South Sudan: Arms Embargo Violation and Extension of Unity Government

The civil war in South Sudan between government forces and opposition forces broke out in December 2013 and is still ongoing. Almost 400,000 people have been estimated to likely have been killed, according to one report, with around half of the lives lost estimated to be due to violence. Nearly 4 million people have been further internally displaced or have fled to neighbouring countries. All parties to the conflict have been accused of committing serious abuses, including unlawful killings, torture, arbitrary detentions, attacks on civilians and civilian property, and the recruitment and use of child soldiers.

On 12 September 2018, Salva Kiir Mayardit, the President of South Sudan, Riek Machar, the leader of the People’s Liberation Movement/Army in Opposition (Splm-Io), and other rebel factions signed the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-Arcss) in Addis Ababa. The agreement has reduced fighting in many parts of the country, and has also facilitated the return of senior opposition figures to Juba to allow for political dialogue. In late October 2018, Machar returned to South Sudan for a nationwide peace celebration that was meant to mark the end of the civil war. However, conflict and violence continue, including a significant number of incidents of rape and sexual violence against women and girls. Many also remain vulnerable to rising food insecurity.

Further, a humanitarian emergency still affects the majority of the civilian population. Some armed groups also remain outside of the R-Aarcss, including an alliance led by the National Salvation Front Thomas Cirillo. A recent clash involving the National Salvation Front and a faction of the Splm-Io saw at least 9 people killed in South Sudan’s Western Equatoria.

On 13 July 2018, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2428 – which stipulated that until 31 May 2019, all Member States were to prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer to South Sudan, from or through their territories — of arms and related material, and withhold training, technical and financial assistance related to military activities or materials. However, it laid out several exemptions to the country’s arms embargo — including for material and activities related to humanitarian activities, such as those intended exclusively for support of or use by UN personnel.

Possible violations of arms embargoes

In its latest report, the Panel of Experts on South Sudan, drawing on its earlier interim report, reiterated a number of likely violations of the arms embargo. The Panel of Experts noted the ongoing arrival of cargo aircraft at Juba International airport during the night, of which there was no meaningful monitoring and which likely included foreign-registered aircraft and aviation companies originating from outside South Sudan. The Panel further noted that no inspection reports were provided by customs agencies of neighbouring States during the mandate period. The Panel emphasized that effective implementation of the arms embargo would benefit from inspections of cargo aircraft destined for Juba International Airport or airports in South Sudan where there is a military presence, and of trucks crossing the Nimule border post on the border with Uganda – which is equipped with sophisticated scanning technology.

There is already a history of possible arms embargo violations. A 2018 report by the London-based Conflict Armament Research (Car) argued that some of the military materiel re-transferred from Uganda to South Sudan was in potential violation of an EU arms embargo. Car’s weapon documentation indicated that the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (Spla) in South Sudan and non-state forces allied with the Spla in neighbouring Sudan had acquired small arms and ammunitions exported from at least three EU Member States (Bulgaria, Romania, and the Slovak Republic) to Uganda since the onset of the current South Sudan conflict.

Deadline extension for national unity government

Most recently, both South Sudan’s government and Machar’s opposition requested a six-month extension to the May 12 deadline of this year for opposition leader Riek Machar to return to the country and once again become Kiir’s deputy in a unity government. The Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad) Council of Ministers endorsed a six-month extension for the establishment of a Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity. IGAD further stressed that the extension was ‘non-renewable.’