South Sudan Sanctions: Vote on Draft Resolution*
Tomorrow morning (30 May), the Security Council is expected to vote on a draft resolution renewing sanctions on South Sudan until 31 May 2024—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 2024.
The US, the penholder on South Sudan, circulated an initial draft text to Council members on 12 May and convened two rounds of negotiations on 18 and 23 May. The penholder placed an amended draft under silence on 25 May. Although China and Russia requested an extension of the silence procedure, the A3 members (Gabon, Ghana, and Mozambique) broke silence before the deadline expired, followed by China. A further amended draft text was then put in blue on 26 May. The negotiations were contentious, and at the time of writing, it appears possible that one or more members might abstain.
Sanctions on South Sudan remain a controversial issue in the Council. Several Council members—including the P3 (France, the UK, and the US)—believe that sanctions are a useful tool to maintain pressure on the parties to implement the 2018 Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) and the roadmap extending the transitional period signed on 4 August 2022. 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 undermine progress in the political and security spheres. The African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) 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. In a 28 February communiqué, the AUPSC appealed to the international community to lift the arms embargo and other sanctions imposed on South Sudan.
The Council last renewed the South Sudan sanctions regime through resolution 2633 of 26 May 2022. Last year’s negotiations were difficult, and several members—China, Gabon, Russia, and then-Council members India and Kenya—abstained. In its explanation of vote, Gabon noted that its abstention reflected the AU’s position and described the sanctions on South Sudan as counterproductive. It called on the international community to instead direct efforts towards capacity-building, post-conflict reconstruction, and peacebuilding. China said that sanctions restrict the South Sudanese government’s ability to build up its security capacity for the protection of civilians, arguing that the Council should take measures to gradually ease the sanctions regime on South Sudan.
On 26 April, the Panel of Experts assisting the 2206 South Sudan Sanctions Committee submitted its final report to the Council. It said that the implementation of the roadmap remained behind schedule, as institutions required for the constitution-drafting process and formal preparations for elections have not been constituted and the parliament has yet to enact the national elections bill. It added that “efforts to weaken opposition groups, continued political reliance on local youth militias and delays in the formation of a unified national army have fragmented the security landscape, compounded by the free flow of weapons between civilians and the military”. Accordingly, the report concluded that “while some progress has been made towards the implementation of the peace agreement, delays continue to test the patience of those who remain hopeful that it will eventually deliver relief from insecurity and humanitarian hardship”.
On 28 April, the Secretary-General transmitted to the Council an assessment report on the implementation of the benchmarks outlined in resolution 2577 of 28 May 2021. The report found that the South Sudanese government has made some progress in the implementation of three benchmarks, namely: completion of the Strategic Defence and Security Review process, formation of a unified command structure for the necessary unified forces (NUF), and implementation of the Joint Action Plan for the Armed Forces on addressing conflict-related sexual violence. However, no progress was noted on two benchmarks which relate to establishing and implementing the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) process and proper management of existing arms and ammunition stockpiles. The Secretary-General expressed concern about the continued lack of funding and political support for the DDR process, along with the lack of progress on collection and disposal of long- and medium-range heavy weapons.
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 key benchmarks outlined in resolution 2577. It also requests the Secretary-General to submit an assessment report on progress achieved on the benchmarks by 15 April 2024.
The negotiations this year were once again very contentious. It seems that members such as the A3, China, and Russia were of the view that the Council should make efforts towards the progressive easing or lifting of sanctions on South Sudan. China apparently maintained the position that the sanction measures should be eased substantially in order to support the country in enhancing its capacity-building and better implementing the R-ARCSS.
It appears that the penholder, together with several Council members—including Brazil, France, Switzerland, and the UK—were in favour of renewing the sanctions regime. Apparently, while acknowledging the progress achieved by the South Sudanese government on some of the key benchmarks, they pointed to the lack of progress on other benchmarks, including the proper management of existing arms and ammunition stockpiles. These members also maintained that the benchmarks remain relevant and necessary.
It appears that the A3, China, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) expressed the view that the resolution should reflect the progress achieved by the South Sudanese government on some key benchmarks. Accordingly, the A3 requested the removal of the provision set out in resolution 2633 requiring the South Sudanese government to provide advance notification regarding the supply, sale, or transfer of non-lethal military equipment, solely in support of the implementation of the terms of the peace agreement. Furthermore, the A3 proposed the addition of new language deciding that the measures imposed by paragraph 4 of resolution 2428, which relate to the arms embargo, shall no longer apply to shipments of arms and related material for South Sudan, except in relation to items that would be listed in an annex to the resolution. This language was apparently based on resolution 2641 of 30 June 2022, which last renewed the 1533 Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) sanctions regime.
It seems that while China and Russia supported the language suggested by the A3, the penholder and some other Council members maintained that the example of the DRC sanctions regime might not be appropriate for the South Sudan context. For instance, the UK apparently argued that, unlike the DRC sanctions regime, the Council is guided by the agreed upon benchmarks in the process of modifying the South Sudan sanctions regime.
It appears that, as compromise, language was added in the subsequent draft deciding that the notification requirements set out in resolution 2633 shall no longer apply to the supply, sale, or transfer of non-lethal military equipment, solely in support of the implementation of terms of the peace agreement. The A3 broke silence on this issue, which led to the addition of language, which is included in the draft resolution in blue, extending the exemption from notification requirements to the technical assistance or training on non-lethal military equipment. In requesting the addition of this language, the A3 apparently maintained that South Sudan needs technical assistance and training to make progress on the agreed benchmarks.
The penholder added new language in the draft resolution in blue underscoring that “actions or policies that have the purpose of impeding the conduct or legitimacy of free and fair elections in South Sudan, including by impeding or distorting pre-election preparatory activities, are also a basis for designation” for targeted sanctions. Some Council members—including China and Russia—apparently objected to the addition of this new criteria for designation. It seems that this language was retained over these members’ objections.
Some additions and amendments were made to preambular paragraphs, including language welcoming the progress on some key benchmarks; condemning the mobilisation of armed groups and encouragement of defections, including by members of the government forces and armed opposition groups; recognising that intercommunal violence in South Sudan is politically and economically linked to national-level violence and corruption; and expressing concern that illicit trafficking and diversion of arms and related materiel of all types undermine the rule of law.
*Post-script: On 30 May, the Security Council adopted resolution 2683, renewing the South Sudan sanctions regime for another year, until 31 May 2024, by a vote of ten in favour and five abstentions (China, Gabon, Ghana, Mozambique, and Russia).