Explanation of Vote by Ambassador Samantha Power

U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, on a Draft UN Security Council Resolution on South Sudan, December 23, 2016

United States Mission to the United Nations
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AS DELIVERED                                                                             December 23, 2016

Thank you very much, Mr. President. This should not have been a contentious resolution. The United States proposed a resolution 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. We urged members of this Council to stand with South Sudan’s people, who are suffering immensely due to the actions of their leaders, and we urge that we use an arms embargo and targeted sanctions to help end the culture of impunity and reduce – at least – the violence. We are grateful to those who supported this effort. Some Council members decided to prevent the Council from acting, from heeding the pleas of the United Nations Secretary-General who has been appealing for these steps for more than a year. And history is going to be a very harsh judge of their decision. The atrocities in South Sudan, the displacement into neighboring countries, are increasing every day.

A number of false arguments have been made in recent days and I’d just like to address them head on. Some have said that this resolution should have imposed either an arms embargo or targeted sanctions, but not both. They argued that by putting both the arms embargo and the designations into the same resolution, that was costing us votes and that we could have maybe gotten this resolution through if we had just submitted, let’s say, a clean embargo or clean designations. This is just false. We told every abstaining country, all eight abstainers on the arms embargo and the designations, that we were completely open to doing a clean arms embargo or clean designations to try to get at the culture of impunity and the leading architects of the violence. We were told, in response, that a change of that nature would not earn us a single vote. We engaged every single abstainer – so let nobody say in retrospect that “oh, if the Americans had only put forward half of what they put in that resolution we would’ve been fine;” that’s false.

Second, some have said – and this is a memorable quote to me – we need “actions, not sanctions.” That’s an exact quote. But the country that said that, and all the other abstainers, proposed no actions. Not one of the abstainers came forward, despite repeated pleas from me personally and from everybody who’s part of the U.S. Mission that works on this issue. No one came forward to say “okay don’t do this, but let’s do this instead – here’s an idea, here’s something we can rally behind.” Instead, what the abstainers have rallied behind is treading water. And it does, in fact, constitute the definition of insanity which is to do that same thing over and over again and expect a different result.

The road to how we got here I think illustrates this.

After another serious outbreak of violence in July of this year, this Security Council made a set of demands. We demanded unfettered humanitarian access for all people in South Sudan – 1.83 million people are internally displaced in South Sudan, and some 4.8 million people – more than half the country – are severely food insecure. When we made those demands, the Government of South Sudan failed to comply.

We demanded that the Government of South Sudan stop blocking UNMISS peacekeepers from carrying out their mandate. We saw in person, we’ve heard from contingent commanders and troops that they needed written permission 48 hours in advance to be able to move in convoys to protect people, even though they had a civilian protection mandate. So we demanded that the movement be improved, increased – that there be freedom of movement. The Government of South Sudan failed to comply.

We authorized the immediate deployment of a new UNMISS Regional Protection Force to help improve security around the capital. The government failed to comply.

And then the situation grew worse, on our watch. And we got briefings regularly from UN folks who were doing their best to sound the alarm. We heard that on TV, and the radio, and online, there was a dramatic increase in vile rhetoric, people inciting ethnic tensions as government officials did little to stop it, despite muzzling the media in a whole series of other respects. Soldiers began preparing in very overt ways for large-scale attacks, including at least 4,000 militia recently staged in the Equatorias. The Secretary-General, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the head of the Commission on Human Rights for South Sudan, the UN Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide all issued their sirens. They came here and the lights flashed red – not yellow, certainly not green – red flashing lights. That doesn’t happen in this Council very often, where you get just a string of UN officials coming and describing the gravity of what lies ahead. The Secretary-General used his last appearance here on South Sudan to appeal to us to take heed of his warning and that of all of his team.

Three thousand people on average have fled South Sudan across the border into Uganda every single day this month. Is that because the situation is getting better or is stable? Three thousand people every day, fearing for their lives. And that is why we felt we had to bring this resolution to a vote; it’s been hanging around, we’ve been trying to solicit textual inputs, changes, said that we are flexible. And again, we heard nothing back.

