What's In Blue

Posted Mon 30 May 2016

Security Council to Renew South Sudan Sanctions Regime

Tomorrow (31 May), the Security Council is expected to adopt a resolution renewing the South Sudan sanctions regime (i.e. assets freezes and travel bans on designated individuals) for an additional year and the Panel of Experts for 13 months. After one silence period that was broken by Russia, agreement was reached on the draft on Friday (27 May) and it is now in blue.

This draft resolution follows two technical rollovers (resolution 2280 of 7 April and resolution 2271 of 2 March) that briefly extended the sanctions regime. Prior to the return of opposition leader Riek Machar to Juba and the formation of the transitional government of national unity in late April, some members believed that the Council required more time to consider an appropriate approach to sanctions, including a potential arms embargo, while the political situation was in considerable flux and the threat of additional sanctions could affect the calculations of the key decision-makers. Some members were also of the view that the additional time might allow the Council to formulate a more unified strategy, given the divergent views on sanctions. Hence, brief technical rollover resolutions were adopted.

The decision to pursue an extension of the sanctions regime for a full year appears to reflect the view that an important milestone was achieved with the formation of the transitional government, although there is general recognition that enormous difficulties still lie ahead in the implementation of the peace agreement.

Based on the negotiations of the current text, it is clear that the Council remains divided on the issue of sanctions. The resolution expected to be adopted on Tuesday does not make fundamental changes to the current sanctions regime. However, it does request the Panel of Experts to provide a special report to the Council within 120 days on some key issues. First, the report is expected to analyse security threats facing the transitional government, and the government’s needs in maintaining law and order. Second, it is expected to analyse how the transfer of arms and related materiel to South Sudan since the formation of the transitional government has affected the implementation of the peace agreement and threats to UNMISS and other UN and international humanitarian personnel.

The US, the penholder on South Sudan, circulated the first draft on 18 May, and the first and only round of negotiations among all 15 members was held the following day. Subsequent negotiations were conducted bilaterally. The initial draft was based on the text the Council was negotiating in late February, before it opted to pursue a short technical rollover.

There were a number of areas of disagreement during the negotiations. One controversial issue was the request for a special report from the Panel of Experts. The initial draft proposed that the report focus strictly on the transfers to South Sudan of arms and related materiel, to enable the Council to evaluate the “appropriateness of additional measures”. Russia, China and Egypt appeared to be uncomfortable with referring to possible “additional measures”, apparently believing that this would prejudice the outcome of the Council’s deliberations in favor of a possible arms embargo. As a compromise, the US attempted to temper the language in this paragraph; for example, it changed “appropriateness of additional measures” to “appropriate steps.” However, this formulation was still not acceptable to Russia, one reason why it broke silence. As a compromise, the penholder agreed to delete from the text in blue any reference to follow up (i.e.”additional measures” or “appropriate steps”) that the Council might take based on the findings of the report.

The request in the draft in blue that the Panel of Experts report study the security threats facing South Sudan and its needs in maintaining law and order—in addition to arms transfers—was not in the original version. This request was based on an Egyptian amendment which was accepted and incorporated into the final text.

Another controversial issue was how to refer to the South Sudan Non-Governmental Organizations Bill, which has been criticised by non-governmental organisations that believe it discriminates against them and inhibits their ability to provide humanitarian assistance to South Sudanese. The original draft expressed deep concern with this bill, indicating that it could disrupt the operations of international and national non-governmental organisations. Some members did not like this formulation and preferred not to refer to the bill; among them, Russia reportedly argued that the legislative process in South Sudan was an internal matter outside of the purview of the Council. In the text in blue, members ultimately decided to reference the Non-Governmental Organizations Bill by drawing from the August 2015 peace agreement, As a result, the final text says that the transitional government of national unity will review the Non-Governmental Organizations Bill and submit it to public consultation to ensure that it is consistent with international best practice.

There are references in the text in blue to the March 2016 report of the Human Rights Assessment Mission of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the joint UNMISS/OHCHR December 2015 report on the human rights situation in South Sudan. Russia, supported by China, wanted to delete references to the OHCHR reports, arguing that these reports had not been requested by the Council. However, several delegations supported keeping these references in the draft resolution. In defending its decision to retain language on the OHCHR reports, the US maintained that they were already referred to in the Council’s 17 March presidential statement (S/PRST/2016/1) on South Sudan and that the Council had been briefed on the report as well, probably a reference to the 31 March briefing by Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmour.

An early version of the text expressed grave concern with corruption and the diversion of public resources in South Sudan, saying that they posed a risk to statebuilding and could be destabilising to the country. It seems that Russia and China were not convinced by the linkage between corruption and instability in South Sudan, and wanted the reference to corruption and the diversion of public resources deleted. As a compromise, the penholder incorporated language in the draft in blue noting the August 2015 South Sudan peace agreement’s call on the political leaders in South Sudan to establish effective leadership and to commit to fighting corruption.

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