UN extends arms embargo on South Sudan over protests from world’s newest nation and 5 abstentions

May 30, 2023, 5:11 PM

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — A divided U.N. Security Council extended an arms embargo on South Sudan Tuesday over protests from the world’s newest nation and abstentions from Russia, China and the council’s three African nations sympathetic to its demands that sanctions be lifted.

The 10-0 vote with five abstentions on the U.S.-drafted resolution was the same as the vote on the previous sanctions resolution adopted last May.

In a report to the Security Council earlier this month, U.N. experts monitoring the arms embargo and a travel ban and asset freeze on targeted individuals said South Sudan is facing violent clashes and increasing disillusionment and frustration as it struggles to implement the most challenging provisions of a fragile 2018 power-sharing agreement.

They pointed to difficulties integrating rival military forces, drafting a new constitution and preparing for the country’s first election as an independent nation in December 2024, they said.

The resolution welcomes “encouraging developments” in implementing some elements including completing the first phase of training and graduation of the unified force. But it expresses concern “over the continued intensification of violence prolonging the political, security, economic and humanitarian crisis in most parts of the country,” condemns the mobilization of armed groups, and underscores the need for parties to the agreement to avoid a relapse into widespread conflict.

There were high hopes when oil-rich South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 after a long conflict. But the country slid into a civil war in December 2013 largely based on ethnic divisions when forces loyal to the current president, Salva Kiir, battled those loyal to the current vice president, Riek Machar.

The war, which left nearly 400,000 people dead and more than 4 million displaced, ended with the 2018 peace agreement, bringing Kiir and Machar together in a government of national unity. Under the agreement, elections were supposed to be held in February 2023, but last August they were postponed until December 2024.

U.N. special envoy Nicolas Haysom said last week that “We still see 2023 as a ‘make or break’ year for this nation, if it is to fully implement the peace agreement, which is to suggest that matters cannot be deferred to 2024.”

The resolution adopted Tuesday extends sanctions until May 31, 2024 and lifts the requirement that South Sudan notify the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions about the supply, sale or transfer of non-lethal military equipment. It also reiterates the council’s readiness to modify or suspend the arms embargo in light of progress by South Sudan on fulfilling key benchmarks toward implementing the power-sharing agreement.

South Sudan’s U.N. Ambassador Akuei Bona Malwal objected to the resolution, telling the council it was put forward “in bad faith with ill intentions” and calling the sanctions “coercive” and unnecessary.

“It is counterproductive and has had an adverse humanitarian effect on the very citizens the proponents claim to support and protect from harms way more than the government,” he said. “The resolution is an example of brazen interference in domestic affairs.”

Japan’s U.N. Ambassador Ishikane Kimihiro, who supported the resolution, said sufficient progress hasn’t been made by South Sudan in implementing the agreement, but he said sanctions should be lifted as soon as that happens.

Among the countries that abstained, China’s deputy ambassador Geng Shuang said sanctions “have seriously hampered” the country’s implementation of the 2018 agreement and efforts to improve its security.

Ghana’s U.N. Ambassador Harold Agyeman said “what South Sudan needs from the international community at this time are not sanctions” but carefully managed support for its development and transition.

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UN extends arms embargo on South Sudan over protests from world’s newest nation and 5 abstentions