South Sudan: Country overview
The Republic of South Sudan is a landlocked nation in East-Central Africa, neighbouring Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, DRC and CAR. It has an estimated population of 7-10 million and is the world’s newest country, gaining independence from Sudan in 2011 in a bid to end Africa’s longest-running civil war. A new civil war, however, broke out in 2013, displacing four million people. In 2018, a peace deal was signed by the warring political actors. Salva Klir Mayardit has been the country’s president since before Independence; he is also head of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).
As of 2018, South Sudan is yet to sign and ratify the Arms Trade Treaty.
How many licences for the sale of arms to South Sudan has the UK issued between 2011 and 2017?
The number of licences granted for the export of weapons to South Sudan has stayed relatively low and stable since the state achieved independence in 2011. There was however a spike in 2017 where 153 licences were approved, which stands in contrast to the average of 14,3 licences approved per year in the previous nine years.
In total, from 2011 to 2017, 282 arms licences were granted for South Sudan. Of these, 54% came from licences approeved in 2017 alone.
What is the total value of those exports in GBP?
The value of the exports to South Sudan is small, but the country is also one of the poorest in the world. In total, from 2012 to 2017, £4.5m. worth of licences was sold to South Sudan by UK based companies. Half of the total value was due to exports in 2012 alone where the total value that year reached £2,3m.
What are the top 10 types of arms export licences Britain is selling to South Sudan?
Whilst the data given above is just for military exports (single-use), when you consider both military and dual-use exports (dual-licences are permits to control all the material, software and technology that can be used for civil purposes like humanitarian aid, but also for military goals) the top ten export items requiring licences are as below.
The most frequent UK-sold items to South Sudan are typical of a country fighting a civil war, as much equipment for conventional military operations appears on the list. Items that can be used for surveillance purposes are also recurring items.
Why should British citizens be concerned about arms sales?
Since South Sudan became independent on July 9, 2011, the new government has failed to protect its citizens from human rights violations, and the country has seen deliberate attacks on civilians by both the state forces and militia groups. A new civil war broke out in 2013, as a result of political tensions between President Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar. Government forces targeted people based on their ethnicity and their alleged political positions. And, while some security forces remained loyal to Kiir, others joined the armed opposition under Machar, which later became known as the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-In Opposition (SPLM/A- IO), escalating levels of violence further.
From 2011 to 2017, human rights violations have been widespread in South Sudan. These include the arrest and persecution of journalists, the restriction to press freedom, killings, rape, torture, and the recruitment of child soldiers. All parties to the conflict have reportedly used a range of weapons to carry out killings and rapes of thousands of civilians, and displacing countless more.
A peace deal was, however, signed in 2018 between the warring parties as an attempt to end the brutal conflict.
Since 2011, the EU, including the UK, has imposed an arms embargo on South Sudan, making it a criminal offence to contravene that prohibition. And, as of late in 2018, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution imposing an arms embargo on South Sudan. This was an attempt to revitalise the peace process and was seen as necessary to end the violence and flow of weapons, used by armed groups to harm civilians.
The UK has, however, continued to sell arms based on predated contracts to this highly unstable and violent country.
In September 2017, Amnesty International alleged that the British-based arms company, S-Profit Ltd, had been selling arms to South Sudan, reportedly with the UK government’s full knowledge. The $46m worth arms deal included small arms, light weapons and ammunition to the South Sudanese government. Amnesty also reported that “the UK government has, for more than eight years, been aware of UK shell companies being used unlawfully as contract vehicles for weapons dealers to supply arms to human rights violators and embargoed destinations including Syria, Eritrea and South Sudan.” It added that the UK had made no regulatory changes to address these crucial gaps, failing to take meaningful enforcement actions against the companies involved.
British citizens should be worried about UK arms sale to South Sudan, as the conflict is a brutal example of the devastating impact irresponsible arms transfers can have on a country’s degree of armed violence. The deteriorating humanitarian situation in South Sudan continues to be exacerbated by new transfers, and the widespread use of deadly weapons, such as Kalashnikovs, mines, and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs.)
This stresses the urgent need for restricted arms control and calls for increased UK compliance with the ATT. Moreover, the UK needs to immediately review its company registration procedures, implementing measures ensuring that it is capable of preventing the use of UK ‘shell’ companies to supply arms to serious human rights violators.
What has the British government said about these concerns?
With South Sudan being listed as a ‘human rights priority country’, the UK government has been outspoken in its criticism of human rights in South Sudan: “The human rights situation in South Sudan deteriorated further during 2015. Both government and opposition forces continued to breach previous commitments to end hostilities, and widespread fighting resumed in April and May. While a peace agreement was signed in August, serious human rights violations and abuses, and breaches of international humanitarian law continued to be recorded, the majority of which were reportedly committed by government-backed forces. Sexual violence remained a significant concern and was reported in areas previously unaffected by conflict in the south. Gang rapes coupled with beatings and abductions of women were reportedly perpetrated by government-backed forces. Despite international pressure, there was little or no follow-up on long-awaited government investigations into human rights violations and abuses. The rights of the child continued to be violated with reports indicating the use of child soldiers by both sides.”
In a statement to the UN in 2017, the UK added: “Innocent civilians are paying the price for this crisis – targeted and killed on the basis of their ethnicity. Women and children are subject to horrific levels of sexual and gender-based violence. Rape is being used as a weapon of war, and perpetrators continue to act with impunity.”
