UNSCR 2206 (3 March 2015) endorsed the IGAD-brokered Cessation of Hostilities Agreements signed by both parties on 23 January 2014 and called upon key stakeholders (the government of South Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition) to implement a ceasefire, stop human rights violations, ensure humanitarian access, and reach a comprehensive agreement. The Council decided to authorize targeted sanctions (travel ban and asset freeze) on those committing acts of violence and on potential spoilers of a political agreement between the different parties to the conflict. It did so in anticipation of a 5 March deadline established by the IGAD mediation by which time both Kiir and Machar were to have finalized a peace agreement. No designations were made at the time.
Key differences remained between the two parties over the nature and composition of a political settlement, intense fighting resumed, and questions were raised about the adequacy and future direction of the IGAD-led mediation effort. Given the lack of progress in political negotiations following an AU Peace and Security Council communiqué calling for the UN Sanctions Committee to take action, on 1 July 2015, the Sanctions Committee made its first designations of a travel ban and asset freeze on three individuals associated with the South Sudan government and three associated with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition. Questions were raised at the time about how effectively the Council action was coordinated with mediation efforts.
An IGAD-mediated compromise peace agreement was signed by Machar and other opposition leaders on 17 August 2015, but President Kiir requested an additional 15 days to consider the arrangements. On 19 August, the US circulated a draft resolution threatening an arms embargo and additional individual sanctions if the government of South Sudan had not signed the compromise peace agreement by 1 September 2015. The details of the resolution provoked considerable controversy, particularly provisions calling for automatic imposition of sanctions on senior government officials if they did not sign the agreement. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson stated that the international community would have to apply strong diplomatic pressure on Kiir to sign the agreement. Kiir indicated on 25 August that he would sign it, and the Council issued a Presidential statement indicating its readiness to proceed with additional sanctions if the agreement were not implemented. Kiir signed on 26 August, but expressed public reservations about the agreement.
The Council endorsed the 17 August 2015 agreement in UNSCR 2241 (9 October 2015), but reports of ceasefire violations and sporadic fighting between the two sides continued for the remainder of the year. There were periodic attacks on UNMISS personnel from both SPLA and SPLA-IO forces, and the humanitarian situation continued to deteriorate (with over 2.3 million people displaced and an estimated 3.9 million facing food shortages).
The two parties made only limited progress in fulfilling the terms of the compromise peace agreement, and President Kiir’s executive decision to create 28 states out of the existing 10 states in October created strong divisions. The decision was problematic because the August 2015 agreement was based on allocations of authority in the original 10, not 28 states, and there were concerns that the new states could create ethnic enclaves and have implications for the control of oil production.
SPLA attacks on civilians being protected by UNMISS in two different camps in February 2016 provoked considerable concern within the Council, but there was initial disagreement on how to respond. A March 2016 Presidential statement asked the parties to take five concrete steps to address the conflict – a renewed ceasefire, filling senior positions (including the President and Vice President) in the transitional government, endorsing an IGAD proposal for a boundary commission to review the decision to create 28 states, protecting civilians taking refuge in UNMISS compounds, and allowing unhindered humanitarian access to civilian populations. Sporadic fighting continued between the two sides in April, and Machar’s return to Juba to assume the Vice Presidency was delayed due to disagreements over the size of his personal security contingent and the types of weapons they could carry. Machar returned and was sworn in as Vice President on 26 April 2016. President Kiir formed a Transitional Government of National Unity (TGNU) two days later, as part of the implementation of the August 2015 agreement, but the goal of unity remained largely aspirational.
Major violence broke out between SPLA and SPLA-IO forces in Juba on 7 July 2016 after SPLA soldiers attempted to arrest members of Machar’s guard at a checkpoint in the capital. Several days of heavy fighting ensued and a ceasefire was agreed to on 11 July. Ban Ki-moon criticized the “failed leadership” of South Sudan stating that “rarely has a country squandered so much promise so quickly.” IGAD and the AU’s Peace and Security Committee called for an UNMISS intervention brigade with a more robust mandate to provide greater security in the country.
Following helicopter attacks by Sudanese military forces on Machar’s compound in Juba on 10 July 2016, Machar fled the country, traveling initially to the DRC and later settling in South Africa. Kiir ordered him back, he refused, and Kiir appointed another member of the SPLA/IO to replace Machar as Vice President. Following a high-level Security Council visit to the region co-led by US Ambassador Samantha Power in early September 2016, the Kiir government agreed to accept a supplemental Regional Protection Force mandated in UNSCR 2304 (12 August 2016) to protect civilians in Juba. The resolution contained text for the imposition of an arms embargo on all parties to the conflict in an Annex, if Secretary-General reports indicatepolitical or operational impediments to operationalizing the Regional Protection Force or obstructions to UNMISS in performance of its mandate due to the actions of the Transitional Government of National Unity, but the Council could not agree on an automatic trigger mechanism for the application of the threatened arms embargo.
The permanent ceasefire called for in the agreement was not accepted by either party, the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) or the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM/IO), and violence against civilians was committed by both sides in the latter half of 2016. According to a 2016 Panel of Expert’s Report, President Kiir’s cooptation of the TGNU by placing proxies in positions allocated to the SPLM/IO and the emergence of an increasingly fractured armed opposition led to the de facto collapse of the Transitional Government of National Unity. More than a million South Sudanese were displaced and took refuge in neighboring countries, the South Sudanese military pursued the opposition across the border into neighboring DRC, and food insecurity began to emerge for many displaced persons-
The unwillingness of the South Sudanese government to include the opposition in the TGNU in a meaningful and substantive way extended the de facto collapse of the TGNU into 2017. The principal mediating institution, IGAD was less unified during the year and bilateral agreements emerged between individual IGAD members (particularly Uganda) and the South Sudanese government. Both parties to the conflict continued to commit ceasefire violations throughout 2017, but the largest military campaigns were carried out by government forces. The total number of persons displaced to neighboring countries rose to 1.6 million and there were numerous reports of government forces hindering the operations of humanitarian actors operating in the country. According to the Panel of Experts, aid agencies were “subject to harassment, extortion, looting, kidnappings, killings, predatory fees and levies” perpetrated by all parties to the conflict. Food shortages and famine conditions emerged in two counties of South Sudan. An IGAD initiative at the end of the year produced a Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA) that both parties to the conflict signed in Addis Ababa on 21 December 2017.
Violations of the CoHA were reported in January, and by early 2018, it was becoming evident that both parties to the conflict were committing major human rights violations. Attacks on civilian populations, including widespread sexual abuse, were being employed as tactics of war. President Kiir continued to consolidate power, while Vice President Gai expanded the war on behalf of the SPLM/IO. Both sides were accused of obstructing humanitarian relief efforts, a growing concern of UNMISS and UN personnel located in the country. As the SPLM/IO became increasingly fragmented, the balance of power shifted in favor of the government, which appeared to have little incentive to negotiate. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix said in May 2018 that there were “no signs of meaningful implementation” of the CoHA and reiterated that “there must be a tangible cost for the continuation of violence.”
At the end of May 2018, the US, as penholder on the South Sudan, introduced a draft UNSCR threatening targeted sanctions on 6 additional individuals (named in an Annex to the resolution and including both senior government ministers and opposition leaders) as well as an arms embargo on all parties. The resolution (UNSCR 2418) barely passed on 31 May, with 6 abstentions (including China, Russia, and the chief mediating party, Ethiopia). Like past arms embargo threats, which have not been applied due to disagreements on the Council, the resolution stated that the additional sanctions would be “considered” if the SG’s report at the end of June 2018 indicated that the fighting had continued and there was no viable political agreement between the two sides. President Kiir and former Vice President Machar met for the first time in two years in Addis Ababa on 20 June 2018, but the meeting was described by an anonymous South Sudanese official as unsuccessful and the two leaders were reportedly “unable to agree on anything.” President Bashir of Sudan convened the two parties again a week later, on 27 June 2018, and following their meeting, President Kiir, opposition leader Machar, and other opposition parties signed the Khartoum Declaration, calling for a permanent ceasefire, and expressing the intention to adopt security arrangements to build an inclusive national army, police, and other security institutions. The agreement also included a “Revised Bridging Proposal” to address remaining power sharing issues.
Coerce the main parties to agree to a negotiated settlement of the conflict, including a permanent ceasefire.
Signal opposition to human rights violations and support for the political transition process following the signature of the Agreement on Resolution of the Conflict in Republic of South Sudan of August 2015 and the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement of 21 December 2017).
Individual / entity asset freeze and individual travel ban (on those whose actions and policies have the purpose or effect of expanding or extending the conflict in South Sudan or obstructing reconciliation or peace talks or processes, including breaches of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement).
Sanctions imposed for a limited time period (1 year) and renewed periodically. Sanctions Committee and Panel of Experts created. Designation criteria were specified and targets designated (maximum number of designees during the episode – 6 individual designees, three on each side of the conflict). Enforcement authorities not specified.
Both of the main protagonists (Kiir and Machar) signed the IGAD Compromise Peace Agreement in August 2015, and they or their agents initialed subsequent agreements (CoHA and the Khartoum Declaration), but there was very limited progress in implementation over the course of the episode. Continued outbreaks of fighting between the two sides throughout the episode prevented the peace plans from being implemented.
Threat of sanctions on Kiir appeared to have played a role in his decision to sign agreement in 2015 and again in 2018, but IGAD and AU negotiation efforts and US diplomatic pressure were more significant to the outcome. The threat of sanctions in 2018 may have contributed to June 2018 meetings between the two leaders.
UNSCRs included a large number of normative injunctions, (protection of civilians, support for the transition process, opposition to armed violence against civilians, hindrance of humanitarian actors, recruitment of child soldiers, systematic use of rape, potential crimes against humanity, etc.) diffusing the signal; the six individual designations signaled balance between the two parties to the conflict, suggesting some stigmatization of both sides. This relative balance was sustained in the 2018 threats of additional individual sanctions.
UNSCRs 2206, 2290, 2353, and 2418 signaled UNSC concerns, but actions by UNMISS to protect civilians in its compounds and IGAD’s diplomatic activity were more important than sanctions or threats of sanctions in signaling resolve.
No unintended consequences of sanctions observed.