The UN Security Council extends UN Mission in South Sudan

Expressing its deep concern at the security situation in South Sudan and the possibility of an outright ethnic war, the UN Security Council on Saturday (December 17) extended the mandate of UNMISS for another year, until 15 December 2017, and strengthened the mission's mandate with additional powers to protect civilians. It also repeated its intention to consider sanctions against those whose actions undermined peace, stability and security in the country. Unanimously adopting resolution 2327 (2016), the Council reiterated "its increasingly grave alarm and concern regarding the political, security, economic and humanitarian crisis in South Sudan resulting from a political dispute within the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) and subsequent violence caused by the country's political and military leaders."

The Security Council demanded that all parties immediately end the fighting throughout South Sudan, and that the South Sudan's leaders implement the permanent ceasefire in the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan that they signed in August 2015. It demanded that the Transitional Government of National Unity of South Sudan comply with the obligations set out in the Status of Forces Agreement between the Government of South Sudan and the United Nations, and immediately cease obstructing the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) in the performance of its mandate.  It also demanded the Transitional Government immediately cease obstructing international and national humanitarian actors from assisting civilians. The Council authorized UNMISS to use "all necessary means" to protect civilians under any threat of physical violence, to deter violence against civilians, to implement a Mission-wide early warning strategy, to maintain public safety and security within UNMISS Protection of Civilian Sites, and to deter and prevent sexual and gender-based violence. It said the Mission should monitor and investigate human rights abuses and violations, create conditions conducive to the delivery of humanitarian assistance, and support implementation of the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict.

The Council decided to increase the overall force levels of UNMISS by maintaining a troop ceiling of 17,000 troops. This includes the 4,000 Regional Protection Force. It increased the police ceiling to 2,101 personnel.  It authorized the Regional Protection Force to use all necessary means, "including robust action where necessary", to accomplish its mandate. It took note of the Transitional Government's intent to conduct an inclusive national dialogue, but also expressed its intention to consider "all appropriate measures, as demonstrated in resolutions 2206 (2015) and 2290 (2016), against those who took actions which undermined peace, stability and security in South Sudan." The Council stressed the sanctity of United Nations protection sites and specifically emphasized that people involved in attacks against UNMISS personnel and premises, or any humanitarian personnel, could well meet the criteria set out for in resolution 2206 (2015).

The Council members remained divided in fact over the issues of sanctions, with the US Permanent Representative suggesting an arms embargo was called for and that targeted sanctions would be an effective tool to send a message to leaders on both sides. The Russian Federation Representative , however, was concerned by the use of  "the stick and not the carrot".  He said the supporters of sanctions ignored the IGAD decisions that sanctions were "counterproductive".  China also stressed that the Council should act with prudence over the issues of sanctions. Egypt welcomed the level of consensus reached, describing it as "real political gain of the day." While punitive approaches had proven ineffective, the resolution would send a united message to South Sudan's warring parties. The Council, he said, should focus on reaching a political breakthrough and promoting dialogue, adding that all parties in South Sudan bore responsibility for alleviating the suffering of its people. Senegal underlined the importance of working in close cooperation with the delegation of the African Member States.  A united approach was required in full cooperation with organizations and countries of the sub-region, including exchanges with the African Union and IGAD.  There must be an effective response to threats to civilians, as well as implementation of the peace agreement and the monitoring of human rights. The Angolan representative stressed the current situation in South Sudan should be addressed through meaningful political dialogue leading to a permanent ceasefire and, in turn, sustainable peace. Spain underlined that it was essential for UNMISS to operate without restrictions in order to fulfill its mandate, protect civilians and distribute humanitarian assistance.

The representative of South Sudan welcomed the renewal and extension of the mandate of UNMISS. He said the situation had improved following the recent agreement of South Sudan to implement the Joint Transitional Government of National Unity-United Nations Security Council Communiqué of 4 September, which concerned the deployment of the Regional Protection Force. At the same time, he expressed his disappointment that the Council continued to deliberate on issues of peace and security without adequate consultations with the African region.  He said the IGAD Assembly of Heads of State and Government at its most recent Extra-Ordinary Summit earlier in the month had noted that an arms embargo or sanctions on South Sudan would not provide a solution to bring about permanent peace and stability.  What was required was dialogue and commitment by all South Sudanese parties to implement the agreement. He said his Government continued to oppose "negative threats of sanctions and punishment, which only undermined cooperation," Any call for an arms embargo and targeted sanctions on senior Government officials would only weaken the Government's effectiveness.  He said that rather than negative threats of sanctions and punishment, South Sudan needed a positive and constructive agenda that included the return of security and stability. He noted President Salva Kiir had recently declared a unilateral ceasefire, with instructions to the national army to fight only in self-defense with amnesty granted to those who had taken up arms against the State.

The South Sudan representative also noted this week's launch of a national dialogue that would include all stakeholders. The President issued the decree on Monday (December 19) appointing over 30 eminent persons as members of the national dialogue steering committee to develop an agenda for the dialogue and work with experts and resource persons to facilitate the process. However, rebel leader, Riek Machar, rejected the President's call for national dialogue, calling it a "bogus" move, and several commentators expressed their dismay that the list of names did not include any members of armed opposition groups. The appointed members appear to be members of the President's Sudan People's Liberation Movement, parties allied to the government or religious leaders and individuals loyal or sympathetic to his administration.