UN Security Council fails to agree on an arms embargo for South Sudan

The Security Council voted against imposing an arms embargo on South Sudan or designating targeted sanctions against three key Government and opposition figures on Friday last week (December 23). The resolution was defeated by a vote of 7 in favor, with none against, but with 8 abstentions it failed to get sufficient support. The draft resolution called for a ban on arms sales to South Sudan and for the designation of three people to be subject to an asset freeze and travel ban. The three were: General Paul Malong, Chief of Staff of the Government's Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA); Michael Makuei Lueth, the Government Minister for Information; and the former First Vice-President Riek Machar, leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-In Opposition (SPLM-IO).

The representatives of France, New Zealand, Spain, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States and Uruguay supported the draft resolution. China, Russian Federation, Angola, Egypt, Japan, Malaysia, Senegal and Venezuela all abstained.

Ambassador Samantha Power of the United States said the resolution was meant to reduce the rampant violence in South Sudan.  She said its sponsors had demonstrated great flexibility during the discussions and that the international community was now "treading water" in the face of unfolding tragedy. She said the Government and opposition had been intransigent in their failure to cooperate with UNMISS and in their incitement of violence through the media. She recalled the many warnings, including from the Secretary-General, of a worsening situation, and said this was underlined by the fact that 3,000 people were fleeing South Sudan every day. The measures proposed in the draft resolution would not have resolved the situation they would have meant Member states had to stop selling the arms fuelling the violence. History, she said, would be a harsh judge of those who had not voted in favor of the draft.  She wondered what should now be done to halt some of the horrific violence, including systematic sexual violence.

France also expressed regret over the draft resolution's failure and noted the warnings of a worsening of the situation in South Sudan.  An arms embargo could have reduced the risks and promoted an environment conducive to political dialogue, the only path to peace in the country.  Then United Kingdom also underlined that atrocities continued, despite repeated promises, and the fragile peace agreement had soured.  It warned that if genocide occurred, everyone would have to examine their conscience. The Council, the UK said, had done nothing to prevent the commission of unspeakable acts, and UNMISS continued to face restrictions as the humanitarian situation continued to deteriorate.  Words were not good enough, he said, stressing the need for concrete actions.  Ukraine emphasized that the proposed arms embargo and additional targeted sanctions would have reduced the ability of the parties to continue fuelling the conflict, help to silence the military equipment and stop the expenditure of desperately needed financial resources on new weaponry

China said it was committed to restoring peace and stability in South Sudan as soon as possible. The announcement of an inclusive national dialogue and allowing deployment of the Regional Protection Force were positive steps.  The international community should support implementation of the Peace Agreement as well as the efforts of IGAD.  It said the Government had demonstrated the political will to implement Council resolutions and Council actions should be conducive to political solutions.  

The Russian Federation said it abstained because of concerns over the draft resolution's content.  It described sanctions as a short-sighted policy.  It was also concerned by the decision of the sponsors of the resolution to ignore the IGAD communiqué stating that sanctions should not be imposed, as well as the reservations of troop-contributing countries. It said practical steps had been taken to establish an inclusive national dialogue and it doubted imposing sanctions on South Sudan's leaders would build a more inclusive society. Rather, it warned, it would exacerbate the animosity between ethnic groups.

Japan noted that some progress had been made, including the decision by the Transitional Government's Council of Ministers consent for the immediate deployment of the Regional Protection Force and President Kiir's speech to Parliament on an inclusive national dialogue.  However, it said, the Government must swiftly translate those commitments into concrete actions, and stressed that introducing additional sanctions at a time when the Government was making positive moves would be counter-productive.  It said the Council must continue to engage with the Government in order to urge further steps forward, adding that all parties and actors could play a significant role, individually or collectively.

Egypt expressed regret over the absence of consensus on the draft.  It noted that IGAD and other regional actors were not in favor of sanctions, and pointed out that such measures had not been effective in other situations. It was important to address the causes of the South Sudan conflict. It called on all parties in the country to fulfill their responsibilities and end the peoples' suffering. Venezuela said it had abstained because South Sudan needed urgent action to resolve the crisis and commence socioeconomic development.  Sanctions, it said, should be linked to a clearly defined political strategy, including dialogue on the implementation of agreements reached.  It was counter-productive to impose sanctions while working with the parties to implement agreements.

Angola also argued that the Government had recently demonstrated its commitment to implement the communiqué between the Government and the Security Council on deployment of the Regional Protection Force, and launch a national inclusive dialogue. The Council should continue to encourage the Government to continue moving on that path.  Sanctions should not be the priority of United Nations engagement, which should instead be more focused on dialogue, in line with the IGAD communiqué.  That document stressed that sanctions would not provide a solution, and the African Union had taken the same position; that should also be the Council's position.

South Sudan's representative noted he had addressed the Council several times on the positive actions that the Government had taken to address the challenges facing the country, and in implementation of Council resolutions.  He said the tabling of the draft resolution was indeed "unfortunate", in the light of the formation of the National Dialogue Steering Committee a few days earlier. He had hoped the Council would engage constructively with the Government. He said an arms embargo would only weaken the Government and strengthen the numerous militia and armed groups.  Noting that the civil war had left weapons in the hands of civilians and porous borders made it difficult to control illegal arms flows, he reiterated South Sudan's commitment to implementation of the Peace Agreement and to work with all stakeholders in restoring peace and stability to the country.