Unit (FPU) in the Wau protection of civilians site. UNMISS issued a press release on 24 February in which it stated that the entire 46-member police unit had been recalled following an initial investigation. Council members may be interested in the details of the more comprehensive investigation to be undertaken and measures in place to prevent sexual misconduct by peacekeepers.

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