The UN Mission in South Sudan

Mission Mandate

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 100,000 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. Although there is no official death toll and UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon estimates tens of thousands, the International Crisis Group estimates the figure could be between 50,000 and 100,000. In addition, over 2 million people are displaced, including 480,000 that have sought refuge in neighboring countries, from their homes, and reports of human rights abuses on both sides have emerged. The violence has sparked a serious humanitarian crisis as the world’s youngest country erupted in civil war in December 2013 when President Kiir accused his ex-vice-president, Machar, of plotting to overthrow him.

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. Both sides agreed to halt the ongoing fighting and ensure that humanitarian aid is accessible for the displaced populations; however, hostilities continued with fears that violence could escalate. On June 10, 2014, Kiir and Machar signed a landmark agreement to end the violence, allow greater humanitarian access, and establish a transitional government within the next 60 days. Hours after the agreement was signed, President Kiir said opposition forces violated the ceasefire; however, rebel forces led by Machar lay the blame on government forces, which delayed potential elections and an interim government. In February 2015, Kiir and Machar drafted and signed a power sharing (Kiir would remain president and Machar would become vice president) agreement in steps toward ceasefire and forming an interim government. Due to three previously signed and broken peace agreements, IGAD and the UN Security Council have threatened sanctions against any faction that attempts to undermine the peace agreement.

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 country’s justice system . Since the mandate has shifted to civilian protection the role of the UNMISS is even more important. UN bases currently shelter tens of thousands of displaced persons while peacekeeping forces ensure civilian safety and work to uphold the recent ceasefire agreement.

How This Affects American Interests

  •  Fostering security and stability. UNMISS has done more than help to maintain stability and supporting the execution of the ceasefire agreement. In addition, UNMISS forces have provided training and technical support for South Sudanese law enforcement, building the foundations for sustained security in the young nation. UNMISS troop strength stands at 10,335 military personnel, and a total of 3,488 of the 5,500 surge troops have been deployed. Furthermore, the continued support of UNMISS assists Intergovernmental Authority of Development (IGAD) and local officials in maintaining security and force protection provided in the logistics of the mission. Among the tasks the mandate would perform was to protect civilians and deter violence against them; implement a Mission-wide early warning strategy; foster a secure environment for the eventual safe return of IDPs and refugees; monitor, investigate, verify and report specifically and publicly on violations and abuses against children and women; and, among others, create the conditions necessary for the delivery of humanitarian aid. UNMISS continues the protection of civilians with a three-tiered strategy: conflict resolution, provision of physical protection of civilians under imminent threat of violence, and through creating a protective environment that enhances the safety and supports the rights of civilians.
  • Securing Economic Interests. Furthermore, the conflict in South Sudan has the potential to affect American economic interests. Some rebel groups in the conflict have targeted oil installations, petroleum companies and their employees as well as perpetuating fighting around these facilities as a tactic of war. The UN Security Council adopted resolution 2155 (2014) renewing the mandate of UNMISS and condemned the attacks on oil installations. It urged all parties to protect this infrastructure, which is the only source of national revenue for South Sudan.
  • Supporting humanitarian interests. The US has committed bilateral and multilateral support to promote stability for the people of South Sudan, which is complimentary to the United State's commitment to promoting human rights The UN Mission to South Sudan shares these humanitarian objectives. For instance: UNMISS bases are sheltering around 112,900 internally displaced South Sudanese who are fleeing violence, hunger, and disease. UNMISS is working to record and report human rights abuses, ensure a safe and stable environment for the provision of humanitarian assistance that reached nearly 1.4 million South Sudanese. Also, UNMISS is providing legal and medical assistance to victims of sexual violence including devising a plan to implement the agreement The Rule of Law and Sexual Violence in Conflict. The World Food Program (WFP) is providing food assistance to tens of thousands of displaced South Sudanese civilians both on and off UN bases. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is providing shelter, critical relief items, and basic necessities hundreds of thousands of displaced South Sudanese civilians.
  • Protecting Children. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), has helped to vaccinate children against measles, polio, and cholera while providing clean water. In 2014, UN agencies estimated that 12,000 children had been recruited and used in armed conflict; however, in January 2015, UNICEF freed 3,000 South Sudanese child soldiers, which is being hailed as one of the largest ever demobilizations of children in a zone of conflict. In addition to this success, UNMISS has helped release another 300 children from an armed group in Jonglei State.

Ongoing Challenges

  •  Humanitarian Concerns.As of 4 February, approximately 2 million people had been forced to flee their homes: 1.5 million people had been displaced internally and, according to UNHCR, another 500,000 had fled to neighboring countries. An estimated 3.8 million people are in need of general humanitarian assistance this year of whom aid agencies have reached more than 3.5 million (92 percent). In November of 2014, twice as many South Sudanese people are severely food insecure than the same period in 2013 From January to March 2015. Some 2.5 million are likely to face severe food insecurity, and this increasing trend is expected to continue into the “lean season” (up to July). The UN has declared South Sudan is at the worst level of humanitarian crisis and is considered the world’s most fragile State.
  • Safety of Women and Children. Sexual Violence continues to be used against women and adolescent girls affected by the conflict. The Mission has conducted training for community watch groups and members of a community protection network on conflict prevention and peacebuilding. In December 2014, UNMISS in collaboration with several other partners conducted awareness-raising activities on sexual and gender-based violence, targeting internally displaced persons, local communities, civil society and the media, among others. This movement was called 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. On 8 March, International Women’s Day, the National Action Plan was launched for the implementation of Resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace, and security. Despite commitments on the protection of children signed by both the Government and SPLM/A in Opposition, according to UNICEF, there are large-scale recruitment of children, military usage and occupation of schools and hospitals, and other grave violations perpetrated against children by various parties to the conflict being reported.
  • Health Concerns. As of 13 November, a total of 6,297 cholera cases, including 160 deaths (a case fatality rate of 2.26 percent), had been reported. Although there was a cholera outbreak, UNMISS along with WHO has brought it under control Mortality rates among displaced people sheltering in UNMISS bases had been reduced to below emergency levels. While the intensive efforts of partners have reduced the spread of diseases in displacement sites, the population continues to face health risks as a result of appalling hygienic conditions and sanitation. However, aid agencies continue to combat diseases, such as measles and polio. There has been an integrated campaign to vaccinate children against these diseases: 1.7 million children had been vaccinated against measles and 2.4 million against polio; 141,104 had received vitamin A supplementation; and 44,881 had received de-worming tablets. In February 2015, the South Sudanese Ministry of Health, UNICEF, and partners have launched a vaccination campaign in the Upper Nile State in order to reach zero polio infections. Additionally, the HIV/AIDS Unit of UNMISS and the relevant agencies of the United Nations country team have been conducting a needs and capacity assessment with regard to HIV/AIDS services.

*Last Updated March 20, 2015

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