The Security Council, in its resolution 2514 (2020), requested the Secretary-General to conduct an independent strategic review of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to assess the challenges to peace and security in the country and provide detailed recommendations for the possible reconfiguration of the Mission’s civilian, police and military components to account for developments in the peace process. In response to that request, the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and the Department of Peace Operations assembled a team to carry out the review. The team conducted extensive consultations with a wide range of stakeholders, holding over 150 remote meetings with the senior leadership and staff of the Mission, the United Nations country team, United Nations offices in the region and all relevant United Nations entities based at United Nations Headquarters. It also held remote meetings with the African Union Commission and a number of its specialized institutions, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), Member States and mechanisms involved in the peace process; representatives of Security Council members and other members of the diplomatic community in both Juba and New York; as well as think tanks and civil society organizations working on South Sudan.
Challenges to peace and security in South Sudan
The Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (Revitalized Peace Agreement) outlines a clear vision for reforms that, if fully implemented, would help to address the underlying drivers of conflict and begin the transformation of the country. However, implementation has been slow and uneven. The timelines stipulated in the Revitalized Peace Agreement were, in some cases, unrealistic. Nevertheless, the parties have failed to meet any of those timelines and have primarily focused on implementing those provisions of the Revitalized Peace Agreement that outline elite power-sharing arrangements rather than those that would promote accountability, facilitate a smoother delivery of humanitarian assistance and strengthen financial management and overall governance. The parties agreed that 35 per cent of the appointments to the Revitalized Transitional Government of Nati onal Unity would be women, but that provision has not been adhered to in the appointment of cabinet ministers and governors.
The current economic crisis in South Sudan has decimated the resources and resilience of its population and made it more difficult for the Government to finance many aspects of the peace process. More fundamentally, the parties have not demonstrated sufficient political will to address issues critical to longer-term peace and security. Based on the past record of the parties involved, international donors have been reluctant to finance the implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement, fearing that funds will be used to fuel violence rather than foster peace.
Therefore, while the Revitalized Peace Agreement and an earlier 2017 cessation of hostilities agreement have been successful in curbing large-scale political violence and bringing most parties to the conflict into dialogue, they have not transformed the underlying dynamics that contributed to the outbreak of civil war in South Sudan. The country continues to be destabilized by an oversized and dysfunctional security sector and remains awash with small arms and light weapons. Few economic opportunities exist outside the civil service and the war economy, leaving young people vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups. While violence directly attributable to the parties to the civil war has ebbed, intercommunal violence has risen sharply over the past year and, in many cases, has been directly fuelled by national political actors as an extension of political tensions and disputes. Human rights violations have continued unabated, with deeply concerning restrictions on civil society and media organizations.
Moreover, violence could escalate in the lead-up to elections, which are expected to take place in 2022 or 2023. In short, while advances have been made, South Sudan has not yet reached a point where continued progress is assured, where peace is stable or where civilians are benefiting from the agreements reached on paper.
Opportunities, progress and the contribution of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan to peace and security
There are some opportunities for progress in South Sudan. Although the implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement has been limited, it has been successful in that it has brought most political parties in the country together in an ongoing process of dialogue and fostered agreement, at least on paper, on the way forward. The Agreement contains a road map for durable change in the country. Th e national dialogue, as a parallel track-two peace process, has presented citizens with a much-needed opportunity to discuss the root causes of violence and make recommendations on how the broad commitments enshrined in the Agreement should be implemented to address conflict drivers. More generally, the South Sudanese population is exhausted by war, broadly supportive of peace efforts and eager for opportunities to rebuild and experience the dividends of peace. While institutions at the local level are weak and the authority of community leaders has been threatened by displacement and years of conflict, there is also a history of local negotiation and peace agreements that can be built upon. In the short term, local peace agreements can improve trust and prevent or reduce levels of violence. In the medium term, there is some potential for local peace agreements to trickle up.
