UN narrowly approves extension of arms embargo on South Sudan

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations Security Council narrowly voted Thursday to extend an arms embargo on South Sudan as well as travel bans and financial sanctions on targeted individuals for a year.

To get a resolution approved by the 15-member council, it needs at least nine “yes” votes and no veto from the permanent members. The U.S.-drafted resolution to sanction South Sudan voted 10-0, with China, Russia, India, Kenya and Gabon abstaining.

South Sudan has repeatedly called for the lifting of the arms embargo, with five countries abstaining in voting against sanctions.

But earlier this month, a U.N. panel of experts monitoring sanctions on South Sudan recommended that the Security Council extend the arms embargo, citing “continued violations of the ceasefire” and fueling violence in parts of the country.

Experts say the government has bought around 25 new armoured personnel carriers for the police, as shown in a photo in March, in violation of a UN arms embargo.

The group stressed that conditions for millions of civilians were “getting worse” and that violence, floods and displacement had created “unprecedented levels of food insecurity in much of the country”.

It cited a warning from the United Nations World Food Programme​​ in March that South Sudan was facing “the worst hunger crisis on record”, with some 8.3 million people needing food and 1.4 million children “severely malnourished” as of December.

China’s ambassador to the United Nations, Zhang Jun, countered experts and supporters of the resolution, saying the world’s newest country after a decade of war “has a weak foundation and needs constructive support from the international community, not sanctions pressure.”

He noted that the African Union and the East African regional group IGAD have long opposed “the Council punishing Africa’s smallest brother”. South Sudan’s problems need to be resolved politically, stressing that in many cases, “the pressure of sanctions is not only ineffective, but also limits the ability of the South Sudanese government to build security capabilities to protect civilians,” he said.

Russia’s deputy UN ambassador, Anna Evstigneeva, said Moscow was not “trying to downplay the situation in this young country that still has many challenges to overcome.” But she said the government had made “some progress” and today “Efforts to form the armed forces” are needed.

Kenya’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Michael Kiboino, said Kenya abstained from the vote because the council had failed to lift the arms embargo and targeted sanctions as demanded by the African Union and IGAD, and the council had not committed to a gradual lifting of those measures.

“We do not believe that arms embargoes and targeted sanctions are effective tools to support the peace process in South Sudan,” he said.

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

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

The resolution, passed on Thursday, acknowledged that the parties had maintained a permanent ceasefire in most of the country, but reiterated that the council was “alarmed and deeply concerned by the political, security, economic and humanitarian crisis in South Sudan”.

It strongly condemned the continued fighting in the country, stressing that “the situation in South Sudan cannot be resolved by military means”.

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

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

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