Will protection force solve S. Sudan woes?

A couple of days ago, UN Security Council, in its Resolution 2304 (2016), authorised the deployment of a force of 4,000 troops to South Sudan following recent heavy fighting that constituted a major setback in efforts to end the country's devastating war.

A couple of days ago, UN Security Council, in its Resolution 2304 (2016), authorised the deployment of a force of 4,000 troops to South Sudan following recent heavy fighting that constituted a major setback in efforts to end the country’s devastating war.

The resolution was adopted in support of an earlier resolution by an Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Plus summit to form a ‘regional protection force’ intended to shore up the peacekeeping force in South Sudan. Following the decision, I asked myself a rhetorical question, whether the deployment of the proposed 4000 troops will sort out the current political crisis. Will it be a partial or sustainable solution?


As I was going over the aforesaid SC resolution, I wasn’t surprised to learn that UN Security Council acted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which is ordinarily the basis of its wielding-power. Paragraph Four of the resolution states that the UNSC extends the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) mandate until December 15, 2016, and authorises UNMISS to ‘use all necessary means’ to carry out its task.


‘Use all necessary means’ is a language or phrase UNSC invented and used consistently for the first time during the Iraq war in 1990-91 when Iraq materially breached several Security Council resolutions.


It was the first time UNSC authorised the use of force.

‘Use all necessary means’ is a matter of practice rather than a principle. So, the Security Council has consistently used that language referring to the use of force but in a roundabout way. Considering the ordinary meaning of the wording, it gives a leeway to use all means possible or available, including use of force. Those who proposed ‘use all necessary means’ tactically refrained from directly and unequivocally authorising use of force.

The initiative by the East African bloc IGAD to deploy a regional force was a commendable step which reflects the ideal of pan-Africanism-solidarity. But the possibility of achieving the intended objective remains blurred. Of course, IGAD, though a regional bloc, doesn’t have the authority to enforce its decisions without the carte blanche of UN Security Council, which has a monopoly to any enforcement actions against sovereign states.

Paragraph 4 of resolution 2304 (2016) grants UNMISS mandate, in particular the additional 4000 troops, to protect civilians, and this must be given priority in decisions about the use of available capacity and resources within its mission. But, how will this be achieved if antagonists aren’t pressured to adhere to the peace deal signed last August. If UNMISS is committed to using force perhaps against forces loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar it is likely to compound the situation. At this point, it would be naïve to believe that the protection force would fight against the forces of President Salva Kiir. Even as Riek Machar has since been thrown out of government, he still has a section of population that supports him. Using force will not be pouring oil on troubled waters, rather it will be adding fuel to fire.

Interestingly, the use of force is inconsistent with the principle of consent, one of the basic principles of UN peacekeeping. UN peacekeeping operations are deployed with the consent of the main parties to the conflict. Taking action that breaches its own basic principles is quite puzzling.

Although the specific mandate of 4,000 troops is yet to be determined, using force will address the existential crisis partially, but not sustainably. The underlying cause will be far from over.

In my view, using force is like making a palliative treatment to a crisis cause, rather than a holistic treatment.
Arguably, however, the underlying cause of this endless crisis in South Sudan is beyond what we see and hear of. Whatever it is, the cause, in all probability, revolves around power struggle.

Thus, all efforts to achieve sustainable peace and stability need to be directed to political negotiations, with antagonists pressured to adhere to last year’s peace agreement. Negotiation is indeed one of the most effective methods of preventing, managing and resolving conflicts. The purpose of applying negotiations is to shore up an inclusive transitional government that prioritises peace and stability which is in the best interest of all South Sudanese.

Additionally, IGAD needs to exert more pressure on the parties in conflict to prioritise national interests, instead of self-centered interests. A quick example is a UN peacekeeping operation in the Central African Republic [MINUSCA] which hasn’t only protected civilians, but has also provided technical assistance to the political transition and electoral processes which culminated into the election of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra.

MINUSCA wasn’t fighting, except in self-defence, but the mission has been effectively implemented.

As a result, there’s now a glimmer of hope for peace and stability in that country.

Lastly, UN and IGAD can threaten to impose sanctions to the parties in conflict, such as severing diplomatic ties, trade deals, and arms embargo, as a means to increase pressure on antagonistic parties not to renege on the peace agreement.

The writer is an international law expert.

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