May 2021 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 April 2021
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South Sudan

Expected Council Action

In May, the Council expects to vote on a draft resolution to renew the South Sudan sanctions regime—including targeted sanctions and the arms embargo—which expires on 31 May and the mandate of the South Sudan Sanctions Committee Panel of Experts, which expires on 1 July, as set out in resolution 2521.

Key Recent Developments

South Sudan will mark ten years of independence in July. The permanent ceasefire continues to hold in most parts of the country, and overall levels of political violence remain lower since the signing of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) on 12 September 2018. However, slow and selective implementation of the R-ARCSS has contributed to uncertainty around the peace process. Localised ethnic and intercommunal violence continues. The human rights, humanitarian, food security, and economic conditions in the country remain dire, with an enormously detrimental effect on civilians.

On 29 May 2020, the Council adopted resolution 2521, renewing the South Sudan sanctions regime until 31 May and the mandate of the Panel of Experts until 1 July. The Council expressed its intention to carry out a midterm review of the sanctions measures by 15 December 2020 and “its readiness to consider adjusting [these] measures…including through modifying, suspending, lifting or strengthening measures to respond to the situation”. The resolution also requested the Secretariat to provide the Council with a report assessing the role of the arms embargo in facilitating implementation of the R-ARCSS and articulating options for the elaboration of benchmarks, which the Council received on 31 October 2020.

On 16 December 2020, following its midterm review, the Council sent a letter requesting the Secretary-General to provide recommendations by 31 March on benchmarks to assess the arms embargo. The resulting report outlined three key benchmarks (with 34 specific targets) for the Security Council to assess the arms embargo, namely progress in relation to political and governance issues; disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration and security sector reform; and the humanitarian and human rights situation. It concluded that “there is real need to accelerate progress in meeting the key provisions of the [R-ARCSS]” and that the benchmarks “could play an important role in facilitating the implementation of the [R-ARCSS]”. Following the establishment of the benchmarks, “progress on their implementation should be regularly reviewed, with a view to adjusting or lifting the embargo once the stated objectives for this sanctions measure are fully met”.

On 15 December 2020, Ambassador Dang Dinh Quy (Viet Nam), chair of the 2206 South Sudan Sanctions Committee, briefed the Council on South Sudan sanctions. Council members were last briefed on South Sudan on 3 March by David Shearer, the outgoing Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), on the Secretary-General’s 90-day report dated 23 February. Shearer raised concern over a power vacuum at the local level, which has presented opportunities for spoilers and national actors to exploit local tensions and fuel violence. Jackline Nasiwa, Founder and National Director, Centre for Inclusive Governance, Peace and Justice, briefed as a member of civil society based in South Sudan.

Human Rights-Related Developments

During its 46th session, the Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted resolution 46/23 on 24 March by a vote of 20 in favour, 16 against (including Russia and China) and 11 abstentions (including India). The resolution decided to extend the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan for one year. It requested the Commission to convene two workshops on transitional justice with the participation of relevant stakeholders. The resolution also requested OHCHR to provide the government of South Sudan with technical assistance to support the realisation of the indicators contained in the resolution and requested the Secretary-General to provide OHCHR with all necessary resources. The HRC also adopted resolution 46/29 on technical assistance and capacity-building for South Sudan without a vote. That resolution requested OHCHR, in cooperation with the government of South Sudan and the AU, to urgently assist South Sudan to address human rights challenges in the post-conflict transition by, among other things, monitoring and reporting on the situation of human rights in South Sudan and to make recommendations to improve the situation and prevent any deterioration.

On 31 March, the Human Rights Division of UNMISS released its annual brief on violence affecting civilians, covering 2020. It said that in 2020 there had been a 120 percent increase in victims affected compared to 2019 and that the number of killings and abductions increased significantly. The number of recorded cases of conflict-related sexual violence declined slightly. Sub-national violence involving civil defence groups or community-based militias accounted for 78 percent of victims.

Sanctions-Related Developments

On 14 April, the Panel of Experts assisting the 2206 South Sudan Sanctions Committee transmitted their final report. It states that selective and slow implementation of the R-ARCSS has hindered improvements in the protection of civilians and prospects for long-term peace with disagreements over its implementation increasing political, military and ethnic divisions. More people in South Sudan are in need of humanitarian assistance in 2021 than ever before, the report says. It recommends, given the deteriorating security situation in South Sudan, that the Council maintains the arms embargo and requests an independent evaluation of the government’s management of its arms stockpiles. Other recommendations include adding a stand-alone designation criterion for sanctions in relation to any actions or policies that threaten or undermine the implementation of the transitional justice mechanisms. It also recommends that the Committee impose targeted sanctions on military leaders who have obstructed the activities of international peacekeeping and diplomatic missions, and the delivery and distribution of humanitarian aid.

