The power of the UN to protect Humanity Part II – The endless conflict in South Sudan

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President Salva_Kiir_Mayardit, UN

President Kiir speaking to reporters before the headquarters of the Security Council, (CC-Photo Credit: Jenny Rockett)

 

By Iona Mulder -

In 2011, the Security Council assigned a peace-keeping mission, UNMISS, to South Sudan to help stabilize this young turbulent nation. In my previous article, I described the bureaucratic progress of the deployment of the mission in South Sudan as the intended ideal process of the founders of UN to protect humanity worldwide. Unfortunately, this positive note does not extend to the actual results of the mission on the ground in South Sudan. There is one thing that can be stated with certainty: the UN (peacekeeping) mission so far has failed its mandate to contribute to the stability of the country, and to protect its population against violence when its government neglects to do so.

The mission started in 2011 to help the government to build the new nation, however, in 2013 the government of South Sudan split into two factions. President Kiir accused the Vice-President Riek Machar of attempting a coup and sacked him and the rest of the Parliament. Riek Machar denied the accusation, stating that the President Kirr was creating a dictatorship. The remaining government and the opposition group of Machar both mobilized their support to pick up arms and fight by their side, leading up to a civil war. As a result of the violence, tens thousands of people have been killed, and over three million people fled their home – resulting in the destruction of South Sudan’s infrastructure and economic system that was mainly based on agriculture and oil. In 2015, a peace agreement, including a cease-fire, was signed between the conflicting parties. But already from the beginning, there was little trust in the implementation of this peace agreement, as it was signed under immense international pressure and the threat of a weapon embargo. In July 2016, new fighting broke out in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, that was being described as widespread ethnic violence by United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide. There were already many previous warnings of massive food shortage all over the country, but in February this year, the UN officially declared a famine in multiple parts of the country. Little blame for the famine can be distributed to circumstances of nature. It is the result of years of fighting, in which the civilians are heavily targeted, and the unjust distribution of the nation’s sources by the government.

How is it possible that one of the world’s most powerful organization in its third largest mission, seems powerless to bring a solution on a political level or provide civilians protection or even humanitarian assistance? Even in the six safe areas that the UN has established around the country, in which an average o f 200.000 people seeks refuge, the mission has been unable to guarantee a place where its residents can feel safe. Sexual violence, as in the rest of the country, is a daily reality and in February 2016 a safe area was burned to the ground, in the outbreak of violence July of the same year the protection side in Juba was heavily attacked. After this attack, the UN-secretary general Ban Ki-moon dismissed the commander of the mission, after it became apparent that the peacekeepers had utterly failed to protect civilians during these attacks, even within the safe area. “The report from a UN special investigation found that a lack of leadership in the UNMISS ended in a “chaotic and ineffective response” during the heavy fighting in the capital, Juba, from July 8 to 11 that killed dozens of people.”

The main reason for the failing mission is the noncooperation and opposition of the government of South Sudan to the mission. The government more than often has denied peacekeepers access to areas where civilians were in need of protection or humanitarian assistance. Although the third biggest mission in the world, the mission does not have the capacity in mandate, staff or material to force such access. The UN does not have its own army but has to rely on the military of the signatory nations. The process of assembling an army or adjust its mandate is a bureaucratic and time-consuming process, making it impossible to respond to urgent matters. Moreover, although the Security Council agrees that UNMISS is necessary for South Sudan, it is unable to make a political fist to fight the Government’s resistance against the mission, because Russia veto’s any resolution that directly affects the South Sudanese Government.

The primary example of these problems is the deployment of the so-called Regional Protection Force. This force of 4000 strong was authorized by the Security Council, including by Russia, in August 2016 after the outbreak of violence in July that year. Due to the bureaucratic process of assembling this force, it was still not ready to operate almost a half year later. Primarily, the South Sudanese Government accepted the force deployment under the threat of weapon embargo. However, in December Russia vetoed a resolution for a weapon embargo, which gave the Government the confidence to refuse the deployment of the Regional Protection Force without facing serious consequences. This refusal led to a further delay, because of the logistical and bureaucratic restraints. Thus, even after hearing warnings in December 2016 that the conflict might escalate into a genocide and a new Security Council resolution for the expansion of the Mission and an urge for a rapid deployment of the Regional Protection Force, the force is now April 2017, still not operating. However, as Casie Copeland of the Crisis Group reported, the mandate for the Regional Protection Force only extents to Juba, while in the meantime the conflict has moved its center to other regions, and it is there that people are in need of protection, not in Juba.

