What's In Blue

South Sudan: Human Rights Meeting and Sanctions Committee Designations

Tomorrow afternoon (7 July) Council members will be briefed on the human rights situation in South Sudan under “any other business” following consultations on the UN Office for West Africa. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous and a high-level UNICEF representative are expected to brief. Council members were expecting the US to call for this meeting after Ambassador David Pressman, the US Alternative Representative for Special Political Affairs, said during the Council’s 30 June Wrap-up session that recent reports of brutality against civilians in South Sudan “merit urgent consideration by the Council.”

In his intervention, Pressman referred in particular to a 17 June UNICEF press statement and a 29 June report by the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Human Rights Division, detailing the horrific crimes being committed. Among other human rights violations, the press statement described reports in May of boys having “been castrated and left to bleed to death,” children bound together before having their throats slit, and “others [being]…thrown into burning buildings.” The UNMISS report, which covers events from April to early June 2015, emphasises that the “recent upsurge [in fighting]… has not only been marked by allegations of rampant killing, rape, abduction, looting, arson and displacement, but by a new brutality and intensity” including civilians being burned alive in their homes, gang rapes and the abduction of boys for possible participation in the fighting.

Ladsous and the UNICEF representative are expected to cover these and other human rights violations in South Sudan. Ladsous may also discuss efforts by UNMISS to strengthen security at its protection of civilians site near Malakal, where one civilian died and six others were wounded on 1 July after the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition forces, or an affiliated militia, fired on them.

Council members are appalled by the violence being committed in South Sudan. As the human rights and security situation in the country continues to deteriorate, members are increasingly concerned over the lack of progress on the political front. (While Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan Haile Menkerios is scheduled to brief members on Wednesday on Sudan/South Sudan relations, he will likely spend a good part of his briefing on the status of the South Sudan peace process. Some members have noted that detailed information about recent developments has been lacking.)

The Council has been grappling for ways to exert leverage on the warring parties to end the conflict and reach a political settlement. With this goal in mind, the 2206 South Sudan Sanctions Committee imposed sanctions (travel bans and assets freezes) on six military figures on 1 July, including three affiliated with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) (i.e., government forces) and three affiliated with the SPLA in Opposition. The designations were proposed by the US, and jointly sponsored by France and the UK on 24 June. (According to the committee guidelines, designations come into force if none of the committee members object to them over a five-day period.) These are the first designations made by the Security Council under the new sanctions regime established in resolution 2206 of 3 March.

The designated individuals are Gabriel Jok Riak (SPLA Lieutenant General); Simon Gatwech Dual (SPLA in Opposition Major General); James Kuong Chuol (SPLA in Opposition Major General); Santino Deng Wol (SPLA Major General); Marial Chanuong Yol Mangok (SPLA Major General and commander of President Salva Kiir’s special guard); and Peter Gadet (SPLA in Opposition Major General). (A narrative explanation for designating these figures can be found on the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee website.) All of them have been designated under the criterion in operative paragraph 7 (a) of resolution 2206: “Actions and policies that have the purpose or effect of expanding or extending the conflict in South Sudan or obstructing reconciliation or peace talks or processes, including breaches of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement.” All but one (Riak) have also been designated for targeting civilians, as outlined in paragraph 7 (d) of the resolution. Other reasons for designation, in addition to those described in paragraphs 7 (a) and (d), have been applied to each of the six.

While these are the first designations made by the UN under the new sanctions regime, several of these figures had already been designated by the US government and the EU. On 2 July, the US added Simon Gatwech Dual and Gabriel Jok Riak to its list of individuals targeted by sanctions, making the US and UN designations consistent with one another. On 7 May the EU updated its South Sudan sanctions region so that its designation criteria would be in line with the resolution 2206.

There have been differing views in the Council concerning targeted sanctions with regard to South Sudan. The P3 believe that these sanctions may exert pressure on key decision-makers to pursue peace, and discourage actors on the ground from committing human rights violations in the future while making it clear that there will be accountability for such actions. Chile, Lithuania, New Zealand and Spain appear to have positions similar to the P3.

In a 1 July press statement, US Ambassador Samantha Power explained that the designations are a response to the 22 May AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) press statement and 13 June PSC communiqué, which both use the same language in calling for “urgent steps by the Sanctions Committee, established pursuant to resolution 2206 (2015), to designate individuals and entities subject to the measures provide for therein.” It is likely that the AU position helped encourage the African UN Security Council members to support the designations. Among the African members, Angola appears to have been in an awkward position; while it agreed to the designations in line with the AU position, it is also a member of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, which adopted a communiqué on 18 May at its summit in Luanda which argued that UN sanctions would be “counter-productive and only serve to exacerbate the situation.”

While the designations reflect a desire to take constructive action amidst a deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in South Sudan, some members emphasise that the sanctions must be accompanied by a broader political strategy in order to be effective. In addition, some members have noted that the willingness of the countries neighbouring South Sudan—i.e., Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) members—to implement the sanctions would be a critical factor in determining their effectiveness; there have been concerns within IGAD, which includes several states with strong economic ties with South Sudan, about the possibility of targeted sanctions.

Russia has expressed considerable skepticism about the effectiveness of sanctions in South Sudan. During the explanation of vote on resolution 2206, Ambassador Peter Illichev, the Deputy Permanent Representative of Russia, argued: “the practical implementation of the measures planned for by the sanctions regime would be counterproductive, at least so long as there is still hope to resolve the conflict through negotiations” (S/PV.7396). It appears that Russia decided not to block the designations, in large part because of the PSC’s support of sanctions, as well as the apparent desire of the African members of the UN Security Council to support the PSC’s position.

South Sudan experts also have divergent views on these sanctions listings. Some believe that this step will send a strong signal to South Sudan’s political actors that impunity will not be tolerated as well as give the UN leverage in convincing the parties to pursue peace. Others worry that those who have been targeted are not important decision-makers, and that the measures may have the undesired effect of causing those in positions of power to become more intransigent and less willing to make peace.

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