What's In Blue

Posted Fri 28 May 2021

Security Council Vote on South Sudan Sanctions*

This afternoon (28 May), Security Council president China is expected to announce the results of the written voting procedure on a draft resolution renewing sanctions on South Sudan until 31 May 2022—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 2022.

The US, the penholder on South Sudan, circulated an initial draft to the Council on 17 May. Two rounds of formal negotiations were held on 19 and 24 May. A draft was put under silence on Tuesday (25 May) until 3 pm on Wednesday (26 May) after changes were made to accommodate a range of views. Silence was broken on Wednesday (26 May) by China and Russia, whose comments on the text were followed by those of Kenya. A draft text reflecting additional amendments was put into blue on Thursday (27 May). The 24-hour period written voting started in the afternoon and is expected to be concluded by this afternoon (28 May).

Sanctions on South Sudan remain a controversial issue in the Council. Several Council members (France, the UK, the US and others) believe that sanctions are a useful tool to maintain pressure on the parties to implement the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) signed on 12 September 2018. They also generally hold the view that the arms embargo initially imposed in July 2018 with the adoption of resolution 2428 has contributed to the reduction of violence. China and Russia have long opposed the South Sudan sanctions regime. African members of the Council have also had concerns about the continued sanctions on South Sudan. These members express the view that current measures could be counterproductive by undermining progress in the political and security spheres. The AU Peace and Security Council and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) have repeatedly called for the lifting of all punitive measures on South Sudan and several regional states have expressed opposition to the arms embargo.

The Council last renewed the sanctions regime on 29 May 2020 with the adoption of resolution 2521. China, Russia and South Africa abstained. (For more details, see our What’s in Blue story of 28 May 2020.) The resolution expressed the Council’s “readiness to consider adjusting [these] measures…including through modifying, suspending, lifting or strengthening measures to respond to the situation”. It also requested the Secretariat to provide the Council with a report assessing the role of the arms embargo in facilitating the implementation of the R-ARCSS and articulating options for the elaboration of benchmarks, which the Council received on 31 October 2020 (S/2020/1067).

On 16 December 2020, following its midterm review, the Council sent a letter requesting the Secretary-General to provide recommendations by 31 March on benchmarks to assess the arms embargo. The resulting report (S/2021/321) outlined three key benchmarks (with 34 specific targets), namely in relation to political and governance issues; disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) and security sector reform (SSR); and the humanitarian and human rights situation. It concluded that “there is real need to accelerate progress in meeting the key provisions of the [R-ARCSS]” and that the benchmarks “could play an important role in facilitating the implementation of the [R-ARCSS]”.

The draft resolution in blue refers to the Council’s readiness to review the arms embargo through modification, suspension, or progressive lifting. It contains new language which notes that the review is conditioned on progress achieved on five key benchmarks. While members were supportive of the inclusion of benchmarks in principle, the scope and specificity of the benchmarks proved to be the most difficult aspect of the negotiations.

The initial draft circulated by the penholder set out ten benchmarks, which drew on the 31 March report of the Secretary-General and the provisions of the R-ARCSS, including in relation to political, security and humanitarian issues. Members generally agreed on the need for benchmarks relating to security arrangements, DDR and SSR, and arms and ammunition stockpiles. However, the language reflected in the draft in blue is more specific than what was contained in the initial draft following input from several members during negotiations. These benchmarks address the following:

  • completion of the Strategic Defense and Security Review (SDSR) process contained in the R-ARCSS;
  • formation of the Necessary Unified Forces;
  • progress on the establishment and implementation of the DDR process; and
  • progress on properly managing existing arms and ammunition stockpiles.

The draft resolution contains a fifth benchmark on the implementation of the Joint Action Plan for the Armed Forces on addressing conflict-related sexual violence. The language on this issue in the draft text in blue reflects a compromise, as some Council members opposed the language contained in the initial draft, which referred to reduction in the levels of sexual and gender-based violence, with a focus on conflict-related sexual violence largely perpetrated by security forces.

Different positions were also expressed in relation to the other benchmarks contained in the initial draft, as members such as China, Kenya and Russia apparently took the view that those were not sufficiently related to the arms embargo and should not be included. These members also argued that the benchmarks needed to be practical and achievable. As a result, several benchmarks contained in the initial draft are not in the draft in blue despite compromises by the pen during negotiations in an effort to retain them. The draft benchmarks not retained addressed the establishment of political institutions; representation of women in political institutions and processes; creation of an enabling environment for the delivery of humanitarian assistance and protection of civilians; and operationalisation of the transitional justice mechanisms agreed to in the R-ARCSS, which include the Hybrid Court of South Sudan, among others. In relation to the latter, while not listed as a key benchmark, the draft in blue calls on the government to establish the Hybrid Court for South Sudan, and set up the Commission for Truth, Reconciliation, and Healing and the Compensation and Reparation Authority. It also calls on the government to make progress on implementation of public finance management reforms contained in the R-ARCSS.

In relation to reporting on the benchmarks, the draft requests the Secretary-General to conduct an assessment of progress achieved on the key benchmarks by 15 April 2022 and requests the South Sudan authorities to report to the 2206 South Sudan Sanctions Committee on the progress achieved on the key benchmarks, also by 15 April 2022.

The draft in blue contains some new elements in its preambular part, including language affirming support for the R-ARCSS while expressing concern regarding delays in its implementation. It strongly encourages the South Sudan authorities to improve their engagement with the Panel of Experts and prevent any obstruction to the implementation of its mandate. The initial draft apparently condemned such obstruction.

After silence was broken, as a further compromise in response to comments received from several members, some changes were made to the section in the draft text addressing targeted sanctions, including the addition of language noting that the Committee can consider requests for delisting of individuals and entities. In addition, a paragraph containing language from resolution 2521 that underscored specific actions or policies for which individuals may be subject to targeted sanctions was removed from the draft text. The final report of the Panel of Experts had recommended adding a stand-alone designation criterion in relation to any actions or policies that threaten or undermine the implementation of the transitional justice mechanisms. It also recommended that the Committee impose targeted sanctions on military leaders who have obstructed the activities of international peacekeeping and diplomatic missions, and the delivery and distribution of humanitarian aid (S/2021/365). These recommendations are not reflected in the draft text in blue.

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. While abstentions are possible, it does appear, however, that the US, the penholder on South Sudan sanctions, made significant efforts to generate a text that is as widely acceptable as possible while still maintaining the main elements of the sanctions regime.


*Post-Script: On 28 May, the Council adopted resolution 2577 with Kenya and India abstaining.

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