The South Sudanese Government and its political supporters play a political game as they are unwilling to end the conflict. If the UN continues to play this game, it will always be one step behind. There could be an approach by the UN that would help to circumvent this game of the national government. The UN has to switch its diplomatic and military focus from the national conflicts to regional or local conflicts. This approach is especially suitable for layered societies as that of South Sudan. It is often assumed that the national crisis – the conflict between the two former factions of the parliament – is the motor behind most of the violence in the country. However, South Sudan consist of many communities, which are bound by clan, local, family, ethnic or religious affiliations. The national conflict is often used by local communities to sort out their local conflicts with other communities. For example, a village will support the party opposite of their rival neighboring community with whom they have a bone to pick. Moreover, these local communities are the ones with the most interest in peace. It is the civilians who are paying the price of the conflict, not the political or military national leaders.

As the scholar Séverine Autesserre concludes in an article on the conflict in the Republic of Congo, local peace-building and reconciliation will reduce the level of violence on the ground. Her evidence for this argument is the conflict in North-East of Congo that (re)started in the beginning of the nineties. In 2003 a national peace agreement was signed, leading to the withdrawal of international players in the conflict. However, the conflict continued long after, because the local conflicts between the eight different ethnic and local groups in the region were not addressed in the settlement. Thus, local reconciliation could reduce violence after a conflict broke out. Moreover, it could also have a deterrent effect, as the national conflict might still spark the violence, but local settlements minimize the change that the violence is to spread out over the country. Finally, it might even put internal pressure on the government to implement a peace agreement.

Fortunately, in a report written by Secretary-General in cooperation with the African Union, the advice is given to the UN to put more focus on political engagement on a local level, as political solutions at national level seem fruitless, because of national and international unwillingness to end the conflict. As stated in this report: “The Mission’s increased focus on strengthening mechanisms for peaceful coexistence at the community level should be understood as a front-line protection intervention and part of an overarching political strategy.” If the UN can succeed in applying this strategy on a broad basis, they might be one step ahead of those who prefer the conflict to continue and for South Sudan to remain a state in chaos.

There is one issue that remains unsolved, and that is the inability of the UN to intervene adequate to changing situation, because of the slow bureaucratic (and political) process of putting together an peacekeeping army. An analysis of this process will be the subject of the last article of this series.

The Power of the UN to protect Humanity – Part I The Security Council

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UN Security Council meeting on Syria, on December 18, 2015. Take a good look at who raised their hands and who did not (State Department photo/ Public Domain)

 

By Iona Mulder -

 

The UN was founded after the Second World War with the primary goal of protecting peace and security in the world. One of the most important elements of this goal is the protection of people all around the world against similar atrocities that were committed by the Nazi regime; these atrocities are now framed as crimes against humanities and genocide. But who decides and how is decided within this unique and powerful international organization, that currently includes 193 states, that action is necessary to confront issues of crimes against humanity? I will provide insight into this question in a series of several articles. The intention is not to be exhaustive, but to provide a top-down overview of the decision-making process of this powerful organization, to show its competence and its weaknesses. This first article begins with the top of the chain were political decisions for action are taken: the Security Council.

Although the UN as a whole can be seen as leading the politics of the international community, its power is bound by the obligation to respect the sovereignty of states. The right to sovereignty means that the UN cannot interfere within national affairs without the permission of the state itself. This rule is the number one principle of international law. However, the Security Council forms the exception; it is the only organ that can in specific situations interfere with this fundamental principle of sovereignty – even with the use of force, often described as “use of all necessary means”. It can do so in the name of the protection of international peace and security, as described in Chapter VII of the founding charter of the UN. Whether a situation is a threat to peace and security and what measures should be taken, will be determined by a vote of the fifteen states that are a member of the council. There are five permanent members, US, UK, Russia, China, France, those countries that were considered as superpowers after The Second World War, and ten non-permanent that change every two years. These world-changing decisions on peace and security issues are made by the representative of the members states simply raising their hand, as if they were in a classroom. Live-streams of the voting meetings can be viewed at the website UN television. A decision, called a resolution, will be accepted when nine of the members vote in favor, and none of the permanent member uses their right to veto a decision.

