The UN Mission in South Sudan
On July 8, 2011, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 1996 establishing the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS). Originally created in order to foster state-building and development in the fledgling nation, the role of UNMISS was later expanded in response to the outbreak of conflict in December of 2013. The mission’s mandate was further extended on May 27, 2014, with the Security Council’s unanimous adoption of resolution 2155. Under the new mandate, UNMISS is authorized up to 12,500 military troops and 1,323 police personnel, and is tasked with focusing on the protection of civilians. To that end, UN bases in South Sudan have opened their doors to victims of the conflict, currently sheltering about 80,000 displaced persons.
The Mission’s mandate includes:
- Protecting civilians, particularly women and children, under Chapter VII of the UN Charter;
- Monitoring, investigating, and verifying human rights abuses;
- Creating the conditions for the delivery of humanitarian assistance;
- Supporting the implementation of ceasefire agreements;
- Establishing and implementing a mission-wide early-warning system to prevent conflict;
- Promoting the participation of women in decision-making forums;
- Deterring violence through the use of patrols and interactions with citizens; and
- Fostering a secure environment for the safe and voluntary return of displaced persons.
On December 15, 2013, clashes broke out among members of the Presidential Guard in Juba, South Sudan’s capital. While the reasons for these clashes are unknown, President Salva Kiir claims that soldiers loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar, whom Mr. Kiir had fired in July, had attempted to seize power in a coup. Though Mr. Machar denied the initial allegation, violence soon spread as his supporters took up arms against President Kiir’s government. Much of the country has now become embroiled in the conflict, with a number of opposition forces, largely loyal to Machar, in open rebellion against Kiir’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). The conflict has increasingly taken on ethnic dimensions, with growing violence between members of the Dinka and Nuer ethnic groups, from which Kiir and Machar respectively hail. With almost 10,000 dead, over 1,000,000 displaced from their homes, and reports of human rights abuses on both sides, the violence has sparked a serious humanitarian crisis and led to fears that the world’s youngest country may be on the verge of civil war.
On May 9, 2014, with support from the international community and the UN, President Kiir and Mr. Machar signed a ceasefire agreement in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. Despite both sides agreeing to halt the ongoing fighting and ensure that humanitarian aid is accessible for the displaced populations, hostilities continued, along with fears that violence may once again escalate. Kiir and Machar met again on June 10, 2014, this time signing a landmark agreement to end the violence, allow greater humanitarian access, and establish a transitional government within the next 60 days. While this agreement is certainly a positive step, the need for maintaining peace and protecting civilians is far from over.
In the face of this protracted crisis, UNMISS has continued its essential work in promoting stability, protecting civilians under threat of violence, and assisting in humanitarian efforts. UNMISS has been on the ground in South Sudan since it became independent in July 2011, fostering state-building, supporting efforts to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate former combatants, and strengthening the nascent country’s criminal justice sector. Though its mandate has since shifted toward an emphasis on civilian protection, its importance has far from diminished. UN bases currently shelter tens of thousands of displaced persons, while peacekeeping forces ensure civilian safety and work to uphold the recent ceasefire agreement. Though this crisis is severe, the effects could have been far worse without the lifesaving work of UNMISS.
How This Affects American Interests
- Fostering security and stability. The efforts of UNMISS have been, and continue to be, vital to the advancement of security in South Sudan. In addition to their ongoing work maintaining stability and enforcing the execution of the ceasefire agreement, UNMISS forces have provided training and technical support for South Sudanese law enforcement, building the foundations for sustained security in the young nation. The recent troop surge, approved in the passage of resolution 2155, will serve to reinforce these security efforts. In so doing, UNMISS contributes to American interests in global security, particularly in a region marked by instability. These American interests in the region have long been recognized, and were a driving force behind the United States’ key involvement in the creation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that worked to resolve the Sudanese civil war. The country’s importance to global security is particularly emphasized in a 2013 State Department report, which notes that, while South Sudan had previously expressed its commitment to combatting global terror, the ongoing conflict has severely compromised its ability to do so. Furthermore, the conflict in South Sudan has the potential to affect American economic interests, as belligerents in the conflict have targeted oil installations as a tactic of war. The UN has widely condemned these attacks, and has urged UNMISS forces to prevent further damage to oil and economic infrastructure. As the new mandate for UNMISS moves into full implementation, peacekeeping forces will continue their crucial work in fostering a secure and stable environment in South Sudan.
