Expected Council Action
Council members continue to follow events in South Sudan closely. While no Council meetings on South Sudan are currently scheduled in September, it is possible that this issue could be addressed during the month, given the anticipated need to adjust the mandate of UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) following the signature on 26 August by President Salva Kiir of the peace agreement proposed by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
The mandate of UNMISS expires on 30 November.
Key Recent Developments
While the international community presses the parties to commit to peace, there persists a security, human rights and humanitarian catastrophe in South Sudan. Fighting continues in a civil war that began in December 2013 as a political dispute within the ruling party; it soon spiralled into a vicious cycle of inter-ethnic violence. Precise figures are hard to come by, but the conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives. At present, there are roughly 1.6 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country, as well as more than 619,000 refugees who have fled to neighbouring countries. Approximately 200,000 IDPs are now protected in six UNMISS bases (i.e. Protection of Civilians sites) across South Sudan. Severe food insecurity confronts 4.6 million of South Sudan’s approximately 12 million people.
On 6 August, the parties convened in Addis Ababa for negotiations on a draft agreement prepared by IGAD, with a 17 August deadline for signing the document. Several issues were reportedly contested by the government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army in Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) during the negotiations, including proposals on power-sharing at the national and state levels.
On 17 August, a draft agreement was signed by the SPLM/A-IO. However, the government refused to sign and requested an additional 15 days for internal consultations. On 18 August, South Sudan’s Information Minister Michael Makuei called the draft agreement a “sell-out”. On 19 August, US Secretary of State John Kerry called Kiir, who told Kerry that he would sign the agreement after a few more days of consultations.
Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson briefed Council members during “any other business” on 19 August. Eliasson, who had been in Addis Ababa during the recent South Sudan negotiations, stated that the international community needed to apply strong diplomatic pressure on Kiir to sign the agreement. At the meeting, the US circulated to Council members a draft resolution intended to put pressure on Kiir to sign the agreement. The draft resolution would impose an arms embargo on South Sudan if the agreement was not signed by 1 September. Furthermore, if the government failed to sign, an asset freeze and travel ban would be automatically imposed, effective on 6 September, on certain individuals, including senior political leaders of the government.
Finally, on 25 August, the government of South Sudan announced that Kiir would sign the agreement the next day. Also on 25 August, a briefing and consultations were held on UNMISS and on the work of the 2206 South Sudan Sanctions Committee. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of UNMISS Ellen Margrethe Løj and OCHA head Stephen O’Brien briefed on the situation in South Sudan. Ambassador Cristián Barros (Chile), chair of the 2206 South Sudan Sanctions Committee also briefed. In press elements issued after the meeting, Council members stated their preparedness to act immediately if Kiir did not sign on 26 August.
Even though reiterating his reservations regarding parts of the agreement, Kiir signed on 26 August. That same day, the US circulated a draft presidential statement welcoming his signature. At press time, Council members were negotiating language related to accountability as well as a reference to pursuing appropriate measures to ensure implementation of the agreement in full and without exception. (During the negotiations some Council members had proposed that an arms embargo should be imposed even if the government signs the agreement.)
Key Elements of the Peace Agreement
The peace agreement proposes a transitional government of national unity to be established 90 days after the signing of the agreement. It includes the following elements.
- The transitional period would last 30 months and culminate in national elections 60 days prior to the end of the period.
- Kiir would serve as president during the transitional period, while the first vice president would be selected by the South Sudan Armed Opposition.
- At the national level, Council of Ministers positions would be allocated as follows: Government of the Republic of South Sudan, 53 percent; South Sudan Armed Opposition, 33 percent; former detainees, 7 percent; and other political parties, 7 percent.
- In Unity, Upper Nile, and Jonglei states—which have all witnessed heavy fighting—the State Council of Ministers positions would be distributed according to the following formula: Government of the Republic of South Sudan, 46 percent; South Sudan Armed Opposition, 40 percent; former detainees, 7 percent; and other political parties, 7 percent.
- In the remaining seven states, the State Council of Ministers positions would be allocated as follows: Government of the Republic of South Sudan, 85 percent; and South Sudan Armed Opposition, 15 percent.
- Juba would become a demilitarised zone with the exception of presidential guards, guard forces protecting military barracks and other sites, and joint integrated police.
- A Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC)—consisting of representatives of the parties to the agreement and other Sudanese stakeholders, countries in the region, China, the Troika countries (Norway, the UK and the US), the UN, the AU, the EU, and the IGAD Partners Forum (donors to IGAD)—would be responsible for monitoring and overseeing the agreement’s implementation and the transitional government’s mandate and tasks.
- A Hybrid Court for South Sudan would be formed to investigate and prosecute individuals accused of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and other violations of international law and applicable South Sudanese law in the period from 15 December 2013 to the completion of the transitional period.
