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‘Arms embargo’ or ‘Disarmament of civilian’ -which one should south Sudan government focus on?

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South Sudan’s government recently expressed disappointment with the renewal of arms embargo on the country by the UN Security Council (UNSC), and warned the action will only increase insecurity in the country.

On May 29, the UNSC adopted a resolution to run till May 31, 2021 on arms embargo, travel and financial sanction for targeted individuals in South Sudan.

The embargo is meant to deny the country of arms and other resources that would fuel crisis, according to the UNSC.

But the government has expressed disappointment over it, arguing that it will instead create insecurity.

“Our biggest problem with the arms embargo as a country is, the civilians are more armed then the government and this is a challenge as a country really, because we have been locked in we don’t access to the international market,” the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International cooperation Deng Dau Deng explained

“Even just to arm the police for them to keep law and order is a big issue to us,” he said.

Referring to the sanctions on individuals, Deng said: “It’s very difficult to those individuals who are targeted as citizens of South Sudan because even before COVID-19 they were not allowed to travel.”

“We raised this issue, we want to discuss on how to delist those who are on the sanction list.”

The council first imposed the arms embargo in 2018.

The arms embargo empowers all UN member states to prevent arms and related equipment of all types-including weapons and ammunition, military vehicles and equipment, paramilitary equipment, and any spare parts-from entering South Sudan.

On May 30, the 15-member body was also asked to provide a report by the end of October on the role of the arms embargo in implementing a 2018 peace agreement as well as providing options for developing benchmarks in South Sudan, which is emerging from a ruinous six-year civil war that left 380,000 dead and millions displaced.

The resolution extended the arms embargo and targeted sanctions until May 31, 2021, but authorized a mid-term review of the measures by Dec. 15 this year.

Russia, China, and South Africa have argued that sanctions are not conducive to promoting the peace process, so they abstained on the resolution.

US Ambassador to South Sudan Thomas Hushek said the renewal of the embargo and sanctions are a step to keeping the peace process moving forward and will only be removed when progress is seen in the peace implementation.

“I think that is an important step forward and it sets out a plan to measure progress against the peace process that will eventually lead to the lifting of those arms embargo and sanctions to make the peace processes moving forward,” Hushek said last week after he met with officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation in the South Sudanese capital Juba.

“The main thing is to keep the peace process moving forward,” Hushek insisted.

The US administration and EU have sanctions on more than 10 South Sudanese officials since 2014 for allegedly perpetuating conflict in the East African nation.

Both were accused of expanding the country’s conflict and obstructing the reconciliation process or peace talks.

South Sudan, which gained independence from Sudan in 2011, plunged into civil war in 2013 after a conflict broke out between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar.

The conflict has led to a humanitarian crisis with millions of refugees forced to flee the country, as well as famines and atrocities such as rape.

Is it arms embargo that caused insecurity or the inability of the government to disarm the civilians

In order to stamp out arms from civilian possession and illegal ownership, the Government of the Republic of South Sudan needs comprehensive strategies that incorporate the following:

  • Conduct intensive research on the populations with arms seeking to understand the reasons behind arm ownership and provide means for them to participate and define the disarmament process;
  • Grassroots mobilization and sensitization campaigns among communities against the culture of the gun and restoration of cultural norms and values which support peaceful co-existence;
  • Provide and increase the effectiveness of security and governance structures and resources, all the way down to the lower level of local governance (Boma-the lower administrative unit);
  • To increase the effective control and security of all national borders and work with bordering countries to jointly cooperate in tracing illicit arms proliferation to or from neighboring countries;
  • Facilitate infrastructure development such as road networks, schools, health services and potable water to lessen the flashpoints such as rivers or streams where people meet and trigger conflict;
  • Create job opportunities for youth as alternative livelihoods to discourage the culture of gun violence;
  • Discourage forceful disarmament; disarmament must be in collaboration with communities through their commitment and ownership of the process. The disarmament should be conducted throughout the country simultaneously to avoid attacks from other states of the Republic of South Sudan as it was witnessed in the past.
  • Build a stockpile for safe storage of arms.

 In my opinion the right way to provide the security needed without encouraging lawlessness is first for the government of the Republic of South Sudan to build road networks across ten states.

At the level of state government in turn they need to build roads across into counties and bomas (the lower administrative units). This will enhance the accessibility to provide security and deployment of police and law enforcement agencies near the communities. It will allow the government to better learn the nature of conflict and where these arms come from and who supplies them.

Government institutions such as a police post and or other local law enforcement agencies being nearby or accessible to a community will enable relationship building between communities and the security agencies. In that way, trust can be built and the presence of government will create a sense of security and less need to carry guns by the civilians to protect themselves. The availability of the nearby police stations and the law enforcement agencies will lessen the inter-ethnic violence.

Second, the provision of security within the borders of the states, counties, bomas (lower administrative units) and within the neighboring countries should be priority. In this venture there should be communication equipment which fosters fast communication and exchanges of information among the units on the borders.

Third, a public campaign against gun violence should continue through mass media, social events, cultural institutions and religious institutions. This means facilitating forums where different segments of the communities discuss their security concerns and how to tackle them. It is known that everybody is weary of gun culture and the only problem is when giving up your gun, without ensuring that your life and properties are safe is the concern that makes people hesitate.

Fourth, provision of services such as health, education and agriculture will facilitate the shift in the behavioral pattern of the community. For example, if schools are available these youth who are problem makers will go to schools and spend most of their time there. If farms are available, people will go to make money instead of pursuing raiding where life or death is uncertain. This long term engagement of all actors through such social and economic processes will enable a positive change in attitudes towards the gun culture and the availability of services will create paradigm shift in communities with arms to work on their livelihoods and development.

Fifth, after the government understands the sources of arms possession among civilians, and has provided educational and job opportunities and built trust with the local communities, then, disarmament should follow.  In this way civilian security will be guaranteed and there will be no fear or threat either from outside or inside the country. This, then, will be a favorable time for peaceful and voluntary disarmament. This is the process that the Government of the Republic of South Sudan needs to go through in devising comprehensive solutions that involve all stakeholders at all levels to ensure peace, security and development for the nation.

In the light of the disarmament process with multifaceted dimensions, there is need for inclusiveness in the discussion on how to stamp out the arms proliferation in South Sudan. Having said that, the government should create forums to gather broader perspectives on why people refuse to give up arms. In order to go on with disarmament, infrastructure and development should be given priority because it will facilitate the mobilization of the public and accessibility of government institutions and law enforcement agencies to places where guns are being snatched. Since the issue of arms is not only South Sudan’s problem but also a wider problem that its neighbors face, it is crucial to ensure collaboration of neighboring border nations on border security to reduce influxes of arms in and out of the country. This should include coordinated planning amongst all stakeholders including the communities.

The process should start step by step until a lasting solution is found at which everybody will feel secure and safe not to require weapons anymore. At the moment, the Government of the Republic of South Sudan needs to ensure security and protection for all ten states and that movement of arms in and out of the country must be fully controlled. The disarmament process should be voluntary and not forced and at the same time must to be simultaneous throughout the country to make sure that the arms collected do not go back into wrong hands.

The government should build proper storages in places where disarmament will be conducted and unserviceable weapons collected have to be destroyed in the presence of general public to build confidence amongst them. In this way the process will be peaceful and will ensure trustworthy relationship between government and its people.

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