Implications for the international community

On 15 March 2023, the UN Security Council extended the UNMISS mandate until March 2024, and included bold new language giving the mission the right to ‘use all necessary means to ensure effective, timely, and dynamic protection of civilians under threat of physical violence through a comprehensive and integrated approach, irrespective of the source or location of such violence’ (UNSC, 2023, art. 3).

It is uncertain whether UNMISS can deliver on such a mandate. During the assault on the GPAA in December 2022–January 2023, the mission did not intervene to stop any of the attacks on civilians that occurred.[1] Since then, UNMISS has investigated opening temporary operating bases (TOBs) in areas where civilians have been under threat, including New Fangak, Yuai (Uror county), and the Nanaam river corridor. With the onset of heavy rains likely to delay construction, however, it remains improbable that TOBs will be established in the near future. Their establishment, in any event, would be contingent on the approval of the UN bureaucracy and the South Sudanese government, which raises questions as to why the establishment of these TOBs was not prioritized earlier.

Even if TOBs are created before the next raiding campaign against the GPAA, UNMISS has not demonstrated the will to use force to protect civilians. Decisions to engage militarily are ultimately made by the national commanders of the troop-contributing countries—none of which seem to be inclined to endanger their peacekeepers or their own presence in the mission.

The establishment of TOBs can, however, be interpreted in less black-and-white terms. The UN could reduce hostilities by strategically positioning UN forces between belligerent parties—as they managed to do in Upper Nile during the civil war (Millar, 2022, ch. 9). If TOBs were then explicitly tasked with becoming Protection of Civilian (PoC) sites in times of conflict, the mission could usefully interpose itself between belligerent actors. The PoC sites established at the beginning of the South Sudanese civil war saved tens of thousands of lives and represented the mission’s most progressive and useful fulfilment of its mandate; however, UNMISS has since closed all but one PoC site, in Malakal, Upper Nile state (Craze and Pendle, 2020). One way to effectively protect civilians in Jonglei would be to retract this policy of PoC site closures and open up TOBs that could function as PoC sites across the state. UNMISS has already done this once in South Sudan, to great effect, in Tambura in August 2021, where over 2,400 people fled to the UNMISS ToB for protection (UNMISS and OHCHR, 2022, p. 7). Such operations should be considered by the mission.


[1]Telephone interviews with UNMISS staff and international humanitarian workers, January–May 2023.