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The UNMIS in South Sudan: Challenges & Dilemmas


Document .iecah. nº5 (English version)

Document written by Nahuel Arenas-García -humanitarian consultant and IECAH´s collaborator- about the UN Mission in Southern Sudan (UNMIS) and the increase of violence in the region during 2009.

2009 has been the most violent year in Southern Sudan after the signature of the historic Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the government of (north) Sudan and the southern rebel, Sudan People’s Liberation Army / Movement (SPLA/M) in January 2005. In the last year, the death toll in Southern Sudan has been higher than in Darfur, which threatens to jeopardize important milestones resulting from the CPA, notably, the referendum on southern self-determination in 2011.

To the persistent inter-ethnic violence (linked to the history of the war) and resulting displacement, and the exacerbated high levels of criminality should also be added the increase in the activity of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) on Southern Sudanese soil. The Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) is not well suited to protect civilians in this increasingly violent environment. The Southern Sudanese Police Service (SSPS) lacks the resources, training and equipment to intervene in large-scale armed conflict. The SPLA, though more robustly deployed than police, has also shown limited capacity to handle the violence and “appears to have adopted a policy of not intervening in inter-communal fighting” (Human Rights Watch 2009: 5).

The United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) is a UN peacekeeping operation established after the signature of the CPA in 2005 “to monitor and verify this agreement and to support [its] implementation”. Acting under Chapter VII of the Charter, the Security Council decided that UNMIS is authorized to

“[…]take the necessary action, in the areas of deployment of its forces and as it deems within its capabilities, to protect United Nations personnel, facilities, installations, and equipment, ensure the security and freedom of movement of United Nations personnel, humanitarian workers, joint assessment mechanism and assessment and evaluation commission personnel, and, without prejudice to the responsibility of the Government of Sudan, to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence” Art. 16 (i) SC Resolution 1590 (2005).

UNMIS’ mandate and presence has created the expectation among the local people that they will be protected should violence erupt. But this has not been the case, and reports observe a failure on the part of the mission to communicate its mandate and capabilities to people in the communities in which they have been deployed (Refugees International 2009). UNMIS has largely relied on its “good offices” and CPA monitoring functions (Human Rights Watch, 2009). But critics demand a more effective operationalization of its core mandate to monitor the ceasefire and security arrangements of the CPA and to establish a more dynamic presence on the ground.

This paper argues that the lack of decisive protection of civilians by UNMIS is not just an operational dilemma. It should be tracked to paradoxes at the heart of its mandate. The CPA, the intervention of the international community, and the mandate of UNMIS are focused in the broader picture of the North-South “post-conflict” peace-building. But the focus in the broader realms has diverted attention from the ‘still-present’ root causes of conflict at the local level. Today, peace in South Sudan is being jeopardized by inter-ethnic fighting and LRA attacks. The Security Council mandated UNMIS “to support the parties in ‘making unity attractive’, since secession of Southern Sudan would have an impact on the whole region and could pose potential security threats”. But nowadays all stakeholders acknowledge that South Sudan is in the path to secession. Even President Al-Bashir has recently made unprecedented comments; assuring that his party, the National Congress Party (NCP), will be the first to recognise South Sudan’s independence should that be the outcome of the referendum.

Thus, not only does the mandate of UNMIS seem to be rooted in unrealistic assumptions (north-south unity), but it has also diverted attention from the need to ‘make unity attractive’ within the south – and the north alike. Consequently, UNMIS lacks the necessary definitions at the strategic and operational level to effect a robust protection of civilians. At the strategic level, UNMIS’ mandate fails to recognise the root causes of conflict at the local level and, thus, to put civil protection at the heart of its strategy. As a result, UNMIS is short of the necessary resources, at the operational level, to protect civilians. Given the above-mentioned arguments, I posit that UNMIS will not respond to calls for a more robust and decisive intervention, at least until the referendum takes place in 2011 and the mandate of UNMIS is redefined.

I especially focus in the dynamics, tensions and challenges posed by the context of South Sudan. UNMIS is positioned on both sides of the North-South border, and the former does also face its own tensions and divisions. But the country is so vast and so complex that the regional dynamics of places like Darfur (which, for instance, has its own peacekeeping mission: UNAMID) and East Sudan, to mention some, justify distinctive analyses. Equally, the particularities of the context of South Sudan deserve a specific examination, especially in the light of the coming referendum that will decide its fate as a country.

The first section of the paper will briefly explore the evolution of peacekeeping and the role of the UN performing that task. The current context of South Sudan will be examined in the following section to provide a background to the analysis of UNMIS’ role and mandate with regards to the protection of civilians. Making a parallel with Autesserre’s study in the Democratic Republic of Congo (2009), this paper concludes that the frame of UNMIS operation, its mandate, obscures the analysis of the root causes of violence in (South) Sudan and thus, thwarts a decisive intervention to tackle the security challenges of the context. As a result, a revision of the mandate (the frame) will be needed in order to bring about sustainable peace.

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