- A Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing would be formed to establish a record of violations of human rights and the rule of law between July 2005 (i.e., when the southern Sudan autonomous region was established) and the date of the agreement’s signing. Funding for this commission, as well as for the Hybrid Court for South Sudan, would be determined by legislation of the transitional government establishing these institutions.
In the midst of the negotiations in Addis Ababa, Peter Gatdet and Gathoth Gatkuoth, two SPLM/A-IO generals who had been relieved of their duties by Riek Machar in July, rejected Machar’s leadership of the SPLM/A-IO at a press conference in Khartoum on 10 August. On the same day, Gatdet said in a press release issued on behalf of a handful of disillusioned opposition generals, “We reject any peace agreement that includes President Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar in the leadership of the Transitional Government of National Unity.” The press release referred to both men as “symbols of hate and conflict and…obstacles to peace”. Gatdet proposed that others (i.e. not Kiir and Machar) should lead during a transitional period and that if this was not possible, a military-led transitional government should take power until elections could be held. South Sudanese officials have cited divisions in the rebel camp as a factor complicating the peace talks.
Media repression and intimidation in South Sudan remain a significant problem. In early August, the government’s National Security Service shut down two newspapers—The Citizen and Al Rai—and a radio station called Free Voice. The Citizen was reportedly closed for publishing a press release by opposition political parties and an opinion piece urging the government to sign IGAD’s proposed peace agreement, while Al Rai was apparently accused of having a rebel as an editorial board member. It is unclear why Free Voice was closed down. On 16 August, while speaking to journalists at the Juba airport before departing for the peace talks in Addis Ababa, Kiir said, “If anybody…does not know that this country has killed people, we will demonstrate it one day, one time. …Freedom of the press does not mean you work against the country”. Kiir’s remarks have been condemned by the Committee to Protect Journalists. On 19 August, Peter Moi, a journalist for South Sudan’s Corporate Weekly, was shot and killed by an unidentified assailant in Juba.
On 20 August, the 2206 South Sudan Sanctions Committee met to discuss the interim report of the Panel of Experts. A member of the Panel briefed committee members. He told them that the security and humanitarian situation in the country continued to deteriorate, while noting that countries in the region were concerned about the spill-over of the conflict. He said that if an arms embargo were imposed on South Sudan, as proposed in the draft resolution the Council was considering at the time, the UNMISS mandate would have to be adapted to facilitate the Panel’s monitoring of the embargo. In its interim report, the Panel recommended that the Council consider imposing targeted sanctions on key decision-makers in South Sudan and implementing an arms embargo on the country.
Following the 26 August signing of the peace agreement, an underlying issue is the implications of the “reservations” expressed by Kiir at the signature ceremony and whether the agreement can be implemented and lead to a durable peace. Two factors in particular require careful consideration. First, it is unclear whether dissident opposition generals can be convinced not to take up arms to resist implementation of an agreement that fails to incorporate their views. A related matter is how much support they might be able to garner in South Sudan for any such resistance. Second, it will be a significant challenge for Kiir and Machar to work together constructively in a transitional government of national unity; the difficulties they had serving together in government in the past could be magnified in a transitional government, especially considering their history with one another since December 2013.
If the conflict continues even after the agreement has been signed, another important issue is whether additional targeted measures against key political figures could leverage a greater commitment to peace on their part. Six military figures, representing both sides of the conflict, have already been sanctioned, but these designations have been criticised by some because they were not directed at the major decision-makers.
Another sanctions-related concern is encouraging countries in the region and other influential states to support these measures and convincing the South Sudanese people that they are aimed at individuals and not at particular communities.
The most likely option for the Council is to adapt the mandate of UNMISS to enable it to support implementation of the peace agreement on issues such as transitional security arrangements—e.g., cantonment of forces and establishing demilitarised areas.
Other options for the Council include:
- imposing targeted sanctions on key decision-makers in South Sudan and an arms embargo on the country;
- authorising an independent commission of inquiry to investigate alleged crimes since December 2013; and
- encouraging UNMISS to develop a communications strategy to emphasise that targeted sanctions are aimed solely at individuals and not at particular communities in South Sudan, given the inter-communal rifts that have been exacerbated by the crisis;
Council members have been unified in their concern with the deterioration of the security, human rights, humanitarian and political situation in South Sudan. However, different perspectives on how to approach the situation were evident during the negotiations on the draft resolution circulated by the US. The draft would have established an arms embargo and called for targeted measures to be imposed on certain individuals if the government did not sign the peace agreement by 1 September. Regarding the targeted sanctions, African Council members believed that these prospective designations should not be automatic, and rather should be first considered by the 2206 South Sudan Sanctions Committee. Also, several countries had difficulties with a phrase stating that the Council would retain the option of referring the situation in South Sudan to the ICC. During the negotiations, some Council members considered that the establishment of an arms embargo was long overdue in South Sudan and stated their willingness to move forward on the negotiations to establish it even if the agreement was signed by all.
The US is the penholder on South Sudan.