- Supporting American humanitarian interests. The continued humanitarian crisis and abuse of human rights that have occurred as a result of the conflict in South Sudan are an affront to American values and sensibilities. Americans care deeply about humanitarian issues and are committed to addressing crises such as these around the world. To this end, the US has committed bilateral and multilateral support to promote stability for the people of South Sudan. The UN Mission to South Sudan shares these humanitarian objectives. Currently, UNMISS is working to record and report human rights abuses, ensure a safe and stable environment for the provision of humanitarian assistance, and fulfill its mandate to protect South Sudanese civilians. In collaboration with UNMISS, UN humanitarian agencies and their partners have launched a multi-sector aid response that has reached nearly 1.4 million South Sudanese so far. The World Food Program (WFP), for example, is currently providing much-needed food assistance to tens of thousands of displaced South Sudanese civilians both on and off UN bases. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in addition to providing clean water and constructing latrines, is working with the World Health Organization (WHO) to vaccinate children against measles, polio, and cholera. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), for its part, has provided shelter and other critical relief items, including blankets, plastic sheeting, kitchen equipment, mosquito nets, and soap, to hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese civilians who have been forced to flee their homes. American citizens value and support this lifesaving work, with recent bipartisan polling demonstrating that 86% of Americans believe that the U.S. should maintain an active role with the UN. By supporting UN peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts, the United States not only furthers its own humanitarian values, but also promotes its national security interests abroad.
- Displaced Persons. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), over one million South Sudanese civilians have been displaced from their homes since fighting erupted in 2013. Of these, about 80,000 are currently being sheltered at UN bases around the country. As a part of its mandate, UNMISS is committed to the protection of these, and all South Sudanese civilians. UNMISS will continue to work to ensure the safety of these victims of the conflict, and is steadfast in its support of their right to a safe and voluntary return. While the protection of these displaced persons certainly presents a challenge, for the UNMISS peacekeepers it’s a welcome challenge – proof that they are fulfilling their mandate to protect the people of South Sudan.
- Health Concerns. Among the many humanitarian crises sparked by this conflict is a recent outbreak of cholera, most notably in the capital city of Juba. According to OCHA, the number of reported cholera cases in South Sudan has reached over 1,500. UN agencies such as UNICEF and the World Health Organization have worked tirelessly to contain the crisis, providing vaccines and improving sanitation conditions. Thanks to their efforts, of the 1,500 cases, only 31 deaths have been reported. Though health concerns are ongoing, the UN will continue its lifesaving work, combatting these issues as they arise.
- Logistical Challenges. The peacekeeping force has faced numerous logistical and capacity-related challenges throughout its deployment. One of the most significant of these is size: though the mission is now authorized up to 12,500 military troops, current estimates place the mission’s strength at about 8,975 uniformed personnel. The task of raising troops, already difficult, is only exacerbated by the mission’s limited funding, due in part to the United State’s being in arrears in the payment of its UN dues. A further logistical challenge is presented by the country’s weather and infrastructure. The rainy season, lasting from April to November, renders the country’s many dirt roads impassable eight months of the year. The difficulty of ground travel during these months necessitates a level of air support that the mission does not currently possess. These, and other logistical issues present a major challenge to the ongoing success of the peacekeeping mission. However, with greater international support, particularly from the United States, these obstacles can be overcome, allowing UNMISS to continue its work protecting civilians, fostering security, and supporting lifesaving humanitarian efforts for the South Sudanese people.
*Last Updated June 2014