The U.N. Security Council arms embargo on South Sudan will remain in force until May 31, 2021, following a global campaign by human rights defenders.

The Council restricted in 2018 to stop ethnic violence, which had been exacerbated by the unhindered flow of weapons to armed groups.

And on May 29, 2020, the Council voted to extend the arms embargo – giving a glimmer of hope to African Union’s “Silencing the Gun” campaign, which seeks a conflict-free Africa, prevent genocide, and make peace a reality for all by 2020.

But UNSC allowed a mid-term review of the measures by December 15, 2020.

Ahead of the critical decision, 25 human rights defenders in Africa issued an open letter to the Council against lifting the restrictions.

They included executive directors Abubakar Zein (MUHURI), Brian Kagoro (UHAI Africa Group), George Kegoro (Kenya Human Rights Commission), and Inuka Kenya Trust CEO John Githongo.

Maina Kiai, a former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, Makau Mutua who is a SUNY Distinguished Professor, among others, signed the document.

The group said the prevalence of weapons has encouraged fighting at the expense of peacemaking, warning that lack of strong containment measures will spread the war unchecked.

They accused the country’s elite of spending unprecedented amounts of money buying weapons, repeatedly flouting the 2018 arms embargo.

“Lifting the embargo at this time would only strengthen the hand of those who seek to amass weapons for their political gain and would sign the death sentences of civilians desperate for an end to the suffering caused by these weapons,” the group said in the letter to UNSC.

South Sudan’s ethnic violence erupted in 2013, two years after the country had gained independence from Sudan.

Forces loyal to President Salva Kiir started battling those loyal to Riek Machar, his former vice president.

The civil war killed over 400,000 people and left at least a million displaced, triggering Africa’s largest refugee crisis.

In 2016, Machar, who had fled the country over violence, returned as vice president after a peace deal that was short-lived, owing to fresh fights. Machar, again, flee months later.

The most recent deal in 2018 and on February 22, saw the formation of a coalition government headed by Kiir, with Machar as the deputy.

The new extension of the arms embargo is the second after last year’s.

12 against 3

During the latest voting, 12 out of the 15 UNSC members resolved to stay the sanctions, a travel ban and financial restrictions for targeted individuals.

They were France, United States, United Kingdom, Belgium, Vietnam, and Germany. Others were Dominican Republic, Estonia, Indonesia, Niger, Tunisia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Two UNSC permanent members – Russia and China – and a non-permanent member — South Africa – abstained from the resolution because they “are not conducive to promoting the peace process”.

The activists had told UNSC that the peace in South Sudan remains fragile and vulnerable as evidenced by outbreaks of intercommunal violence.

The group wants South Sudan to establish a stable security measure that will “prevent the proliferation of arms to the numerous and already well-armed groups”.

They also want South Sudan to focus on security sector reforms, peacebuilding, health, and infrastructure.

The letter to UNSC was first published by Atrocities Watch Africa. Read it here.