The UN Security Council must act immediately on the recommendations of its own panel of experts and enforce a comprehensive arms embargo to halt the flow of weapons into South Sudan, said Amnesty International today.
Following the outbreak of the conflict in December 2013, Amnesty International has been lobbying for an arms embargo to help bring an end to serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. The fighting has resulted in tens of thousands of civilian deaths, with hundreds of thousands displaced.
“Last year’s peace agreement has proven insufficient to end atrocities and usher in accountability in South Sudan’s internal armed conflict. It should be a no-brainer for the international community to suspend the flow of arms where those arms are being used repeatedly to commit war crimes and to perpetuate grave and systematic human rights violations and abuses,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
“The arms embargo should be seen as a preventive rather than a punitive measure and be an essential step towards consolidating lasting respect for human rights. No country should be transferring arms to any party to the conflict in South Sudan until there are clear and enforceable guarantees that those arms will not be used to commit or facilitate further violations of international human rights or humanitarian law.”
The UN panel’s report concluded that: “Both sides have continued to seek to arm their forces, even after the signing of the peace agreement in August  and in the face of considerable economic stress. The continued influx of arms has had a devastating impact on civilians and on the overall security situation in the country…”
It therefore called for a comprehensive embargo on the supply, sale, transfer or transport of weapons, ammunition, military vehicles and any other forms of military assistance, including technical and financial assistance, equipment maintenance and training, to South Sudan.
The countries named in the report as having facilitated arms transfers to South Sudan include Ukraine, which has transferred helicopters and machine guns, and has provided military logistical assistance. Independent sources told the panel that there is a “standing unwritten agreement” whereby Uganda acts as a regional conduit for transfers of arms and ammunition. Israeli Micro Galil rifles seen in Upper Nile State, for instance, were originally exported by Israel to Uganda in 2007, but were subsequently sold on to the South Sudanese National Security Service in 2014. The report described the Sudanese government as “the default arms supplier for the opposition” in South Sudan, although opposition forces were also using ammunition originating in China and the former Soviet Union.
In July 2014, Amnesty International slammed the shipment of more than 1,000 tons of small arms and light weapons to South Sudan’s government from the Chinese state-owned manufacturer, China North Industries Corporation (NORINCO). The Chinese government then cancelled further arms transfers in September 2014 following international outcry.
Welcoming the UN panel’s call for an arms embargo, Amnesty International added that it should include all indirect exports via other countries, the transfer of military components, dual-use technologies and any brokering, financial or logistical activities that would facilitate arms transfers.
Amnesty International first called on the UN Security Council in May 2007 to strengthen provisions of the UN arms embargo on Sudan by extending its application to the entire territory of Sudan, including to South Sudan (before it became an independent state in 2011). Since the conflict between forces loyal to South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and those loyal to opposition leader Riek Machar began in December 2013, Amnesty International and others have documented and published evidence of war crimes and other serious violations and abuses being carried out by both sides. An African Union (AU) report published in October 2015 condemned killings, torture, mutilations and rape against civilians – as well as forced cannibalism.
The conflict has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and the destruction of entire towns. Approximately 1.6 million people were internally displaced and another 600,000 fled to neighboring countries. An estimated 3.9 million are facing food insecurity, with the UN repeatedly warning of a deepening humanitarian crisis and potential famine should fighting continue.
Despite several attempted ceasefires in the ensuing years, culminating in a more elaborate peace agreement signed in August 2015, there continues to be total disregard for international human rights and humanitarian law and a lack of accountability for violations and abuses committed in the conflict. Progress towards the establishment of a Transitional Government of National Unity envisaged in the peace agreement has stalled.