European arms add fuel to fire of South Sudan conflict
Thousands of weapons have reached South Sudan from Europe, breaching sanctions and fuelling one of the world’s bloodiest conflicts, according to a four-year forensic study by Conflict Armament Research.
The report published on Thursday is based on a data set of 128 weapons, 201,517 rounds of ammunition and other military munitions – all of which have contributed to the killing of about 400,000 people and the displacement of more than four million.
The landlocked country gained independence from Sudan in 2011, only to become embroiled in a civil war two years later when President Salva Kiir Mayardit fell out with his vice president, Riek Machar. Fighting, famine and a failing economy have since beset the world’s youngest state.
In the latest peace deal struck in September, Mr Machar returned as Mr Kiir’s deputy for the first time in two years – a previous attempt at that arrangement failed amid new fighting in July 2016. But the US and others have said they are sceptical about the latest deal, brokered by Uganda and Sudan.
In July, the UN imposed an arms embargo on the country and eight leaders and commanders were subjected to individual sanctions.
But impunity continues to fuel abuses in the conflict, Human Rights Watch said.
According to the Car report, small arms and ammunition earmarked for neighbouring Uganda were redirected to South Sudan and into the hands of the People’s Liberation Army. A US military jet and an Austrian-made spy plane were also delivered to the SPLA.
Although there is no evidence the EU countries involved – Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia – knew the arms were headed to Juba, it highlights the flaws in the oversight of arms exports.
With the Bulgarian weapons, “South Sudan arranged for Uganda to issue end-user certificates ... to make it look like these weapons were for the use of the Ugandan armed forces when, in fact, they were always destined for South Sudan”, said Mike Lewis, the head of regional operations for Car.
The report describes how a network of “jointly owned Ugandan and US companies – controlled by British, Israeli, Ugandan, and US nationals – procured a military jet from the US and an Austrian-made surveillance aircraft, which one of these companies delivered into service with [South Sudan’s military]”.
While the arms embargo continues to be breached, unchecked militias rule, lawless and armed, killing civilians and perpetuating the country’s cycle of violence, the report said.