This resolution would not have been a panacea, we are not naïve. It would not have solved the underlying political crisis at the heart of what has divided South Sudan. But the arms embargo would have had some significant effects. It would have made it impossible for the Government of South Sudan to continue to use the precious resources they have to buy heavy weapons and armaments. Would there have been smuggling? I heard a lot about smuggling from Council members. Of course, there would have been smuggling. But you would have significantly reduced arms sales by UN Member States to a fellow UN Member State that, instead of feeding its people, is amping up and arming up for an increasingly ethnic conflict.

The individual sanctions targeted three individuals: Paul Malong, Riek Machar, and Michael Makuei with asset freezes and travel bans. Now people say, “well what assets, really? And travel bans – well what good would those do, really?” These are three leaders with lengthy resumes for fueling violence. They have stoked ethnic conflict, unleashed violence against civilians, and – especially in the case of Mr. Malong and Mr. Makuei – attempted to portray UNMISS as a party to the conflict. You’ve all seen the rhetoric; many of you have soldiers who are on the ground in South Sudan. Those soldiers are more vulnerable because of the threats and the caricatures that these individuals have put out about UNMISS – saying the UNMISS is just a tool of the opposition. That is a vulnerability for all of our people who are present on the ground, whether aid workers, diplomats, private citizens, or peacekeepers.

The resolution would have shown that there – at least when it came to the people who are doing the most to stoke the atrocities and the violence, that there would have been costs. Would their designations have changed the world? No. But does sending a signal and a message of impunity, as we have been doing every day we have not voted on those designations – even though we know the record of the individuals involved, a record of impunity. And that inability to impose a cost as a Council is a greenlight. And that is a greenlight that everyone who abstained on this resolution is going to have to live with.

What is the alternative that people here on this Council, who I know care a lot about South Sudan – many of us traveled together to the region a couple times over the last year – what is the alternative? Is the alternative just to trust that South Sudan’s leaders are going to change course? There are some really principled people in the South Sudanese government, and they are outnumbered or outranked. So there are those individuals, we all talked to them, we know that there are people of goodwill who would like to change course. But unfortunately, not least because of the actions of two of the people that we designated in the government, that has proven something that the government is not prepared to do.

So do we just sit on our hands until the government calls off the militias, to stop some of the most systematic sexual violence that we’ve seen in any conflict in our lifetimes?

The Council members who didn’t support this resolution are taking a big gamble. That South Sudan’s leaders will not instigate a catastrophe. If those Council members are wrong – and every report we have heard in this chamber suggests that they are – it is the people of South Sudan who will pay an unbearable price.

It was not an easy decision for us to table this resolution. We debated it deep into the night, in fact, because having a resolution that doesn’t pass, of course, is not how one wants to spend one’s day. And I think South Sudan is a country – and the South Sudanese people are watching this vote, and we knew the signal that this would send. But, at a certain point, drifting along and internalizing the constraints imposed by those Council members who don’t want to take the action in the face of this violence, that’s not an option. We learned that from Rwanda; we learned that from Srebrenica; we learned that from chapters past.

The next time soldiers and armed groups fire on civilians, the next time the government prevents peacekeepers from going on patrol – which has probably already happened in the time that I’ve been speaking – the next time that a village goes hungry because the government withholds permission for an aid delivery, each of us will need to find a way to justify our response.

The leaders of South Sudan should not misinterpret this vote; all of us will be watching what happens on the ground closely.  The abuses will continue to be publicized; we will continue to hear appeals from the United Nations about what they feel they need in order to reduce violence on the ground; we will be relentless, still, in demanding accountability. And we will be ready to return to this Council to vote again on the proposed arms embargo and targeted sanctions as soon as those who did not support action today come to understand the human cost of imposing no cost for attacking civilians, for importing massive amounts of arms instead of feeding one’s people, and for not pursuing the cause of peace.

All of us has an opportunity to make an explanation of vote today. I’d be very grateful for those who abstained on the resolution to clarify what will it take. What will it take? Or, if it isn’t what’s in this resolution, what are you for that we haven’t already tried? Thank you.