Key Issues and Options

An immediate key issue for the Council is to make a decision on renewing the sanctions regime and the Panel of Experts. In doing so, the Council could signal its concerns about misuse of public resources by government officials in ways that undermine stability in the country. It might also encourage South Sudan’s cooperation and dialogue with the Panel of Experts. Another option is to consider incorporating benchmarks into a resolution outlining conditions that would need to be met for targeted sanctions and the arms embargo to be lifted.

Another key issue for the Council is the implementation of the arms embargo and targeted sanctions. The findings and recommendations of the panel’s final report are likely to inform the Council’s further consideration regarding implementation of the sanctions regime.

Council and Wider Dynamics

Sanctions on South Sudan remain a divisive issue in the Council. When the Council last renewed the sanctions regime in May 2020 through resolution 2521, China, Russia and South Africa abstained. (For more details, see our What’s in Blue story of 28 May 2020.) Several members of the Council (France, the US, the UK and others) believe that sanctions are a useful tool to foster stability in South Sudan and to maintain pressure on the parties to implement the R-ARCSS. They generally hold the view that the arms embargo has reduced the flow of weapons to South Sudan, directly contributing to the reduction of violence, and have expressed concern that the absence of an arms embargo would negatively impact the security situation.

Other Council members have a less favourable view of the sanctions regime. These members tend to underscore the need for the Council to encourage progress in the political and security spheres and believe that current measures could be counterproductive in this regard. China and Russia have had long-standing concerns about the South Sudan sanctions regime; they both abstained in July 2018 on resolution 2428, which initially imposed the arms embargo on South Sudan, and in May 2019 on resolution 2471, which extended the sanctions regime for one year. (For background on developments leading to the imposition of the UN arms embargo on South Sudan, please see our “In Hindsight” in the September 2018 Monthly Forecast).

At the briefing on 3 March, Council members’ differing positions on sanctions were clearly expressed. China “called on the international community to respond to the AU’s initiative and lift sanctions against South Sudan as soon as possible”. Kenya, Niger, Tunisia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (the “A3 plus 1”) said “recent improvements in the political and security situation make it opportune for the Council to evaluate the efficacy of the sanctions imposed on South Sudan” and called for “specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound targets that could be easily assessed against the progress achieved”. Russia referred to sanctions on South Sudan as “excessive pressure” and referred to its expectation “that the Council will soon elaborate clear target indicators that will allow for a review of effective restrictions”. India noted its support for establishing “a clear benchmarking process to assess the arms embargo”. Mexico said that “any review of the arms embargo must be based on the situation on the ground and the ability to control unrestricted arms flows”. The UK called on the government to “ensure adequate training and resourcing of the necessary unified forces”, which “does not require any easing of the arms embargo” and emphasised that that government can submit exemption requests for consideration by the sanctions committee. Viet Nam said that “sanctions measures should be subjected to review in accordance with developments on the ground and removed when the conditions are met”.

The South Sudanese government holds the view that the sanctions regime is counterproductive and impedes its ability to defend itself and establish the necessary unified forces required under the R-ARCSS, as expressed in the 31 October 2020 report of the Secretary-General. The AU Peace and Security Council and IGAD have repeatedly called for the lifting of all punitive measures on South Sudan, including multilateral sanctions, and several regional states have expressed opposition to the arms embargo. The 31 October 2020 report said that the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring and Verification Mechanism holds the view “that the arms embargo has had an effect on the overall decrease in violence by reducing the free flow of weapons and ammunition” and most of the civil society representatives consulted expressed the view that “the arms embargo had prevented the supply of heavy weaponry, although the embargo had not had an effect on the flow of small arms, which had continued unimpeded”.

The US is the penholder on South Sudan. Ambassador Dang Dinh Quy (Viet Nam) chairs the 2206 South Sudan Sanctions Committee.


Security Council Resolutions
12 March 2020S/RES/2514 This resolution renewed the mandate of UNMISS until 15 March 2021.
29 May 2020S/RES/2521 This resolution renewed the South Sudan sanctions regime (targeted sanctions and arms embargo) until 31 May 2021 and the mandate of the Panel of Experts until 1 July 2021.
Secretary-General’s Reports
31 March 2021S/2021/321 This was on benchmarks to assess the arms embargo.
23 February 2021S/2021/172 This was the 90-day report on South Sudan.
31 October 2020S/2020/1067 This was the report requested in resolution 2521, assessing the role of the arms embargo.
Security Council Meeting Records
5 March 2021S/2021/219 This was a compilation of the briefings and statements from Council members’ 3 March 2021 videoconference on South Sudan.
15 December 2020S/2020/1237 This was a compilation of the briefings and statements from Council members’ 15 December 2020 VTC on South Sudan.
Security Council Letter
16 December 2020S/2020/1277 This was a letter that requested the Secretary-General to provide recommendations for benchmarks to assess the arms embargo measures.
Sanctions Committee Document
14 April 2021S/2021/365 This was the final report of the Panel of Experts.