UN votes narrowly to extend arms embargo on South Sudan

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council voted by a narrow margin Thursday to extend an arms embargo on South Sudan and a travel ban and financial sanctions for targeted individuals for a year.

For a resolution to be approved by the 15-member council, it needs at least nine “yes” votes and no veto by a permanent member. The vote on the U.S.-drafted resolution on South Sudan sanctions was 10-0 with China, Russia, India, Kenya and Gabon abstaining.

South Sudan has repeatedly called for the arms embargo to be lifted, and the five countries that abstained expressed opposition to the sanctions.

But earlier this month, the U.N. panel of experts monitoring sanctions against South Sudan recommended that the Security Council extend the arms embargo because of “persistent cease-fire violations” and intensifying violence in the country’s regions.

The experts said the government’s purchase of approximately 25 new armored personnel carriers for the police, shown in a March photograph, was a violation of the U.N. arms embargo.

Stressing that conditions for millions of civilians “are getting worse,” the panel said violence, floods and displacement have created “unprecedented levels of food insecurity across much of the country.”

It cited the U.N. World Food Program’s warning in March that South Sudan was facing its “worst hunger crisis ever,” with some 8.3 million people needing food and 1.4 million children “acutely malnourished” as of December.

China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun countered the experts and resolution’s supporters saying the world’s newest nation, which has gone through a decade of war, “has a poor and weak foundation and it needs constructive support, not pressure by sanctions, from the international community.”

He noted that the African Union and the East African regional group IGAD have long opposed “the council’s punishment of this youngest brother of Africa.” South Sudan’s problems need to be addressed through political means, stressing that in many cases “pressure by sanctions is not only ineffective, but also restricts the ability of the government of South Sudan to build security capacity in protecting civilians,” he said.

Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador Anna Evstigneeva said Moscow is not “trying to downplay the situation in this young country which still has to overcome many challenges.” But she said the government has made “certain progress” and it needs today “to work on forming its armed forces.”

Kenya’s deputy U.N. ambassador Michael Kiboino said his country abstained because the council didn’t lift the arms embargo and targeted sanctions as the AU and IGAD called for, and the council didn’t make a commitment to progressively lift the measures.

“We believe that the arms embargo and targeted sanctions have not been effective tools in support of the South Sudan peace process,” he said.

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

Tens of thousands of people were killed in the war, which ended with a 2018 peace agreement that brought Kiir and Machar together in a government of national unity. But challenges remained, including the government’s failure to implement promised reforms.

The resolution adopted Thursday recognizes that the permanent cease-fire was upheld in most parts of the country by the parties, but it reiterates the Security Council’s “alarm and deep concern regarding the political, security, economic, and humanitarian crisis in South Sudan.”

It strongly condemns continued fighting in the country and emphasizes that “there can be no military solution to the situation in South Sudan.”

The resolution also strongly condemns “past and ongoing human rights violations and abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, including the alarming surge in conflict-related sexual violence.”

It extends the arms embargo and sanctions until May 31, 2023, and the mandate for the panel of experts until July 1, 2023.

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