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Time is Ripe for a UN Arms Embargo on South Sudan

US Sends Strong Signal By Imposing Unilateral Sanctions

People walk inside the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Protection of Civilians site (PoC), near Bentiu, northern South Sudan, February 9, 2017. © 2017 Reuters

Today, the United States government decided to impose a unilateral arms embargo over South Sudan. The gesture is long overdue – the European Union has had its own arms embargo over the country since 2011 – and largely symbolic since the US does not sell arms to South Sudan. But it sends a strong signal that abuses and broken promises will not be tolerated.

It’s now high time for the United Nation’s Security Council to follow suit.

I’ve been researching the conflict in South Sudan since 2016, and each trip has been marked by fresh tragedies, including famine. Over those two years, my colleagues and I documented how the abuses spread from the country’s northeast to its western and southern regions, forcing millions to flee their homes.

But for more than four years, the Security Council has failed to impose an arms embargo while opposing parties committed serious crimes against civilians, including widespread killings, sexual violence, and attacks on UN peacekeepers. Key permanent council members resisted taking action by stating it was still too early to explore such an option. Four years later, the need is beyond question.

It is clear that the UN and African Union’s many condemnations and threats to impose consequences have not been enough to stop the atrocities. The parties to the conflict will not feel pressure to stop until the full weight of the international community is brought to bear. The Secretary-General said it plain and clear: “I’ve never seen a political elite with so little interested in the well-being of its own people.”

Even South Sudan’s neighbors are finally coming around to this sad reality. In late January, a regional body stated it stands ready to impose sanctions over those government and opposition actors that have consistently broken their word. Moussa Faki, the head of the African Union, also made it clear the time has come for sanctions.

The ball is now in the Security Council’s court. With the region showing agreement to stronger measures and the US paving the way, will other permanent members continue to claim time isn’t ripe for an international arms embargo over South Sudan?

Four years into this abusive war, the Security Council should do the right thing and start protecting civilians, instead of South Sudan’s fickle political elite.

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