UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council defeated a U.S.-sponsored resolution that would have imposed an arms embargo and targeted sanctions on South Sudan on Friday, rejecting arguments that it would help diminish fighting and avoid mass atrocities.
In order for a resolution to be adopted by the U.N.'s most powerful body it needs nine "yes" votes and no veto by a permanent member. In Friday's vote, seven council members voted in favor of the resolution and eight abstained, so it was rejected.
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power told the council after the vote that the resolution was meant "to show that the architects of mass atrocities and those who defy the demands of the Security Council day in, day out, will face consequences."
She said the resolution "would not have been a panacea — we are not naive ... but the arms embargo would have had some significant effects" in slowing the import of weapons and reducing the violence.
There were high hopes that South Sudan would have peace and stability after its independence from neighboring Sudan in 2011. But the country plunged into ethnic violence in December 2013 when forces loyal to President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, started battling those loyal to Riek Machar, his former vice president who is a Nuer.
A peace deal signed in August 2015 has not stopped the fighting, which has killed tens of thousands of people and forced 3.1 million to flee their homes. The Security Council adopted a resolution in August authorizing 4,000 troops from African nations to beef up the more than 12,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force in South Sudan, and said if the government didn't comply it would consider an arms embargo.
Russia's deputy U.N. Ambassador Petr Iliichev, reflecting the views of the countries that abstained, said the U.S. was ignoring South Sudan's agreement in late November to the immediate deployment of the regional force and President Salva Kiir's speech to Parliament on Dec. 14 announcing a national reconciliation program.
"We think it is abnormal when serious work on settling the situation in South Sudan is undermined by senseless use of the sanctions stick," Iliichev said.
"This is a component of the practice of geopolitical engineering that the Western countries use against South Sudan," he said. "We don't want to share responsibility for disastrous consequences of such a short-sighted policy."
Japan's U.N. Ambassador Koro Bessho, who also abstained, said his country believes "it would be counterproductive to introduce additional sanction measures at a time" when there has been some progress.
"We are encouraged by the demonstration of political will by the president," he said, urging Kiir to speedily translate the government's pledges into action.
The defeated resolution would have imposed an arms embargo on South Sudan, which is already awash with weapons, and sanctions on Machar as well as the army chief of staff and the information minister for fueling conflict and obstructing peace.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned again Monday that South Sudan will be heading toward "mass atrocities" unless immediate action is taken to impose an arms embargo and pressure its leaders to end hate speech, incitement and violence.
Six human rights and arms control organizations issued a joint statement expressing deep disappointment at the council's rejection of the resolution.
"The Security Council had an opportunity to show that it stands with the civilian victims of this conflict," said Akshaya Kumar, deputy United Nations director at Human Rights Watch. "Instead, this failure gives the warring parties in South Sudan a green light to buy more weapons and materiel that will end up being used against civilians."
They urged the council to step up efforts to end abuses against civilians and support African Union and regional efforts to combat impunity by establishing an independent hybrid court.
AU and U.N. investigators have documented war crimes, including killings and rape of civilians, and forced recruitment of children in South Sudan. In recent months there has been an increase in incitement to violence, hate speech by senior leaders, and targeting of civilians.
"African leaders should use all tools at their disposal and act swiftly — ending the atrocities should not be relegated to the AU Summit at the end of January 2017," Amnesty International said.