By Lt. General Wesley Welebe Samson,
Deputy Chief of Staff for Training
Aug 24th, 2017(Nyamilepedia) —— A status of forces agreement (SOFA) is a formal agreement that allows a foreign nation to operate within a host country. Along with other types of military agreements, SOFAs are often included as part of a comprehensive security arrangement before any deployment of the Mission military and civilian staff and this is the case with UNMISS and UN Regional Protection Force in South Sudan.
In 2011, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) signed an agreement with the Government of South Sudan on status of its armed forces. The agreement between the United Nations and Government of South Sudan concerning the status of UNMISS stipulates among others that:
- The United Nations shall ensure that UNMISS shall conduct its operation in South Sudan with full respect of the principles and rules of the international conventions applicable to the conduct of military personnel;
- The Government undertakes to treat at all times the military personnel of UNMISS with full respect of the principles and rules of the international conventions applicable to the treatment of military personnel.
- The Government undertakes to allow free movement of all UN staff, vehicles and planes without any restrictions in all parts of South Sudan.
- That immunity of all UN staff must be respected by the government.
Since the deployment of UNMISS, there have been continued violations to the UNMISS Status of Forces Agreement, such as abductions of UN personnel and blockage of consignments of military equipment and armed groups. These violations have made it difficult for UNMISS to fulfill its mandate. So far, more than 30 violations have been recorded. It has been recorded that the SPLA and South Sudan’s national police committed most of these violations. According to the report of the UN Secretary-General on South Sudan, “while the large majority of violations were related to restrictions on the movement of UNMISS members (both civilian and military) by land and water, there were also incidents of harassments, unlawful arrest and detention, illegal searches of United Nations property, illegal entry into United Nations premises and interferences with the implementation of the Mission’s mandate.
In August 2017 alone, two UNMISS staff members were arrested by national security services. Further, The SOFA violations have continually increased tensions between the government and the UN. While UNMISS continuous to inform the South Sudan Government of the violations, the government has always been aggressive and shown very little respect and transparency in how they are addressing these problems.
Though South Sudan and the United Nations have now agreed to break the deadlock after a dispute which occurred on August 20, 2017 over control of the airport in the capital Juba and the deployment of UN Rwandan peacekeepers who arrived in Juba earlier this month as part of the 4,000 strong regional protection force to Tomgpiny base near the Juba International Airport, which prompted the government of South Sudan to take a wrong decision by suspending cooperation with the world body and to ground aircrafts belonging to United Nations peacekeepers saying the UN troops should immediately move to the Jebel base, it must be made clear to President Salva Kiir that UN has a mandate and Status of Forces Agreement, which guides their operations in South Sudan. Secondly, President Salva and his government must understand that UN has come to South Sudan to help us end the war and return South Sudan to the path of genuine peace, rehabilitation, reconciliation, healing and development. Therefore UN deserves our praise and cooperation.
It is worth mentioning that the UN Regional Protection Force is mandated by UN Security Council No. 2304-2016 to protect the Juba Airport to ensure that it always remains operational, and also to protect all key facilities in Juba, which are essential to the wellbeing of the people in Juba and its surroundings. Therefore, the Regional Protection Force is just implementing its mandate and must be supported and allowed to do so, in order to prevent return to war, loot properties, kill innocent people and rape innocent women and children, as it was done by South Sudan government in Juba in 2013 and 2016 respectively. UN presence is an international requirement as it happened in Liberia, Somalia, Siera-Leone and even Darfur.
I therefore appeal to the UNMISS Special Representative of Secretary General and UNMISS Force Commander not to give up or fear the government of South Sudan but rather be strong, fearless, not show any sign of weakness, stand firm and stick to UNMISS mandate and Status of Forces Agreement in all dealings with South Sudan government, till genuine peace is restored in South Sudan, since their mandate includes chapter seven, which has powers to protect, shoot and kill whoever tempers with their mandate. It has nothing to do with setting up of a parallel government or occupation of the country as claimed by South Sudan government. It is a strategy for effective peacekeeping, peace building, protection of civilians and their properties, restoration of law and order and return of a country to peace.
We in SPLA/M IO welcome the deployment of UN Regional Protection Force as this has been our request from day one and are ready to work with UN to bring lasting peace to the suffering people of South Sudan through a peaceful negotiated settlement. I encourage UNMISS to talk to South Sudan government to peruse a path to peace as they cannot and will not defeat SPLA/M IO through military means.
Lt. General Wesley Welebe Samson,
Deputy Chief of Staff for Training
August 22, 2017