South Sudan Sanctions: Council to Adopt Technical Rollover Resolution
Tomorrow (2 March) the Security Council is scheduled to adopt a short resolution renewing the South Sudan sanctions regime for an additional six weeks until 15 April and the mandate of the Panel of Experts for ten weeks until 15 May. The draft passed through silence yesterday afternoon (29 February) and is now in blue.
The decision to pursue a technical rollover, now proposed by the US, the penholder on South Sudan, was not the initial plan. It was made only after there was an initial read through and one round of substantive negotiations on a much longer draft. A technical rollover will give the Council, which is divided on its approach to South Sudan, more time to consider an appropriate course of action and perhaps coalesce around a unified position, at a moment when implementation of the August 2015 peace agreement appears to be at a critical juncture. The preliminary draft resolution was circulated to members last Monday (22 February). It was 12 pages long, and used as its basis resolution 2206, which established the South Sudan sanctions regime (i.e. assets freezes and travel bans) and set up a Panel of Experts. As is typical in mandate renewals, the draft incorporated new language taking into account recent developments, including on the reporting of the panel of experts, the AU Commission of Inquiry and the human rights division of UNMISS, among other updates.
The one major change from last year’s resolution focused on the flow of arms into South Sudan. The initial draft would have requested the Panel of Experts to provide a report to the Council within 90 days on “the role of transfers of arms and related material in extending and exacerbating the conflict, undermining implementation of the cease fire, and increasing threats to UNMISS and other UN and international personnel.” It further would have expressed the Council’s intent, based on the report’s findings, to “review the appropriateness of additional measures” to regulate the transfer of arms to South Sudan and to improve the environment for implementing the peace agreement.
During the initial read through of the draft last Monday (22 February) and during the negotiations last Wednesday (24 February), different views were expressed on this paragraph and on the idea of an arms embargo more broadly. Some members appeared uncomfortable with the new paragraph. Russia, which in the past has publicly expressed opposition to an arms embargo, wanted to eliminate the paragraph entirely. One elected member reportedly wanted the report requested of the Panel to focus more narrowly on air assets (i.e., attack helicopters), rather than arms and related materials more generally. However, several members apparently expressed their support for an arms embargo, including Angola, Senegal, the UK and others. Following the 24 February negotiations, the UK offered an amended version of the draft that would have established an arms embargo for an initial period of one year, while maintaining the paragraph requesting the Panel of Experts to issue a report within 90 days on the impact of arms transfers in South Sudan.
While discussions on a prospective arms embargo appear to have been a point of contention, different views were expressed on other issues as well. China, Russia and two elected members apparently objected to preambular paragraphs referring to ceasefire violations, condemning the parties for delays in implementing the peace agreement, and noting human rights violations. It seems that these members believed that this language was too negative at a time when the parties should be encouraged to implement the agreement. Furthermore, some members were critical of language incorporated into the draft stating that the Non-Governmental Organizations Bill and the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission Bill, recently adopted by South Sudan’s national legislature, could disrupt the operations of national and international non-governmental organisations. One elected member apparently maintained that a resolution on sanctions did not seem the appropriate place to discuss this legislation, while Russia reportedly argued that the Council would be meddling in the sovereign affairs of South Sudan by referring to this legislation.
When the members reconvened on Friday (25 February) for negotiations, the US changed course, proposing that the Council pursue a short technical rollover. As a result, the proposed draft, which the Council will most likely adopt tomorrow, consists of only three operative paragraphs. It is possible that one calculation for the technical rollover is a desire to wait and see what unfolds in the peace process in the coming days before the Council makes any major decisions, given that this is a key moment in the peace agreement’s implementation. While implementation has been slow, opposition leader Riek Machar is expected to return to Juba this month, which could in turn finally pave the way for the long-awaited and frequently delayed launch of the transitional government of national unity. The brief technical rollover will give members more time to consider what sanctions measures to pursue, including a possible arms embargo, in light of developments in the peace process in the near term.
Regarding Council dynamics on the arms embargo, it appears that at least six members strongly favour an arms embargo, while some others would be inclined to support it. Media reports have long indicated the ambivalence of the US towards an arms embargo, although it did incorporate language in resolution 2206 threatening an arms embargo, if appropriate, to respond to the situation in South Sudan. While publicly expressing opposition to the embargo, Russia would probably be uncomfortable blocking one, if this measure were supported by the three African members; this would be similar to what happened on resolution 2206, which imposed targeted sanctions in South Sudan and, in spite of the reservations of Russia and Venezuela, received affirmative votes from all 15 members.
At present, the UN Mission in South Sudan is conducting a preliminary investigation into the 17-18 February violence in the Malakal protection of civilian’s site, which led to the deaths of at least 18 people and injuries to 50 others, and included clashes between Dinka and Shilluk communities. Members are particularly alarmed by this incident, especially given reports that the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (i.e., government forces) played a role in the fighting. A press statement condemning this violence was issued by Council members following the 19 February consultations on South Sudan.