(Juba) – South Sudan’s neighbors should urgently call for the United Nations Security Council to establish an arms embargo to stem gruesome violations in the country’s devastating conflict, more than 50 South Sudanese and international human rights and humanitarian organizations said in a petition to regional leaders. The ongoing attacks on civilians are contributing to a humanitarian crisis, the organizations said.
Regional leaders including the presidents of Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia are to meet on November 6, 2014 in Addis Ababa to discuss South Sudan at a summit meeting of the regional body, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
“South Sudanese civilians are desperate and need regional leadership to help protect them,” said Geoffrey Duke, secretariat team leader at the South Sudan Action Network on Small Arms. “More weapons will mean these civilians will face more abusive attacks: killings, rape, burnings, pillage. Now is the time to take action.”
Regional leaders should emerge from the November 6 summit with a clear request to the UN Security Council to impose a comprehensive arms embargo on South Sudan, the organizations said.
Rights groups also called on IGAD to make public reports by its ceasefire monitors in South Sudan, including allegations of war crimes committed by forces there.
IGAD initiated peace talks in December 2013 in Ethiopia, soon after South Sudan’s conflict began. A cessation of hostilities agreement negotiated by the regional mediators in January has been broken on multiple occasions by both South Sudan’s government forces and the opposition.
Since the conflict started in December, thousands of people, many of them civilians, have been killed and 1.8 million people have been forced to flee their homes. Parties to the conflict have used small arms and light weapons, and a range of other conventional arms and military equipment. Investigations by independent organizations conclude that both the warring parties have committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.
The region’s leaders and the regional mediators have threatened tough action on the parties to the conflict in the face of continuing clashes and attacks on civilians’ homes, churches, hospitals, and UN bases.
“Despite the threats, no action has been taken, just endless second, third, fourth chances to the benefit of the belligerents and the detriment of civilians,” said James Ninrew, executive director at Assistance Mission for Africa. “The dry season is upon us and across the conflict area communities are afraid that yet again they will be attacked.”
IGAD set up a monitoring body in South Sudan to investigate violations of the ceasefire, including the agreement by both sides not to attack civilians or their property, both of which can constitute war crimes under international law. But aside from publishing some limited information in August, mediators have kept monitoring reports private, despite repeated calls by rights groups and others to make the reports public, especially reports of serious crimes.
“Monitors have an important task to help reduce violations against civilians by showing abusive forces that they are being watched,” said Angelina Seeka, regional director at the End Impunity Organization. “But monitoring attacks is all in vain if these reports are kept under wraps.”