Obama Administration Resisting Calls For Ban On Weapons To South Sudan

In early January, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS)  released details of the killing of hundreds of people in two separate incidents in April 2014, determining that civilians had been deliberately targeted by ethnicity in the towns of Bentiu and Bor in some of the worst violence since the South Sudan conflict began over a year ago.

According to the UN report, at least 353 civilians were killed in the two attacks blamed separately on rebel opposition forces and mobs loyal to the government.

“Although the conflict has been marked throughout by gross abuses and violations of human rights and serious violations of international humanitarian law, these two events seemed to represent the nadir of the conflict,” said the report.

At the same time, almost 30 South Sudanese and international organizations issued calls on the Obama administration to put its weight behind a U.N. arms embargo on South Sudan, which the groups said could stem the flow of weapons that have been used in the attacks on civilians.

Obama, however, rebuffed those calls despite intense lobbying from within the administration, including from Secretary of State John Kerry, to join in and support it.

The reason for the president’s reluctance, according to a new report in Foreign Policy, was the objections raised by US National Security Adviser Susan Rice, who thought the embargo “would undermine a democratically elected government’s ability to defend itself against an insurgency led by Kiir’s former vice president, Riek Machar, that has also committed heinous mass atrocities,” writes Colum Lynch.

While Rice appears to be softening her opposition, Lynch notes that the embargo would not be passed “until March or April, a period that coincides with the end of South Sudan’s traditional fighting season, according to the council diplomat.”

And even if the administration begins to move toward the international consensus that some action needs to be taken, few have faith in their statements that South Sudan will be held to account for their crimes.

“They have been threatening to impose sanctions for a long time,” Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. representative for Human Rights Watch, told Foreign Policy. “The threats are getting old and harder to take seriously now.”

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