23 December 2016
7850th Meeting (AM)

Security Council Decides against Imposing Arms Embargo on South Sudan, Designating Key Figures for Targeted Sanctions

Adoption Fails by 7 Votes in Favour, 8 Abstentions amid Doubt over Wisdom of Punitive Steps as Government Reports Progress on Ground

The Security Council voted this morning against imposing an arms embargo on South Sudan and targeted sanctions on three key Government and opposition figures whose dispute has spiralled into widespread violence in the young nation.

Defeated by a vote of 7 in favour to none against, with 8 abstentions, the draft would have instituted a ban on arms sales to South Sudan as well as designating three officials as subject to an asset freeze and travel ban:  Paul Malong, Chief of Staff of the Government’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA); Michael Makuei Lueth, Minister for Information; and former First Vice-President Riek Machar, leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-In Opposition (SPLAM/A-IO).

Voting in favour of the draft resolution were representatives of France, New Zealand, Spain, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States and Uruguay.  Speaking after the vote, they recalled that United Nations officials had sounded multiple warnings about an impending deterioration of the carnage in South Sudan, and about long-term non-cooperation with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) on the part of parties to conflict.  They said that although the measures proposed in the text would not have been a panacea, they would have reduced the violence, addressed impunity, kept the country from spending precious resources on arms, and created momentum for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

Delegations that abstained were China, Russian Federation, Angola, Egypt, Japan, Malaysia, Senegal and Venezuela.  China’s representative said his country was committed to restoring peace and stability in South Sudan as soon as possible.  Describing the Government’s announcement of an inclusive national dialogue and the approved deployment of the Regional Protection Force as positive steps, he emphasized that the international community should support them instead of taking counter-productive actions.  It should also support full implementation of the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (the Peace Agreement) and the mediation efforts of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), he added.

The Russian Federation’s representative and others who abstained criticized the readiness of those who had voted in the draft’s favour to impose sanctions, maintaining that such measures had failed to have a positive effect in other situations of a similar nature.

South Sudan’s representative, described the tabling of today’s draft as unfortunate, given that President Salva Kiir had ordered the formation of the National Dialogue Steering Committee just a few days ago.  Such a commitment pointed to a more encouraging direction.  Those targeted for sanctions were critical to implementation of all agreements, he said, emphasizing that the draft had revealed a lack of good faith.  It could have invited controversy, disagreement and hostility, rather than the necessary cooperation, he said, warning that punitive measures could only harden positions.

The meeting began at 9:33 a.m. and ended at 10:39 a.m.


SAMANTHA POWER (United States), explaining her delegation’s support for the failed draft resolution, said the text should not have been contentious since it had been meant to reduce the rampant violence.  Its sponsors had demonstrated great flexibility during negotiations and history would be a harsh judge of those who had not voted in favour of the draft.  Noting that those advocating action rather than sanctions had not proposed any steps, she said the international community was “treading water” in the face of unfolding tragedy.  The Government and opposition had been intransigent in its failure to cooperate with UNMISS and in its incitement of violence through the media.

Recalling multiple warnings of a worsening situation, including from the Secretary-General, she said they had been amplified by the fact that 3,000 people were fleeing South Sudan every day.  While the measures proposed in the draft resolution would not have been a panacea, there was no doubt that they would have had an effect, she said.  Member States would have had to stop selling the arms fuelling the violence and there would have been a response to the impunity of the persons designated in the text.  She asked what should be done now to halt some of the horrific violence, including systematic sexual violence, while pledging to continue efforts to end the unfolding human tragedy.

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) expressed regret over the draft resolution’s failure and noted the warnings of a grave worsening of the situation in South Sudan.  An arms embargo, which France had long advocated, could have reduced the risks and promoted an environment conducive to political dialogue, the only path to peace in the country.  Today’s vote reaffirmed the need for the Council to pay extremely close attention to the situation, he emphasized.

MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom) said the Council had been unable to adopt the resolution, pointing out that atrocities continued, despite repeated promises, and the fragile peace agreement had soured.  There had been a chance to stop the flow of weapons today and targeted sanctions against individuals would have had a chance to demonstrate real repercussions.  Instead, nothing had been done, despite knowledge of what was at stake, he noted, warning that if genocide occurred, everyone would have to examine their conscience.  The Council had done nothing to prevent the commission of unspeakable acts, and UNMISS continued to face restrictions as the humanitarian situation continued to deteriorate.  Words were not good enough, he said, stressing the need for concrete actions.  Today, the Council had failed to take action, he added.

WU HAITAO (China) said his country was committed to restoring peace and stability in South Sudan as soon as possible.  The announcement of an inclusive national dialogue and allowing deployment of the Regional Protection Force were positive steps.  The international community should support implementation of the Peace Agreement as well as the efforts of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).  Calling for prudent action in respect of sanctions, he pointed out that the Government had demonstrated the political will to implement Council resolutions and that the IGAD communiqué did not favour them.  Council actions should be conducive to political solutions, he said, reiterating the need to be prudent regarding embargoes so as to prevent the situation from deteriorating.

PETR V. ILIICHEV (Russian Federation) said his delegation had abstained because of concerns over the draft resolution’s content.  It was “abnormal” to undermine all the work done on South Sudan by senseless use of the sanctions stick, he said, describing it as a short-sighted policy.  The Russian Federation also opposed the conduct of the draft’s sponsors, who had ignored the IGAD communiqué stating that sanctions should not be imposed, as well as the reservations of some troop-contributing countries.  Noting that President Salva Kiir had agreed to receive the Regional Protection Force, he said practical steps had been taken to establish an inclusive national dialogue.  Expressing doubt that imposing sanctions on South Sudan’s leaders would build a more inclusive society, he warned that it would instead exacerbate the animosity between ethnic groups, and thanked delegations that had abstained from voting in favour of the destructive draft resolution.

VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine), warning that South Sudan was on the verge of chaos, and asking whether anyone was ready to ignore yet another looming tragedy that, if not stopped, could lead to irreparable consequences.  The answer was obvious, he emphasized:  “We must not let the South Sudanese people share the grief of Srebrenica, Rwanda or Aleppo.”  That was why Ukraine had voted in favour of the draft resolution while conscious of the fact that it would not be a panacea.  However, the proposed arms embargo and additional targeted sanctions would reduce the ability of the parties to continue fuelling the conflict, help to silence the military equipment already procured, and stop the expenditure of desperately needed financial resources on new weaponry.  An arms embargo would not be a punishment, but a prerequisite for peace, he emphasized.

KORO BESSHO (Japan) noted that some progress had been made, notably the 25 November decision by the Transitional Government’s Council of Ministers granting consent for the immediate deployment of the Regional Protection Force and President Kiir’s speech to Parliament on an inclusive national dialogue.  The Government must swiftly translate those commitments into concrete actions, he said, emphasizing that introducing additional sanctions at a time when the Government was making positive moves would be counter-productive.  The Council must continue to engage with the Government in order to urge further steps forward, he said, adding that all parties and actors could play a significant role, individually or collectively.

RAMLAN BIN IBRAHIM (Malaysia) expressed regret that his delegation had been forced to abstain from the vote on the draft resolution.  Affirming the importance of the Council acting in unity, he recalled that just a week ago, it had found consensus on the need to extend the UNMISS mandate.  It had adopted a text that supported mediation efforts by the Mission and regional partners, as well as the Transitional Government of National Unity’s implementation of the Peace Agreement in order to restore stability, he said.

AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt) also voiced regret over the absence of consensus on the draft.  Noting that IGAD and other regional actors were not in favour of sanctions, he pointed out that such measures had not been effective in other situations, emphasizing the importance of addressing the causes of the South Sudan conflict instead.  Egypt’s abstention did not mean that it approved of the abuses committed, he said, while calling on all parties in the country to fulfil their responsibilities and end the people’s suffering.

