South Sudan: fresh evidence of arms embargo violations and illicit concealment of weapons
Thousands of child soldiers still being used, while arms being hidden from monitors
UN arms embargo due to expire on 31 May should be extended
With country threatened by COVID, ‘priority must be given to protecting people's health and livelihoods, rather than purchasing and importing arms’ - Deprose Muchena
***Satellite imagery exposing violations available***
The UN Security Council must renew and strengthen enforcement of an arms embargo on South Sudan, Amnesty International said today (30 April), as it revealed evidence of multiple breaches of the embargo and of weapons being concealed in a country already “awash” with small arms.
Amnesty investigators gained access to 12 military training and cantonment sites across South Sudan where government and former opposition forces are supposedly disarming and taking part in joint training exercises. However, Amnesty found the disarmament process was not being followed and discovered evidence of newly-imported arms in violation of the UN embargo.
Amnesty researchers also found that weapons were being illicitly concealed, while armoured vehicles were being diverted for military uses not approved under their arms transfer licences. Meanwhile, there is evidence that government and former opposition forces have been deceiving regional monitors with misleading reporting of their activities.
In light of its findings, Amnesty is calling for the current arms embargo - due to expire on 31 May - to be extended.
Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s East and Southern Africa Director, said:
“The African Union has dubbed 2020 the year to ‘silence the guns’ on the continent, which, as they have stated, includes taking measures to prevent UN arms embargo violations.
“Renewing the embargo on South Sudan is a crucial part of this effort. Weapons have been used to commit horrific human rights violations and war crimes throughout the conflict.
“The UN arms embargo hasn’t been a panacea, but the situation would almost certainly be worse without it in place.
“The ceasefire continues to be broken sporadically, the implementation of critical security, governance and accountability arrangements are persistently delayed, and South Sudan - awash with small arms - is also facing the public health crisis posed by COVID-19. Now is not the time to let even more weapons flow into this volatile mix.”
Evidence of UN arms embargo violations
Most of the hundreds of rifles and other small arms that Amnesty investigators observed in the hands of soldiers were acquired prior to the July 2018 UN arms embargo. However, several bodyguards for prominent generals carried Eastern European-manufactured weapons previously undocumented in the country. Amnesty believes these weapons were brought into South Sudan in violation of the arms embargo.
Amnesty has also acquired verified photographs of ammunition used by the National Security Service at Luri, a highly secretive base outside the capital, Juba. The images show Chinese cartridges manufactured in 2016, after China’s last acknowledged sale to South Sudan. Either these cartridges breached the arms embargo, were secretly sold beforehand, or were acquired from a third-party seller who would have broken the embargo or illicitly diverted the ammunition.
Sources have also told Amnesty that at the time the arms embargo was established the South Sudan government’s fleet of Mi-24 attack helicopters was dysfunctional and grounded. Since then it has acquired spare parts to refurbish the helicopters, violating the arms embargo. Satellite imagery analysis by Amnesty shows that several of the helicopters underwent significant maintenance at Luri and Juba International Airport in October 2018, and have been flown several times since.
Deprose Muchena said:
“Just one of these attack helicopters costs USD $36 million, and parts and maintenance come at a premium, particularly when these components violate a UN arms embargo.
“Given the tremendous challenges facing South Sudan’s grossly under-funded health and social welfare systems - particularly in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic - priority must be given to protecting people's health and livelihoods, rather than purchasing and importing arms.”
Weapons hidden from monitors
As part of the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan signed in September 2018, government and opposition forces committed to moving troops to joint cantonment sites, turning in their weapons to independently-monitored armouries, and to beginning a training process to form unified forces.
However, Amnesty investigators at the 12 sites it visited found little evidence of this happening. Some fighters did not bring their weapons to the cantonment sites, while others arrived with weapons but then hid them in their homes rather than surrender them.
The only site that had an established armoury was Gorom, where the special VIP protection force is being formed and trained. In a presentation to diplomats and independent ceasefire monitors, the brigadier general leading the training said four shipping containers had been used to store weapons. However, when Amnesty researchers requested that the containers be opened, the containers were stuffed with bags of grain, and only a handful of small arms were laid against the door of a single container.
Child soldiers and other violations
During the investigation, Amnesty observed child soldiers present in at least two cantonment and training sites, within the ranks of government and opposition forces. As of July last year, UNICEF estimated there were 19,000 children being used by armed forces and armed groups in South Sudan. Only 53 had been released from barracks, bases and cantonment sites by 7 February.
Amnesty’s research in the country took place earlier this year. Investigators gained access to military and cantonment sites run by members of former opposition forces, including the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces, Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition, and South Sudan Opposition Alliance, as well as the so-called “Organised Forces” of the police, fire brigade and wildlife service.