In this environment, rife with challenges but not without opportunities, UNMISS has been able to contribute concretely to peace and security. Many stakeholders who were consulted agreed that the Mission’s work to ensure security at sites for the protection of civilians has undoubtedly saved lives, while its increasingly integrated and mobile patrols likewise have contributed to an improvement in the physical protection of civilians. Moreover, the Mission has increasingly been linking subnational dialogue activities with political analysis and outreach, thereby making those activities more effective. In efforts to improve the inclusivity and sustainability of the peace process and expand civic space, UNMISS has supported the development of political parties and hosted a series of grass-roots dialogues for which it has brought civil society actors from around the country to Juba.
The Mission has worked with humanitarian and development agencies to increase awareness of sexual and gender-based violence, conflict-related sexual violence and the rights of all civilians, including women and children. In the course of the review, Mission officials noted that the rapid investigation team created within the UNMISS Human Rights Division has enabled it to more quickly deploy and scale up capacity for investigating human rights violations, including conflict-related sexual violence. In addition, a wide range of interlocutors recognized that the UNMISS Rule of Law Advisory Section had made important contributions to improving accountability through its support for mobile courts, training and technical advice to South Sudanese stakeholders in legal reforms. Humanitarian and development actors also widely affirmed that the presence and activities of UNMISS contributed to an environment conducive to the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
There was broad agreement among the interlocutors of the review team that there was a direct link between justice, accountability and sustainable peace, and, therefore, that renewed efforts were needed to achieve justice for past crimes. Chapter V of the Revitalized Peace Agreement contains a road map for the parties and the African Union Commission to establish a body to be known as the Hybrid Court for South Sudan.
Negotiations between the African Union Commission and the Government of South Sudan on the establishment of the Court have reached an advanced stage, but n o agreement has thus far been signed. Given the divided support for the establishment of the Court, continued international engagement would be needed to reduce delays and keep the process on track. Ideally, that effort would be led by the African Union with support from bodies of the United Nations system.
Recommendations for the reconfiguration of the Mission
After considering the environment in South Sudan and the Mission’s demonstrated past performance, the review team concluded that the current four pillars of the Mission’s mandate remain valid overall. However, a number of adjustments to its mandate, activities and capabilities within those four pillars would enhance the Mission’s impact. Moreover, it is critical that the United Nations, in particular UNMISS, enhance its role in support of the IGAD-led peace process. This is all the more necessary as the countries of the region are facing their own internal challenges and may not be able to devote the same level of attention to South Sudan as they have in the past.
Throughout the review, the team was cognizant of the primacy of politics in the pursuit of lasting peace in South Sudan. Therefore, the team strove to identify methods of increasing political leverage to help to move the process forward, without losing sight of the reality that fundamental and structural changes can only be brought about if South Sudanese stakeholders fully own the process and demonstrate political will. No amount of external pressure or support can substitute that requirement. In so doing, the review team built on the Secretary-General’s priorities to deepen partnerships between the United Nations and the African Union and enhance integration within the United Nations system.
In practical terms, the review team recommends establishing a strong compact with the region and the African Union, including its relevant specialized institutions. Building on the significant level of coordination that already exists between the Mission and the wider United Nations system on one hand and the African Union and IGAD on the other, more should be done to develop common messaging and joint advocacy with those two regional actors on the different aspects of the UNMISS mandate and the implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement, such as the Mission’s freedom of movement and humanitarian access. Furthermore, the normative and policy framework that the African Union has developed over the past two decades on issues of governance, human rights and elections can help to overcome challenges related to the political will and the capacity of South Sudanese actors and institutions. Overall, the objective is to broaden engagement rather than relegate concerns to bilateral exchanges between the United Nations and South Sudan. The region and Africa as a whole will benefit tremendously from the stabilization of South Sudan. Consequently, they have an enormous stake in the success of UNMISS.
Second, existing United Nations resources in the region, namely the United Nations Office to the African Union and the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Horn of Africa, should be utilized more effectively so as to strengthen engagement with the African Union and those of its member States that are directly involved in the peace process. Doing so will help to keep those actors fully informed of the Mission’s efforts and facilitate the mobilization of their support as necessary. Similarly, resources at United Nations Headquarters should be leveraged to their fullest.