posted on Wed 16 Sep 2015 4:31 PM
South Sudan Sanctions Committee: Proposal for New Designations Put on Hold

In an effort to exert leverage on the parties in South Sudan to honour the peace agreement they signed in late August, amid ongoing violations of the ceasefire agreement outlined in the accord, the US last week proposed two additional names for targeted sanctions. The US proposal was jointly sponsored by France and the UK. Four Council members—Angola, China, Russia and Venezuela—put on hold a decision on the US proposal, before the 15 September expiry of a no-objection period, and as a result the proposed designations have not come into effect.

According to the 2206 South Sudan Sanctions Committee guidelines, a proposal placed on hold remains pending until the holds are lifted or objections are made. Matters can remain pending for no longer than six months, at which point the pending issue (i.e., a designation) is approved, unless there is an objection to the proposal, or under extraordinary circumstances, additional time is needed to consider the request.

The individuals who had been proposed for targeted measures were Paul Malong Awan, chief of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), and Johnson Olonyi, an SPLA in Opposition general, who had previously fought on the government side. According to the proposal, Malong Awan would have been targeted with both an assets freeze and a travel ban, while Olonyi would have been subjected only to a travel ban.

The 2206 South Sudan Sanctions committee operates under a five-day no-objection period before proposed designations come into force. (Sanctions committees operate by consensus, so if any member objects the designations are not valid.) The no-objection period for the proposed measures on Malong Awan and Olonyi would have expired at 3:00 pm yesterday (15 September). However, Angola put on hold a decision on designations on Monday evening (14 September), while Russia, Venezuela and China followed suit on Tuesday (15 September).

Angola argued that the Council’s decision-making should not be contingent on the domestic law of one of its members—an apparent reference to a US explanation in response to Russia’s request for clarification as to why an asset freeze in addition to a travel ban was not proposed for Olonyi—and stated that it did not believe that designating these two individuals would support the peace process in South Sudan. It further proposed that a decision on the potential designations be delayed until after the convening of the AU Peace and Security Council summit in New York, scheduled for 26 September, and the high-level event on South Sudan planned for 29 September on the margins of the General Assembly’s opening session. Russia argued that the additional designations could negatively impact implementation of the peace agreement. China and Venezuela apparently supported the views expressed by Angola and Russia.

At the 4 September consultations on South Sudan, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Ellen Margrethe Løj noted that there had been numerous violations of the peace agreement signed in late August by the parties. Divisions within the Council at that meeting on the utility of the sanctions under current circumstances foreshadowed the disagreements that have arisen over the US’s recently proposed designations. Most members were favorably disposed towards additional designations, with the US expressing its intention to propose additional names. Some delegations also argued in favor of an arms embargo. However, other members were more skeptical about the efficacy of sanctions in the present context, apparently not believing that they would exert leverage on decision-makers in a constructive way. Russia argued that the targeted measures that had already been imposed on individuals in South Sudan had been counter-productive, and that an arms embargo would be difficult to enforce because of South Sudan’s insecure borders. (On 1 July, the 2206 South Sudan Sanctions Committee imposed travel bans and assets freezes on six military figures, including three affiliated with the SPLA and three affiliated with the SPLA in Opposition.) Angola, like Russia, explicitly expressed reluctance regarding additional targeted measures.

The Council is expected to remain actively engaged on South Sudan issues in the coming months. The US has been working on a draft resolution that would support initial implementation of the security, operational and political aspects of the peace agreement. Council members are expecting this draft to be circulated imminently. A workshop on transitional security arrangements, convened in Addis Ababa by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, and including the participation of the SPLA and the SPLA in Opposition, is currently underway, and expected to conclude by 18 September. It is possible that the US may wait until after the workshop has concluded before circulating the resolution, as the decisions reached in the workshop could help inform the content of the resolution. In the next Secretary-General’s report on UNMISS, due in November, the Secretary-General is expected to provide recommendations for a revised mandate for the Council’s consideration prior to the mission’s 30 November expiration. (This follows a two-stage mandating process as recommended by the report of the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations.)