Despite the UK being a strong advocator for the 2018 UN-imposed arms embargo, it has failed to end its own arms export and what’s more, to effectively control UK-produced arms transfers to South Sudan. Following Amnesty’s reports, the UK government, however, denies authorising the supply of arms to South Sudan, stating that it “takes its arms export control responsibilities very seriously and operates one of the most robust arms export control regimes in the world. We do not licence the supply of equipment that would be in breach of an arms embargo, which would provoke or prolong armed conflicts, or aggravate tensions or conflicts, or if there is a clear risk that the items might be used for internal repression”.
What evidence is there of human rights abuses that the South Sudanese government have committed since 2010?
Events in 2010
The year preceding South Sudan’s independence was marked by serious human rights violations, especially following the multi-party national elections held in April. In Southern Sudan, security forces were reportedly engaged in widespread intimidation, arbitrary arrest, detention, and mistreatment of opponents of the SPLM, election observers and voters.
For instance, in northern Jonglei state, forces loyal to a former deputy chief of staff of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) clashed with the SPLA after the election results were announced. The SPLA’s efforts to capture the renegade commander resulted in numerous human rights abuses against the civilian population, including sexual violence.
Events in 2011
South Sudan declared its independence on July 9 after an overwhelming vote for secession from Sudan. After many years of systematic human rights violations, the new government expressed its intention to ratify major human rights treaties. However, as political tensions led to violent clashes, the government failed to protect its civilians, and security forces fighting against armed militias were accused of committing serious abuses against civilians. Hundreds of civilians were killed, while thousands were displaced, especially in the Upper Nile, Unity, and Jonglei states.
Both opposition fighters and government soldiers reportedly failed to take adequate measures to avoid civilian harm, and Human Rights Watch documented grave human rights abuses and violations of humanitarian law by SPLA soldiers during the fighting, including unlawful killings of civilians and the destruction of homes and civilian property. The UN reported that SPLA soldiers, during a confrontation with a militia group in Jonglei in May, opened fire indiscriminately on civilians.
Events in 2012
During a Jonglei disarmament operation, the so-called “Operation Restore Peace,” beginning in March 2012 and continued throughout the year, and government soldiers were reported to have been responsible for extrajudicial killings, rape, torture, and looting.
The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) described how a range of human right violations continued to take place in this period, saying that there was a well-founded reason to believe that both parties have committed gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Among the violations committed are extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, rape arbitrary arrests and detention, targeted attacks against civilians, and attacks on hospitals. The report even suggested that some of the crimes amounted to crimes against humanity.
Events in 2013
The Kiir government was reportedly not effectively responding to the unlawful killings, arrests, detentions, beating and attacks and other human rights violations systematically committed by its security forces. Human rights groups addressed the lack of capacity and inadequate training of police, prosecutors, and judges, which caused numerous human rights violations.
Courts were often sidestepped, and suspects faced detentions for weeks or months in military facilities under extremely harsh conditions, Many were subjected to severe beatings. Regime soldiers reportedly killed six civilians during an attack on Orema village in April. The attack was reportedly in revenge for the killing of security forces by armed civilians during an earlier incident.
In December, a political power struggle in South Sudan between President Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar took the country into the South Sudanese Civil War, allowing for further abuses of the civilian population. Kiir claimed that the violence was caused by a coup attempt by Machar, a charge the now-leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-in Opposition forces has denied.
Events in 2014
Following the outbreak of a new civil war, thousands of civilians were reported killed. Government forces were accused of conducting a brutal crackdown on Juba’s Nuer population that included targeted killings, house-to-house searches, mass arrests, unlawful detention of hundreds of men in poor conditions, ill-treatment, and torture.
A range of atrocities took place, with the tragedy in Bentiu as a brutal example, where both government and opposition forces killed hundreds of civilians in their fight for control of the area. Moreover, it was reported the government had deployed children on the front lines to defend Bentiu.
Besides claims of extrajudicial killings and torture, the UNMISS also reported that the National Security Service (NSS) had been involved in arrest and detention despite lacking constitutional mandate to do so. The UNMISS report added that the freedoms such as those of expression and speech, had been restricted as security organs, including the NSS, shut down radio stations and newspapers, and arrested and intimidated journalists and human rights defenders.
Events in 2015
In early 2015, the government launched one of its biggest offensives in the conflict, killing hundreds of civilians and burning homes and other civilian property in opposition-held areas of Unity state. Such wanton destruction contributed to a widening famine in the country. Many women were raped by security forces; UNICEF estimated approximately 15,000 children had been recruited as child soldiers. Extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, intimidation and unlawful detention carried out by state groups were also listed by human rights organisations.
Events in 2016
The indiscriminate targeting of civilians continued throughout 2016. In Juba, government and opposition forces clashed in July, with both forces firing indiscriminately into densely populated areas, injuring and killing many civilians in the process. During the clashes, soldiers reportedly raped hundreds of mostly Nuer displaced women in Juba.
In November, UN Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng stated that the conflict had transformed into an “ethnic war”, warning of the potential for a genocide to engulf the country.
Events in 2017
With the civil war entering its fourth year of fighting, thousands of people were killed and more than four million displaced. The regime was reported to have increased its repression of certain members of civil society, along with journalists and opposition politicians, who often were subject to arbitrary detention.
In July, in an attempt to ease the conflict, the UN imposed an arms embargo on the country, and eight military leaders faced individual sanctions. However, as of writing, all parties to the conflict continue to commit crimes that violate both national and international law human rights law. Impunity persisted, giving rise to even more violence.
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