What's In Blue

Vote Delayed on South Sudan Arms Embargo and Targeted Sanctions

A Security Council vote on a draft resolution that would impose an arms embargo on South Sudan and targeted sanctions (assets freezes and travel bans) on three key government and opposition figures— Paul Malong, Chief of Staff of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) (i.e. the government’s army); Michael Makuei Lueth, South Sudan’s Minister of Information; and opposition leader Riek Machar, who is currently in exile in South Africa—has been delayed. It had been anticipated that the vote would occur yesterday (29 November).

With South Sudan in the midst of a dire political, security, humanitarian, human rights and economic crisis, with rising concerns of potential genocide, Council members have noted that the deteriorating situation in the country underscores the urgent need for action.

The US had intended to table the draft without negotiations of the full Council, a break from standard practice. It appears that the rationale for this approach was that the draft resolution was taken from the annex of resolution 2304, adopted by the Council on 12 August, albeit with abstentions by China, Egypt, Russia and Venezuela. However, following bilateral contacts with some members that had reservations about the draft resolution, the US has yet to table a text. It seems that this has been prompted by concerns that there may not be the nine votes required to adopt the resolution, even if Russia, long opposed to the arms embargo, were not to cast a veto. This has raised the question for some members as to whether the draft might have had more support if the US had decided to pursue an arms embargo without targeted sanctions. It also appears that some members would have preferred for the Council to have engaged in a more formal negotiating process that would have provided them the opportunity to express their views.

There are divergent views among members on the arms embargo and targeted sanctions. While in favour of targeted sanctions, the US itself had long been reluctant about a potential arms embargo. Nonetheless, its position has shifted in favour of one in recent months, as the government of South Sudan has continued to obstruct the operation of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and, until recently, placed significant caveats on the mandate of the yet-to-be-deployed Regional Protection Force (RPF), undermining its envisioned responsibilities as outlined in resolution 2304. A number of other members are supportive of an arms embargo and additional targeted sanctions. France, New Zealand, Spain and the UK have in recent months been the strongest proponents of these measures. It appears that Uruguay and Ukraine would also support such Council action.

However, there have long been concerns about the disunity of the Council on this issue, and a number of members are clearly against exerting pressure on the government in the form of sanctions at the current time. Several members publicly expressed their opposition to additional sanctions at a 17 November Council briefing on South Sudan. Russia, which has long maintained that such measures would be counterproductive, appears to be the most forceful detractor of both an arms embargo and additional targeted sanctions. During the briefing, Russian Deputy Permanent Representative Piotr Ilichev said that expanded sanctions “could further complicate the relationship among the host country, the peacekeepers and the international community.” He added that targeted sanctions at the current juncture would be the “height of irresponsibility” and that an arms embargo “would be premature.” Furthermore, according to Ilichev, given the lack of unity among African countries regarding further sanctions in South Sudan, the effectiveness of such measures could be undermined.

At the same meeting, Chinese Deputy Permanent Representative Wu Haitao said that “the Council should be prudent in taking action on the sanctions with a view to avoiding complicating the situation.” Angola explicitly expressed opposition to the arms embargo at the meeting, and in the past, has expressed reservations about additional targeted sanctions.

Beyond permanent members China and Russia and elected member Angola, it appears that other members have had their concerns about the current draft as well. Egypt and Venezuela are reportedly among this group, and have long been wary about pursuing a coercive approach against the government. It seems that Japan, Malaysia and Senegal also have reservations. Japan’s recent deployment of peacekeepers to South Sudan with a mandate to use force (not only in self-defence) might have affected its calculations regarding the draft. The government’s decision last year to allow Japanese troops to use force to protect civilians, UN staff and themselves alongside other national militaries was a controversial one as it was a reinterpretation of the constitution that forbids the threat or use of force to settle international disputes.

On 25 November, South Sudan committed to accept the RPF without conditions. Some members see the government’s commitment as a positive step and argue that pursuing the current draft, especially in light of the government’s decision, would be a mistake. Others, however, believe that South Sudan’s motive in making this concession is to avoid an arms embargo and further targeted sanctions, and based on past behavior, question whether the government would make a good faith effort to follow through on this commitment.

At press time, it remained unclear what steps the US as penholder, and the Council more broadly, would take regarding the current draft in the near future. The mandate of UN Mission in South Sudan is expected to be renewed prior to its 15 December expiration.

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