Security Council Vote on South Sudan Sanctions*
Tomorrow (29 May) Security Council president Estonia is expected to announce the voting results on a resolution renewing sanctions on South Sudan until 31 May 2021—including targeted sanctions (assets freezes and travel bans) and an arms embargo—and the mandate of the Panel of Experts of the 2206 South Sudan Sanctions Committee until 1 July 2021. Under an agreement reached on 27 March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Council members are submitting their votes to the Security Council Affairs Division through written adoption procedures.
The draft was initially put under silence on Friday (22 May) until Wednesday morning (27 May), after a number of changes were made to the initial text in an effort to accommodate a range of views. Some additional amendments were made after silence was broken on Wednesday (27 May) by Russia, whose comments on the text were followed by those of the African members (Niger, Tunisia, and South Africa), St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and China. Sanctions on South Sudan remain a controversial issue in the Council, and a number of abstentions are possible during tomorrow’s vote.
Several members of the Council (France, the US, the UK and others) believe that sanctions are a useful tool to foster stability in South Sudan and to maintain pressure on the parties to implement the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan. While encouraged by recent developments in the country—such as the reduction in political violence and the formation of the transitional government—they are guarded in their optimism, especially considering that several elements of the peace agreement still need to be fulfilled.
Other members have a less favourable view of the sanctions regime. These members tend to underscore the need for the Council to encourage the progress made in the political and security spheres and believe that current measures could be counterproductive in this regard. China and Russia have had long-standing concerns about the South Sudan sanctions regime; they both abstained on resolution 2428 (July 2018), which initially imposed the arms embargo on South Sudan, and on resolution 2471 (May 2019), which extended the sanctions regime for one year. (For background on developments leading to the imposition of the UN arms embargo on South Sudan, please see our September 2018 In Hindsight).
African members of the Council have also had concerns about the continued sanctions on South Sudan. In this regard, after abstaining on resolution 2471 last year, South Africa asserted that “sanctions should be seen as a tool to encourage continued cooperation and progress towards a political process and not as a punitive measure” (S/PV.8536). The AU Peace and Security Council also recently expressed its position on this issue. In its 9 April communiqué, it urges “the concerned members of the international community, who imposed sanctions and other forms of punitive measures on South Sudan to immediately and unconditionally lift them, in order to facilitate the implementation of the Revitalized Agreement and create conducive conditions for socio-economic recovery and development in the country”.
It should be noted that to be adopted, any draft resolution on a non-procedural matter (as is the case in this instance) requires nine affirmative votes absent a veto by one of the five permanent members. Resolution 2471, mentioned above, was adopted with ten affirmative votes; in addition to the abstentions cast by China and Russia, South Africa and then Council members Côte d’Ivoire and Equatorial Guinea also cast abstentions.
It does appear, however, that the US, the penholder on South Sudan sanctions, made significant efforts this year to generate a text that is as widely acceptable as possible while still maintaining the main elements of the sanctions regime.
A paragraph on reporting and benchmarking was added, before the text went under silence, that was designed to allay concerns about the utility of the arms embargo. The paragraph requests the Secretariat to provide the Council with a report by 31 October assessing the role of the arms embargo in facilitating implementation of the South Sudan peace agreement. It further calls on this report to outline options for benchmarks that assess the embargo in consultation with South Sudan’s transitional government. Finally, in light of progress made in implementing the peace agreement, it expresses the Council’s intention to review these options by 15 December.
After silence was broken, further amendments were made and incorporated into the final text deciding that the Council will also review the targeted sanctions and the arms embargo by 15 December. As part of this review, the Council expresses its readiness to adjust these measures in response to the situation by “modifying, suspending, lifting or strengthening” them.
The draft was also revised during the negotiations to accommodate the views of members who maintained that the text should provide a more positive picture of political and security developments in South Sudan. Before the text was put under silence on 22 May and at the request of an elected member, language was added by the penholder noting the reduction of political violence in South Sudan, indicating that the permanent ceasefire had held in most parts of the country, and recognising efforts by the government to address COVID-19.
Some members maintained that the text put under silence still gave an overly negative depiction of the situation in South Sudan. For example, some found language reiterating “grave alarm and concern” about the “crisis” in South Sudan since December 2013, when the civil war began, to be objectionable. As a compromise, this paragraph was revised, cast in a less severe manner, and moved down in the text; in final form, the paragraph reiterates the Council’s concern with the situation in South Sudan and emphasises that there can be no military solution to the conflict.
There was also discussion of how to word the language on humanitarian assistance. The early drafts of the resolution call for humanitarian assistance to be provided in accordance with “humanitarian principles”, an apparent reference to the ICRC principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence. As it has done in recent months on the Council’s engagement on cross-border humanitarian assistance to Syria and on the issue of hunger and conflict, Russia advocated for a reference to the UN’s guiding principles of humanitarian assistance; these guiding principles, delineated in General Assembly resolution 46/182 of 1991, uphold humanity, impartiality, and neutrality in the delivery of humanitarian aid, while also stating that such assistance should be provided with the affected country’s consent in a way that respects its sovereignty.
Ultimately, the formulation that was used in the text in blue urges South Sudan’s leaders to allow full, safe and unhindered humanitarian access “in line with the United Nations guiding principles of humanitarian assistance, including humanity, impartiality, neutrality, and independence”. This formulation had been used in resolution 2514 of 12 March renewing the mandate of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
*Post-script: On 29 May 2020, the Security Council adopted resolution 2521, renewing the South Sudan sanctions regime (targeted sanctions and arms embargo) until 31 May 2021 and the mandate of the Panel of Experts until 1 July 2021. The resolution also decides that the Council will review the targeted sanctions and the arms embargo by 15 December 2020, and as part of this review, the Council expresses its readiness to adjust these measures in response to the situation by “modifying, suspending, lifting or strengthening” them. Twelve members voted in favour of the resolution, while three (China, Russia, and South Africa) abstained.