The Obama administration on Thursday placed sanctions on leaders from opposing military forces in South Sudan for their roles in the country’s conflict, according to Reuters.
The Treasury Department said it expanded its sanctions list to include South Sudan military commander Gabriel Jok Riak and opposition commander Simon Gatwech Dual.
These weren’t the only recent sanctions related to the conflict in South Sudan, which has been raging since December of 2013. On July 1st, the United Nations Security Council sanctioned 3 generals each on both sides of the conflict, authorizing UN member states to freeze their foreign assets and prohibit them from travelling abroad.
South Sudan is the world’s youngest nation, and gained its Independence in July of 2011 as the result of a 2005 treaty that ended Sudan’s two-decade-long civil war.
The country fractured less than 3 years later, when a political crisis led to the splintering of the ruling Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement, a partial result of long-simmering ethnic tension between Nuer and Dinka cadres within the leadership and security services.
Now, South Sudanese president Salva Kiir is fighting a constellation of loosely-connected groups, including an insurgency led by Riek Machar, who was formerly one of his vice presidents. The conflict has displaced nearly 1.5 million people, raised the specter of famine in the country and sparked atrocities on both sides.
A June 29th report from the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, the country’s UN peacekeeping contingent, has drawn added scrutiny to government atrocities, with the report including ground-level reports of mass kidnappings and sexual violence on the part of Kiir’s forces and allied militia groups.
The report found a general uptick in the brutality of atrocities on both sides fo the conflict, stating that “The scope and level of cruelty” or recent incidents “suggests a depth of antipathy that exceeds political differences.”
As Akshaya Kumar, a Sudan and South Sudan policy analyst for the Enough Project, explained to Business Insider, the UN sanctions are a marker of just how far the conflict currently is from either a peaceful resolution or total victory for government or anti-government forces. “It’s obvious that both sides are committed toa military solution,” Kumar says, adding that the UN measure is “the first multilateral action that’s ever been taken as a gesture towards accountability” for the conflict’s major players.
With negotiations stalling, famine setting in, and the human rights situation continuing to deteriorate, there will likely be added impetus to use sanctions to hasten the war’s conclusion. Kumar says additional rounds of sanctions are needed to target leaders higher up the government and rebel ranks.
“There is a class of people in South Sudan who both occupy significant decision making roles but also have managed to be insulated form the real effect and impact of their intransigence,” says Kumar.
BBC reporter and analyst James Copnall writes that the sanctions themselves are leveled against career militants who have few assets outside of South Sudan, and were singled out for their role in hunan rights abuses. Copnall believes the latest round of sanctions are aimed at warning more politically consequential leaders higher up the chain of command.
“The message to Mr Kiir and Mr Riek Machar is this: Hurry up, sign a peace deal – or you could be next,” Copnall writes.
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