The latest report of the United Nations Panel of Experts on South Sudan has found, not surprisingly, that South Sudan and other states have been flouting the UN arms embargo imposed on the country last year. The embargo was the result of years of lobbying by domestic and international groups in an effort to stem the flow of weapons that are being used against civilians.
The arms embargo prohibits the supply, sale or transfer of arms and related material, and withholds training, technical, and financial assistance related to military activities or materials, bar a few clear exceptions. The panel found neighboring states likely violated the terms of the embargo, including by not providing inspection reports as required, making it impossible for the panel to ascertain whether any new weapons were imported.
Since the outbreak of conflict in South Sudan in December 2013, government forces and rebel groups have committed widespread atrocity crimes including unlawful killings, torture and other ill-treatment, recruitment and use of children in their armed forces, rape, and other forms of sexual violence.
Soldiers committed most of these crimes with small arms and light weapons, causing debilitating physical injuries and psychological harm. At least four million South Sudanese were forced to flee their homes and continue either to live in refugee camps in neighboring countries or in settlements for internally displaced people.
And despite a peace deal signed in 2018, conflict has continued. Civilians continue to bear the brunt of armed attacks. Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch documented abuses against civilians during government counter-insurgency campaigns in Yei River State, including killings, forced displacement, and looting and destruction of property.
The UN arms embargo was a long-overdue step that could help to protect civilians from unlawful violence, but without effective implementation - especially from neighboring states - it won’t work. Take neighbor Uganda, which in 2014 and 2015 purchased weapons from Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia, and then sent them to South Sudan's military and allies in Sudan in violation of an European Union arms embargo in place since 2011.
As the UN considers the panel’s report, it should act to renew both the sanctions and the arms embargo, and insist that this time round, neighboring states actually cooperate.