Since the end of the eighties, the Security Council has often considered widespread international crimes against humanity as a threat to security of the international community. Examples of such situations are Former Yugoslavia, Somalia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, The Democratic Republic of the Congo. The more recent case of South-Sudan shows how the decision-making at the Security Council ideally works. Last November 11th, United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, made a visit to the young state of South-Sudan. His role as a Special Advisor is to collect information and advice and warn the Secretary-General and the Security Council of the UN on grave human rights violations of ethnic and racial origin that genocide that might escalate into genocide. The reason for his visit was continuing reports of ethnic violence in South-Sudan. In a speech before the Security Council he stated: “Last week, I saw all the signs that ethnic hatred and targeting of civilians could evolve into genocide if something is not done now to stop it. I urge the Security Council and Members States of the region to be united, and to take action.”

Already since 2011 there is a UN mission stationed within South-Sudan named UNMISS with the mandate to protect civilians, monitor, investigate human rights, and to give assistance to build up the new state. Over the years the mission was already expanded. However, as Adama Dieng has specified within his speech before the Security Council, neither the UNMISS nor strong calls upon the South Sudanese government, not even a ceasefire that was established in 2015, have led to a positive progress of the stability and security of the country. On the contrary, the violence has increased and spread over a larger area; the government army is overall feared by the population, and the current South Sudanese President Kirr made statements that incite even more violence among the different political/ethnic groups within the country.

Following Adama Dieng’s advice and call to take action before the Security Council, the Security Council decided last December 16th to expand the UNMISS even more with 4500 soldiers and broaden its mandate. This mandate now includes among other things the unlimited access for the Special Advisor to monitor, investigate and report on incidents of hate speech and incitement to violence and actively participate in the mission in the implementation of the ceasefire, including the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of different armed groups in South Sudan. In this case, the Security Council took the words of the Special Advisor into account and took action to protect the population of South Sudan. There are, however, two loopholes. First of all, the Security Council is not obligated to council the Special Advisor if the member states are not interested in doing so. Secondly, the member states might not vote for any action or one the permanent members can use its right to veto to uphold any action. This often happens when political interest come into play.

The most compelling example nowadays is the case of Syria. Special Advisor Adama Dieng has made fifteen public statements on the desperate situation of the civil population in Syria. He has not once been invited by the Security Council to speak about this subject. Moreover, Russia has used its veto right six times since the beginning of the conflict to uphold a UN Mission with a mandate regarding the protection of civilians or the persecution of those responsible for violence against civilians and the use of chemical weapons. China has taken the same position five times. The reason for Russia and China to do so is their political alliance with the Syrian government. If they would allow such a UN mission to be implemented, this would minimize the power of the Syrian government and thereby damage their political interested. Henceforth, the Security Council is completely paralyzed to take any action. It is undeniable that the Security Council is failing to fulfill its responsibility to protect the population of Syria.

The situation in Syria is the ultimate display that the UN system to prevent any large-scale human right violations is dependent on the political will of the members of the Security Council and primarily the permanent members. The five permanent member states can stand in the way of the protection of many innocent civilians, merely because it is against their own political interest to so, even when all the other members are of the opinion that measures are imperative to secure the safety of certain populations. It is clear that if the Security Council wants to function as is intended by its founders, the voting powers must be distributed more equitably among the UN member states. This very critical note aside, the Security Council intervenes in some situations to protect civil population when a state is unable or unwilling to protect them, as is shown in the case of South-Sudan. The following question is, of course, will this action minimize or halt the violence. The UN human right protection systems involve many other organs than the Security Council and the Special Advisor. Their role, work and the success of their actions on the ground will be discussed in the following articles of this series.