Despite progress in negotiations during June 2018, during which the two main protagonists met for the first time in two years and signed the Khartoum Declaration declaring a permanent ceasefire, the UN Security Council narrowly passed UNSCR 2428 on 13 July 2018, following up on its previous threats to apply an arms imports embargo on all parties to the conflict in South Sudan. The Council also listed two additional individuals, both on the government side, with detailed descriptions of the reasons for their designations spelled out in an Annex to the resolution. It did not follow through on designations of the three senior government ministers threatened with targeted sanctions when UNSCR 2418 was passed on 31 May 2018.
UNSCR 2428, tabled by the US as pen-holder, was contested by other members of the Council, again passing with the bare minimum of nine votes necessary for a substantive resolution, with six abstentions (including China, Russia, and Ethiopia). Ethiopia argued that the restrictive measures would be counter-productive and could jeopardize the mediation efforts still underway. The US countered that it had lost patience with the protagonists to the conflict and their previous assurances of a ceasefire and that given the continued violence committed against civilians in the preceding months, the continuation of the status quo in South Sudan was “unacceptable.”
Despite concerns regarding the impact of the new sanctions on the conflict dynamics, negotiations continued throughout July 2018 under the tutelage of Sudan’s President Bashir, and Kiir and Machar signed an Agreement on Outstanding Issues of Governance and Responsibility Sharing in Khartoum on 5 August 2018. The South Sudan Opposition Alliance and Former Detainees also signed the agreement, which called for the reinstatement of Machar as first Vice President and the creation of an independent boundaries commission to address the number of states and their boundaries. A “final” agreement addressing the distribution of ministerial posts, humanitarian issues, and justice and reconciliation issues was reached in September 2018, when the two sides signed the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. According to some South Sudan specialists, the renewed impetus for a rapprochement was driven by the desire of Kiir and Machar to avoid targeted individual sanctions from the US government for their role in the continuing cycles of violence.
According to the November 2019 Panel of Experts report, selective implementation and inconsistent international support for the R-ARCSS agreement led to a stalemate in 2019. The report argued that “the incumbent Government has demonstrated limited willingness to compromise over issues related to the transitional security arrangements, the reunification of the army and the number of states and their boundaries.” The panel report also criticized governments in the region for failing to support detailed mediation efforts, concentrating instead on high level meetings between Kiir and Machar, therefore leaving a number of difficult security issues unresolved. Strong disagreements over transitional security arrangements and the allocation of governorships continued, and in November 2019, a tripartite summit of Heads of State of Uganda, Sudan, and South Sudan agreed to extend the transitional period to February 2020. The US threatened high level individual sanctions and then applied them on Vice President Gai, a close ally of Kiir, in January 2020. On 22 February 2020, a Transitional Government of National Unity (TGNU) was formally established, laying out a 36 month transition period prior to national elections in accordance with the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS). President Kiir stated that “This signifies the end of war. Peace has come, and it has come to stay.” Kiir publicly asked Machar for forgiveness, and Machar pledged to work with Kiir.
The general level of violence declined in South Sudan following the signing of the September 2018 R-ARCSS, but outbreaks of violence continue to this day. Some members of the opposition previously aligned with SPLA-IO remain outside of the agreement and engage in sporadic clashes with government and peacekeeping forces. Communal violence is ongoing, often triggered by limited access to water, cattle raids, or traditional clashes between farmers and herders. Four million people remain displaced in the country, refugee camps have become incubators for COVID-19 infections, and humanitarian aid workers have been ambushed, triggering additional US sanctions, this time under the Magnitsky Act.
Despite the general reduction in political violence since the signing of the 2018 agreement, the Security Council agreed to extend the existing sanctions regime in UNSCR 2521 (29 May 2020). Russia, China, and South Africa abstained, despite the fact that the resolution contained language calling for a formal review of the continuation of all three types of sanctions in place (individual asset freezes, travel bans, and an arms embargo) by the middle of December 2020. Significantly, the resolution consistently acknowledges the positive role played by IGAD, despite concerns expressed in the Panel reports about lack of regional enforcement of the sanctions.
The most recent Panel of Experts report (April 2020) describes the February 2020 agreement as “a political milestone,” yet expresses caution regarding the continued implementation of the agreement, particularly with regard to the transitional security arrangements. Units like the National Security Service remain outside the framework, and some separate militias with linkages to the government have been formed. With regard to the implementation of the sanctions regime, the report emphasizes lack of regional commitment to implementation of the arms embargo, especially from Sudan and Uganda, and it singles out lack of enforcement of the asset freeze by Kenya and Uganda. However, travel ban exemptions have been requested, and granted by the Sanctions Committee, to enable targeted individuals to participate in mediation activities in Germany.
Coerce the main parties to agree to a negotiated settlement of the conflict, including a permanent ceasefire.
Constrain both sides from continuing to carry out military operations (including against civilians).
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, the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement of 21 December 2017, the Khartoum Declaration of 27 June 2018, the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan on 12 September 2018 and the February 2020 agreement to form a Transitional Government of National Unity.
Ongoing 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 and the Khartoum Declaration).
Newly imposed arms imports embargo on all parties to the conflict.
Current and maximum number of designees during the episode: 8 individuals (on both sides of the conflict).
UN sanctions can have some non-discriminating impact on the general population, since they include arms embargoes, diplomatic sanctions, and/or restrictions on the conduct of particular activities or the export of specific commodities.
Sanctions imposed for a limited time period (1 year) and renewed periodically. Sanctions Committee and Panel of Experts in place. Designation criteria specified and targets designated. Enforcement authorities not specified.
Both of the main protagonists (Kiir and Machar) signed the September 2018 agreement, and they followed up with implementation of key arrangements, particularly with the establishment of the TGNU in February 2020. The ceasefire has lasted nearly two years and major compromises have been made on both sides, but given the intensity of their rivalry, it remains to be seen whether full implementation can be sustained.
Threat of sanctions on senior government officials may have played a role in the decision to sign the September 2018 agreement, but US sanctions on Vice President Gai (a key ally of Kiir) in January 2020, along with intense IGAD mediation efforts appeared more significant to the February 2020 outcome.
Although there has been a general reduction in political violence since the signing of the 2018 agreement, arms remain available to both sides and individual designees retain influential positions within military forces.
Neighboring states did not support the arms embargo and have not enforced it and UN sanctions designees retain influential positions within military forces.
UNSCR 2428 barely passed, with 6 abstentions (including China, Russia, and Ethiopia), again signaling weak support for the many normative injunctions articulated in the resolution; the eight individual designations signaled an approximate balance between the two parties, suggesting stigmatization of both sides for attacks on civilian populations (though five of the eight designees are associated with the Kiir government, tipping the balance of responsibility slightly against the government). Those designated, however, did not experience much stigmatization within South Sudan; indeed, most retain, or have been appointed to senior positions in the military of the TGNU, and one was even hosted by the UN Secretary-General at a reception during a visit to Juba in May 2019.
UNSCR 2521 signaled UNSC concerns, but IGAD’s active diplomatic activity was more important than sanctions or threats of UN sanctions in signaling resolve.
Insufficient information available at present.