UN extends arms embargo and other sanctions in South Sudan

The U.N. Security Council has approved a resolution extending for a year an arms embargo on South Sudan and a travel ban and financial sanctions for targeted individuals

UNITED NATIONS -- The U.N. Security Council approved a resolution Friday extending for a year an arms embargo on South Sudan and a travel ban and financial sanctions for targeted individuals, with Russia, China and South Africa abstaining.

The U.S.-drafted resolution welcomes “encouraging developments in South Sudan’s peace process,” including the beginning of the formation of a transitional government. But it also expresses “deep concern at continued fighting in South Sudan” and condemns violations of the peace deal and cessation of hostilities agreement.

There were high hopes that South Sudan would have peace and stability after gaining its long-fought independence from neighboring Sudan in 2011. But the world’s youngest nation slid into ethnic violence in December 2013, when forces loyal to President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, started battling those loyal to Riek Machar, his former vice president who belongs to the Nuer people.

Numerous attempts at peace failed, including a deal that saw Machar return as vice president in 2016 only to flee the country months later amid fresh fighting. The civil war has killed nearly 400,000 people and displaced millions.

Intense international pressure followed the most recent peace deal in 2018, and on Feb. 22 a coalition government led by Kiir, with Machar as his deputy, was formed.

The resolution urges South Sudan’s leaders to finalize establishment of the transitional national unity government and fully implement all provisions of the 2018 peace agreement, including allowing unhindered humanitarian access to deliver aid.

The resolution recognizes that violence has been reduced since the peace deal was signed, that the cease-fire is being upheld in most of the country, and that the transitional government is striving to address the coronavirus pandemic.

But it reiterates the council’s concern at the political, security, economic and humanitarian situation in South Sudan and strongly condemns human rights violations, including “harassment and targeting of civil society, humanitarian personnel and journalists.” It also expresses “deep concern at reports of misappropriation of funds that undermine the stability and security of South Sudan.”

Russia, China and South Africa have argued that sanctions are not conducive to promoting the peace process, so they abstained on the resolution, which passed 12-0.

The resolution extends the arms embargo and the targeted sanctions until May 31, 2021, but authorizes a mid-term review of the measures by Dec. 15, 2020, and expresses the council’s readiness to consider adjusting the sanctions, “including through modifying, suspending, lifting or strengthening measures to respond to the situation.”

Amnesty International’s director for east and southern Africa, Deprose Muchena, welcomed the renewal of the arms embargo, saying that “it is crucial to curtailing the flow of weapons that have been used to commit war crimes, human rights violations and abuses." The rights group called on the Security Council and U.N. member nations to enforce it.

“The human rights situation in South Sudan remains dire as government forces, fighters of armed opposition groups as well as armed youth continue to violate human rights on a daily basis," Muchena said. “Many civilians continue to be killed and displaced from their homes, girls as young as eight have been gang-raped, and human rights defenders and journalists continue to be harassed and intimidated."