South Sudan Sanctions: Vote on Draft Resolution*
Tomorrow (26 May), the Security Council is expected to vote on a draft resolution renewing sanctions on South Sudan until 31 May 2023—including targeted sanctions (assets freezes and travel bans) and an arms embargo—and renewing the mandate of the Panel of Experts of the 2206 South Sudan Sanctions Committee until 1 July 2023.
The US, the penholder on South Sudan, circulated an initial draft text to the Council on 14 May and convened two rounds of formal negotiation on 19 and 23 May. The penholder placed an amended draft under silence on 23 May. Silence was broken by China and Russia, followed by the A3 members (Gabon, Ghana and Kenya). A draft text reflecting additional amendments was put in blue yesterday (24 May). The negotiations were difficult, and it seems possible that one or more members might abstain.
Sanctions on South Sudan remain a controversial issue in the Council. Several Council members (including France, the UK and the US) 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. These members 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 by curtailing the flow of weapons to South Sudan, and have expressed concern that the absence of an arms embargo would negatively affect the security situation.
China and Russia have long opposed the South Sudan sanctions regime. African members of the Council have also expressed concerns about the continued sanctions on South Sudan. These members maintain that the 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), of which Kenya is a member, 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 through resolution 2577 of 28 May. Kenya and India abstained. The resolution contains five benchmarks for the review of the arms embargo, namely completion of the Strategic Defense and Security Review process contained in the R-ARCSS; formation of the Necessary Unified Forces; progress in establishing and implementing the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration process; progress in the proper management of existing arms and ammunition stockpiles; and implementation of the Joint Action Plan for the Armed Forces on addressing conflict-related sexual violence. The scope and specificity of the benchmarks proved to be the most difficult aspect of last year’s negotiations. In its explanation of vote, China noted that it did not support the arms embargo on South Sudan. India expressed the view that resolution 2577 does not take into consideration the “positive developments in South Sudan” and that “some of these benchmarks are administrative in nature”. Kenya said that it “strongly believes that more flexibility could have been extended to make the eventual lifting of the sanctions realistic and certain”. (For more information, see our 28 May 2021 What’s in Blue story.)
Since the adoption of resolution 2577, overall implementation of the R-ARCSS remains slow, selective and significantly behind schedule. The government has said that elections will take place next year, but it has yet to set an electoral timetable. Sub-national and intercommunal conflict continues. In a 10 May statement, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said that despite an overall decrease in violence against civilians in South Sudan, cases of conflict-related sexual violence more than doubled compared to the same period last year, according to a report prepared by the mission’s Human Rights Division covering January to March.
On 28 April, the Panel of Experts assisting the 2206 South Sudan Sanctions Committee submitted its final report to the Council (S/2022/359). It said that “almost every component of the [R-ARCSS] is now hostage to the political calculations of the country’s military and security elites, who use a combination of violence, misappropriated public resources and patronage to pursue their own narrow interests”. It added that “much of the [R-ARCSS] remains gridlocked by political disputes between its principal signatories”. The panel found that “leaders have…tried to channel public resources into costly military procurement, including the import of armoured personnel carriers, in violation of the arms embargo”.
On 3 May, the Secretary-General transmitted to the Council an assessment report on the implementation of the benchmarks outlined in resolution 2577 (S/2022/370), in line with the Council’s request in that resolution. It found that the government had made limited progress in the implementation of the five benchmarks and that “further efforts are needed”. The Secretary-General encouraged the South Sudan authorities to “remain committed to the implementation of the five benchmarks, in particular by committing budgetary resources, in coordination with the donor community”.
The draft resolution in blue renews the South Sudan sanctions regime—including targeted sanctions (assets freezes and travel bans) and an arms embargo—and reiterates the Council’s readiness to review the arms embargo, through, inter alia, modification, suspension, or progressive lifting of these measures, in light of progress achieved on the benchmarks outlined in resolution 2577. It also encourages the South Sudan authorities to achieve further progress in this regard and requests the Secretary-General to submit an assessment report on progress achieved on the benchmarks by 15 April 2023.
Negotiations this year were once again very difficult. It seems that members such as the A3, China, India and Russia were of the view that the resolution should contain language on the progressive easing or lifting of sanctions. These members apparently expressed strong opposition to a renewal of the regime without this language. The A3 apparently maintained that, among other things, South Sudan lacks the necessary resources and ability to fulfil the benchmarks. China apparently held the position that while progress on the benchmarks was limited, they were difficult to implement and that an easing of the arms embargo would assist and encourage South Sudan to further their implementation.
The penholder, along with members such as Albania, Brazil, France, Ireland, Mexico, Norway, and the UK, were in favour of renewing the sanctions regime and shared the view that there had not been adequate progress on the benchmarks to warrant consideration of the easing or lifting of sanctions at this time. These members also maintained that the benchmarks remain relevant and necessary.
The A3 and China apparently separately proposed language on expanding exemptions to the arms embargo. Following the breaking of silence, the penholder added a new paragraph that decides that the arms embargo will not apply to the supply, sale or transfer of non-lethal military equipment solely in support of the implementation of the terms of the peace agreement, as notified in advance to the 2206 South Sudan Sanctions Committee. This was added by the penholder to address concerns expressed by the A3. At the time of writing, it seemed that proposals put forward by China on expanded exemptions had not been accepted by the penholder. The A3 and China also proposed language on the suspension of the targeted sanctions measures, which was not accepted by the penholder.
Some additions and amendments were made to preambular paragraphs, including welcoming the 3 April agreement to a unified command structure for the Necessary Unified Forces and strongly condemning all fighting, including violence and casualties in Leer county. As proposed by Norway, the draft in blue contains new preambular language expressing alarm and deep concern over continued armed violence against humanitarian workers and facilities, as well as on providing technical assistance and capacity-building in support of implementation of the R-ARCSS. The penholder added language encouraging member states to provide support to the government on ammunition storage and armoury control, with a view to building South Sudan’s capacity in light of the applicable benchmarks.
Brazil proposed preambular paragraphs, based on resolution 2625 which most recently renewed UNMISS’ mandate, on the increased violence between armed groups in some parts of South Sudan, which is contained in the draft in blue. Proposed language by Brazil, also based on resolution 2625, on elections and the constitution-drafting process was deleted, apparently following an opposition raised by the A3, and reservations subsequently expressed by the United Arab Emirates. The penholder added reference to the alarming surge in conflict-related sexual violence, which is a basis for designation, as proposed by Mexico. The draft in blue also contains language that stresses that the measures imposed by the resolution are not intended to have adverse humanitarian consequences for the civilian population, which was proposed by France.
*Post-script: On 26 May, the Security Council adopted resolution 2633 renewing the South Sudan sanctions regime until 1 July 2023 by a vote of 10 in favour and five abstentions (China, Gabon, India, Kenya, and Russia).