HENRY ALFREDO SUÁREZ MORENO (Venezuela) said he had abstained because South Sudan needed urgent action to remediate the crisis and commence socioeconomic development.  Describing sanctions as a tool rather than an end in itself, he emphasized that they must be linked to a clearly defined political strategy, including dialogue on the implementation of agreements reached.  Such a strategy did not yet exist, he noted, adding that one must be developed to deal comprehensively with the tragedy, in conjunction with national actors.  It was counter-productive to impose sanctions while working with the parties to implement agreements, he said, adding that he was sceptical about the effectiveness of an arms embargo.

ISMAEL ABRAÃO GASPAR MARTINS (Angola) said he had abstained from the vote because the draft resolution aimed at imposing targeted sanctions and an arms embargo.  The Government had recently demonstrated its commitment on implementation of the communiqué between the Government and the Security Council on deployment of the Regional Protection Force, he said, noting the steps taken to make it operational.  Welcoming President Kiir’s decision to launch a national inclusive dialogue, he said that instead of imposing sanctions, the Council should continue to monitor the announced decision and encourage the Government to continue moving on that path.  Sanctions should not be the priority of United Nations engagement, which should instead be more focused on dialogue, in line with the IGAD communiqué.  That document stressed that sanctions would not provide a solution, and the African Union had taken the same position, he pointed out.  That should also be the Council’s position.

GORGUI CISS (Senegal) said he had abstained from the vote, not because his delegation questioned the human rights violations, but because South Sudan needed support in its quest for sustainable peace.  That approach required an ongoing investment by the Council and a united approach, in close coordination with countries and organizations in the subregion.  Given the urgent humanitarian situation, the Council should encourage the Government’s launch of an inclusive dialogue that should lead to implementation of the Peace Agreement, protection of civilians and respect for human rights.

LUIS BERMUDEZ (Uruguay) said he had voted in favour of the draft resolution, aware of the grave humanitarian and human rights situation that South Sudan was enduring.  The leaders were responsible for the crisis, he added.  Implementation of the measures contained in the draft would have helped dialogue and averted further loss of life, while an arms embargo would undermine the capacity of the parties to wage war and help to stop the proliferation of weapons in the country.  An embargo would also have facilitated dialogue and reconciliation, and the onus was now on the Government to protect its own citizens, regardless of ethnic origin or political affiliation, he said.

GERARD VAN BOHEMEN (New Zealand) expressed disappointment at the failure to adopt the draft.  Acknowledging that the proposed arms embargo would not have been a cure-all, he said it would have reduced the flow of arms and the resulting violence while creating space for dialogue.  Instead, the violence continued unabated, with the parties doing the minimum to fulfil their commitments to enable UNMISS operations on the ground.

ROMÁN OYARZUN MARCHESI (Spain), Council President for December, spoke in his national capacity, explaining that he had voted in favour of the proposed arms embargo and sanctions designations as necessary measures in response to a situation described as an impending ethnic war posing a risk of genocide.  While sanctions were not an end in themselves, they could reduce violence on the ground, he emphasized, calling for rapid deployment of the Regional Protection Force and for measures to ensure that UNMISS was able to carry out its mandate in full.

JOSEPH MOUM MAJAK NGOR MALOK (South Sudan) recalled that he had addressed the Council several times on the positive actions that the Government had taken to address the many challenges facing his country, and in implementation of Council resolutions.  They included the deployment of the Regional Protection Force.  On 19 December, the President had issued a Republican Order forming the National Dialogue Steering Committee, he said, adding that such commitments pointed to a more encouraging direction.  As such, the tabling of the draft resolution today was indeed “unfortunate”, he said, adding that his delegation had hoped that the Council would engage constructively with the Government.

“It is very unfortunate that individuals who are critical to the peace process are being targeted and listed for sanctions by this resolution,” he continued.  That revealed a lack of good faith and could invite controversy, disagreement and hostility, rather than the necessary cooperation.  Punitive measures could harden positions, and an arms embargo would only weaken the Government and strengthen the numerous militia and armed groups.  Noting that the civil war had left weapons in the hands of civilians and porous borders made it difficult to control illegal arms flows, he reiterated South Sudan’s commitment to implementation of the Peace Agreement and to work with all stakeholders in restoring peace and stability to the country.

For information media. Not an official record.