South Sudan’s Expulsion of UN Official Brings Controversial Integrated Approach Into Focus

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June 2, 2015 – Since the early 2000s, the United Nations has favored an integrated approach for some of its most difficult missions with the ostensibly neutral Humanitarian Coordinator also double hatted as the explicitly political Resident Coordinator, and triple hatted as the deputy special representative of the secretary-general.

The reasons behind an integrated approach were well-intentioned: to streamline UN efforts and ensure that the objectives of all UN forces and agencies are channeled towards an over-arching common goal (Weir:2006). But aid agencies have raised concerns on the basis of neutrality and impartiality, saying that the line between the UN’s military objectives and its humanitarian objectives is increasingly blurred by an integrated approach, and that it leads to the shrinking of humanitarian space (see Stimson Center report here). In Somalia and Afghanistan, NGO’s have withdrawn from, or refused to enter into, UN coordination mechanisms because of the support of these missions for the Afghan and Somali governments respectively.

UNMISS in South Sudan is one of the more recent integrated UN missions. On Monday, the government in Juba expelled Toby Lanzer, reportedly for comments he made criticizing the government’s failure. Lanzer is an experienced United Nations official who was chief-of-staff of one of the first UN integrated missions, in Timor-Leste in 2006. In South Sudan, he wears four hats: deputy special-representative of the secretary-general; UN resident coordinator; humanitarian coordinator; and resident representative of UNDP.

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Diagram from UN OCHA showing civil-military coordination in South Sudan: source UN OCHA

His is, or rather was, an impossible task – Lanzer was due to be replaced at the end of the month. The original UNMISS mandate in 2011 called for UNMISS to protect civilians and support the South Sudan government in consolidating peace and building state institutions, but the language on supporting the government has been stripped from subsequent resolutions – the most recent mandate renewal was passed by the Security Council last week.

UNMISS has essentially shifted into neutral mode following reports of mass graves, extra-judicial killings, sexual violence, attacks on peacekeepers and massive displacement of civilian populations – tens of thousands of whom are sheltering in UN bases – and the world’s newest country is currently at risk of famine.

But peacekeeping missions are hardly neutral and require the support of the host government to achieve peacebuilding and institution building mandates and need freedom of movement to fulfill a protection of civilians mandate.

UNMISS is a $1 billion mission, financed by mandatory assessments on UN member states, while the UN’s humanitarian appeal for South Sudan is for $658 million, though only $70 million has been received as it relies on voluntary contributions.

There are no easy answers to the South Sudan crisis but it puts the utility of integrated missions once again under the microscope and the wisdom of having one person responsible for coordinating humanitarian activities while also responsible for political activities and institution building and will likely lead to further calls for the UN to re-examine the integrated approach.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz