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Gov’t rebukes Amnesty International’s call for arms embargo extension

Authors: Daniel Danis | Woja Emmanuel | Published: Monday, November 30, 2020

South Sudanese soldiers Credit|ALEX MCBRIDE/AFP via Getty Images

The government of South Sudan has described as unfortunate a new statement by Amnesty International calling for the extension of the arms embargo on the country.

It said the petition by the rights watchdog is contrary to the provision of the agreement that requires the arming of trained, unified and deployed forces.

“There is no way we can graduate these forces without arms, and we have been saying this arms embargo should be lifted,” said Michael Makuei, spokesperson, Transitional Government of National Unity.

On Monday, November 30, 2020 –Amnesty International issued a statement, demanding that the United Nations Security Council maintains the arms embargo on South Sudan.

The Council is set to conduct a mid-term review of its arms embargo and other measures on South Sudan before 15 December. 

But the organization opposes this. It said it has confirmed reports of shocking cases of extreme violence by government forces and an increase in attacks on civilians, including war crimes, across the country in 2020.

Amnesty International explained that its new research documented a series of extrajudicial executions, forced displacement, torture, and destruction of civilian property by the government and former opposition forces.

It documented 110 destroyed structures in several attacks between April and June 2020

This, they said, happened between April and June 2020 in Central Equatoria State, southwest of the capital Juba.

“Earlier this year, as South Sudan’s officials called for the arms embargo to be lifted, government soldiers were shooting civilians, burning homes, raping women and girls, and displacing tens of thousands of people from their villages in the south of the country,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s East and Southern Africa Director.

The organization referred to data collected by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project –which also saw significant widespread violence during that period in Jonglei, Lakes, Warrap and Western Equatoria.

An analysis by the Stimson Center indicated that the statistics revealed a 400% increase in violence compared to the same period in 2019.

Amnesty International accused the government of South Sudan of failing to protect its people.

It added that it “would be irresponsible of the Security Council to suspend or lift the arms embargo now, in light of the horrendous human rights violations being committed by government forces.”

“Well, of course, Amnesty International cannot write any good report about us because if they write a good report then definitely they will not have news to send,” Michael Makuei responded.

He described the report as ill-intended and a mismatch from what is expected in the revitalized peace deal.

The agreement states that on the completion of training the unified forces shall be redeployed at different levels and sizes (units, formations and commands).

“In the first place –if they are recommending to the UN Security Council that arms embargo must be maintained, then they are telling us that ‘don’t implement the provisions of Chapter 2 of the agreement,” Makuei declared.

However, Chapter 2 of the agreement also states that all the warring parties and all other forces or allied militias shall “ensure sustainable peace, and facilitate the operationalization of the Transitional Security Arrangements and the voluntary repatriation, resettlement, rehabilitation and reintegration of returnees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).”

It also demands that the parties refrain from prohibited actions that may impede or delay the provision of humanitarian assistance, or protection of civilians, and restrict the free movement of people, including acts of hostility, intimidation, violence or attacks against civilian population, returnees and media personnel, UN and other humanitarian agencies.

Mr. Makuei insisted that the embargo should immediately be lifted so that “we can buy arms for these people who are in the field so that we graduate them with their arms.”

Amnesty International believes newly acquired weapons are often given to bodyguards of prominent generals from government and opposition forces alike, “who would have first access to newly acquired weapons, carried models of Eastern European weapons never before documented in South Sudan.”

In April 2020, Amnesty International said it published evidence from South Sudan of newly-imported small arms and ammunition, illicit concealment of weapons, and diversion of armoured vehicles for military uses that were not approved under the arms transfer licenses. 

The organization maintains that these weapons were brought into South Sudan in violation of the arms embargo. 

The UN and ceasefire monitors in South Sudan say clashes have continued in the southern part of the country between the rebel group known as the National Salvation Front (NAS), on the one hand, and the government’s South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF) and Sudan’s People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO), on the other. 

Amnesty International said it conducted remote interviews, analysed satellite images in Yei, Lainya and Morobo counties where civilians have been killed, displaced and properties destroyed.

“The atrocities of this conflict compound the decades of suffering from the millions of South Sudanese, who survived war crimes and crimes against humanity during the struggle for independence from Sudan,” Muchena stated.

It called on the UN Security Council to also consider the state’s atrocious human rights record, not only on the basis of the implementation of the provisions of the 2018 revitalized peace agreement.

However, Michael Makuei questioned Amnesty International’s underlying motive of writing to the UN Security Council.

“These, of course, are interests groups who must make sure that South Sudan continues in crises so that they continue to feed on the blood of the people of South Sudan,” he claimed.

“If they have written such a report, then it is very unfortunate,” he added, warning that “if the Security Council accepts, then they should not talk to us about the implementation of the peace agreement.”

On 29 May, the UN Security Council renewed the arms embargo on South Sudan for another year, although Russia, China and South Africa abstained. 

The Council members –on December 15th –are expected to conduct a mid-term review of the arms embargo against progress achieved in the implementation of all the provisions in the 2018 revitalized peace agreement, and adherence to a ceasefire. 

It will also consider how to develop options in which to review the arms embargo in May 2021.

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