What's In Blue

Vote on South Sudan Arms Embargo and Targeted Sanctions

Tomorrow (23 December), the Security Council expects to vote on a draft resolution to 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.

The text is identical to the draft that the US, the penholder on South Sudan, had proposed in November. That draft was never tabled for a vote, after it appeared that the resolution lacked sufficient support to be adopted. At the time the US was ready to table the draft without negotiations. The rationale for this approach was that the draft resolution was taken from the annex of an existing resolution: resolution 2304, which was adopted by the Council on 12 August, albeit with abstentions by China, Egypt, Russia and Venezuela. The US has followed a similar approach this time; it requested that the draft be placed into blue on Tuesday evening (20 December) and requested that the vote be scheduled for tomorrow.

In November, media reports suggested that such a resolution would most likely receive only seven votes. It does not seem as if Council dynamics on the arms embargo and targeted sanctions have changed since November, and it is unclear whether they could shift before the vote. Even if the draft resolution were to receive the nine votes required for adoption tomorrow, it would still be subject to a possible veto. Veto-wielding members China and Russia have long expressed reservations regarding South Sudan sanctions, and it is unclear how they will vote.

While there have been no negotiations on the current draft, the US has reportedly been engaging bilaterally with some members. On Monday (19 December), US Ambassador Samantha Power made a strong plea in the open chamber for the Council to impose an arms embargo and further targeted sanctions, following alarming briefings by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien on the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in South Sudan. Underscoring the rising threat of mass atrocities, Power said that the US would table a draft resolution to impose an arms embargo and additional targeted sanctions before the end of 2016, and that members of the Council would need “each of us, to own our decisions.”

Other P3 states, France and the UK, and a number of elected members favour an arms embargo and additional targeted sanctions. A common view expressed by states supporting these measures is that the government’s deeds have not matched its words, that the situation is deteriorating and that the violence is spiralling out of control. They believe that stemming the flow of weapons into South Sudan and targeting key figures involved in the conflict can contribute to reducing the violence in the country.

However, China and Russia are joined by several elected members in either opposing coercive measures or having their concerns about them. Angola, Egypt and Venezuela do not support such measures, and Japan, Malaysia and Senegal reportedly have reservations. Some of these states have pointed to the government’s statement committing to the deployment of the Regional Protection Force without conditions and the announcement of a national dialogue as signs that the government is acting in good faith. They maintain that an arms embargo and targeted sanctions would be counterproductive to efforts to find a political solution to the conflict. The communiqué that the Inter-governmental Authority on Development issued on South Sudan at its summit in Addis Ababa on 9 December, has given political backing to this position. It underscored that “an arms embargo or sanctions on South Sudan will not provide the solution being sought for permanent peace and stability in the country”. In their explanations of vote on resolution 2327 renewing the UNMISS mandate last Friday (16 December), Angola, Russia and Venezuela explicitly referenced the communiqué in support of their opposition to coercive measures on South Sudan, while China welcomed the communiqué.

* The draft resolution failed to be adopted, receiving 7 affirmative votes and 8 abstentions. Abstentions were cast by Angola, China, Egypt, Japan, Malaysia, Russia, Senegal, and Venezuela.

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