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South Sudan: Vote on Sanctions Resolution*

Tomorrow (13 July), the Security Council will vote on a draft resolution that would renew the South Sudan Sanctions regime until 31 May 2019 and the Sanctions Committee’s Panel of Experts until 1 July 2019. The draft also calls for the imposition of an arms embargo on South Sudan until 31 May 2019 and for the designation of two additional individuals: Paul Malong Awan, the former Chief of Staff of South Sudan’s army turned rebel leader, and Malek Ruben Riak, former Deputy Chief of Staff of South Sudan’s army. There are strong divisions within the Council on the draft resolution. At press time, it remained unclear what the final vote tally would be and a number of abstentions are anticipated. A resolution on substantive matters (such as this one) requires nine affirmative votes, and no veto, to be adopted.

Whether to impose an arms embargo and further targeted sanctions on spoilers to the South Sudan peace process remains a very controversial issue in the Council. This was clearly seen when the Council adopted resolution 2418 on 31 May renewing the South Sudan sanctions regime and the mandate of the Panel of Experts until 15 July. That resolution—adopted with only nine votes in favour and six abstentions (Bolivia, China, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan and Russia)—threatened to impose coercive measures on South Sudan. In particular, it requested the Secretary-General to report by 30 June on whether any fighting had taken place since the adoption of the resolution and whether the parties had come to “a viable political agreement”. It decided that the Council “shall consider applying” targeted sanctions to the six individuals identified in an annex to the resolution or an arms embargo, or both, within five days of the Secretary-General’s report, based on the report’s findings. Those that did not support the resolution maintained that the threat of coercive measures would be counter-productive and the mediation efforts of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) needed time to bear fruit.

Similar divisions exist in the Council on the current draft. Supporters of the draft question the commitment of the parties to peace and maintain that those responsible for the violence should be held accountable. Ambassador Nikki Haley of the US, which is perhaps the strongest proponent of this position and the penholder on South Sudan, said in its explanation of vote on resolution 2418, that it “has lost its patience [and]…the status quo is unacceptable” (S/PV.8273).

Others—such as Bolivia, China, Ethiopia and Russia, which all broke silence on an earlier version of the draft today—maintain that the peace process is at a critical juncture and would be undermined by coercive measures. In recent weeks, there has been high-level political engagement between the parties to the conflict in countries neighbouring South Sudan, including the 27 June signing of a ceasefire agreement by South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar in Khartoum. Media sources have noted that both sides have accused the other of violating the ceasefire, however.

Those uncomfortable with the current draft further note the importance of following the lead of IGAD, which maintains that now is not the appropriate time to pursue sanctions. In this regard, IGAD’s Council of Ministers issued a press release on 30 June in Nouakchott, Mauritania, stating that “given the latest developments in the peace process and the need to implement the permanent ceasefire and achieve an inclusive peace agreement, it is not helpful to pursue punitive measures at this stage”.

The draft initially circulated by the US proposed targeted sanctions for five individuals who had been listed in the annex of resolution 2418. The US subsequently removed the names of three of these individuals: Kuol Manyang Juuk, South Sudan’s Defence Minister; Martin Elia Lomuro, South Sudan’s Cabinet Affairs Minister; and Michael Makuei Lueth, South Sudan’s Information Minister. This was an apparent compromise to those members that maintain that sanctioning government ministers at this time could be detrimental to the peace process.

The draft in blue proposes adding a new designation criterion for sanctions for “engagement by armed groups or criminal networks in activities that destabilize South Sudan through the illicit exploitation or trade in natural resources”. This is consistent with a similar designation criterion in the Democratic Republic of the Congo Sanctions Committee. The original US proposal called for a designation criterion for several types of corruption, but this language was modified after some members expressed the view that corruption must be dealt with through national legislation, rather than through Security Council action.

* Post-script: The draft resolution was adopted with 9 votes in favour and 6 abstentions (Bolivia, China, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, and Russia)

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