The United Nations Security Council must impose a comprehensive arms embargo on South Sudan, Amnesty International urged after receiving reports of Chinese small arms and ammunition proliferation amongst both sides in the conflict.
The organization also has confirmed that China supplied a further 1,000 tonnes of small arms and light weapons worth US$38 million to the country just over two weeks ago.
“China is playing a dangerous diplomatic game with the lives of millions of people in South Sudan. It has pledged to provide peacekeeping troops to protect civilians, and at the same time has sent more than 1,000 tonnes of arms,” said Elizabeth Ashamu Deng, South Sudan Researcher at Amnesty International.
“Such arms are likely to fall into the hands of both parties to the conflict and be used to fuel the atrocities threatening civilian lives.”
The Security Council, of which China is a permanent member, has already condemned violations of international humanitarian law in South Sudan, including extrajudicial executions and ethnically targeted violence.
In May, the Security Council amended the mandate of the UN peacekeeping force in South Sudan (UNMISS) to focus on protection of civilians, supporting the implementation of the cessation of hostilities agreement, investigating human rights abuses and violations and creating conditions for delivery of humanitarian assistance. China has pledged a full battalion of some 850 troops to join this peacekeeping operation.
A UN arms embargo designed to help stop gross violations of human rights and war crimes would require every state to take all necessary measures to prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer of arms to South Sudan. Pending such an embargo, states should immediately suspend international arms transfers to South Sudan.
The Chinese shipment
Chinese state-owned defence manufacturer NORINCO sent more than 1,000 tonnes of weapons and munitions worth millions of dollars to the South Sudanese government armed forces in a shipment that arrived last month. It included rocket systems, thousands of automatic rifles and grenade launchers, 20,000 grenades, hundreds of pistols and machine guns, and several million rounds of ammunition.
According to the shipping documents and related information, the massive arms shipment was loaded onto the Hong Kong-based vessel Feng Huang Song in two batches before leaving the Chinese ports of Dalian on 8 May and Zhanjiang on 15 May 2014. It reached Mombasa, Kenya on 7 June and the cargo was unloaded three days later, destined for the South Sudanese government in Juba in fulfilment of a contract signed on 3 April, 2013.
Amnesty International is aware of reliable reports that Chinese ammunition manufactured in 2013 for Chinese-made CQ assault rifles has recently been used by armed opposition fighters as well as government-aligned armed groups. CQ 5.56×45 assault rifles were first observed in South Sudan in 2013 with South Sudanese rebel groups, some of whom stated they had been armed by Sudan. In addition, Chinese heavy machine-gun ammunition manufactured in 2013 has been found in the hands of fighters of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), a Darfuri rebel group that has fought alongside South Sudanese government forces and committed grave human rights abuses.
“This additional flow and proliferation of deadly equipment from China into South Sudan’s raging war will set the country back decades and pave the way for increased criminality and violence among civilians – even long after the current armed conflict ends,” said Elizabeth Ashamu Deng.
“Given the ongoing pattern of atrocities in South Sudan, it is a no-brainer that these weapons and munitions will be used to commit and facilitate further serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. The Security Council must roundly condemn any such flows of weapons and impose a comprehensive embargo on all arms transfers to South Sudan.”
Since the armed conflict erupted on 15 December 2013, the USA and European Union have already suspended military support to South Sudan. The decisions came amid ongoing crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by both South Sudanese government and opposition forces.
On two recent missions to South Sudan, including one this month, Amnesty International documented how both sides have targeted people, including women and children, based on their ethnicity. They have killed individuals seeking refuge in hospitals and places of worship. These atrocities have generally involved the use of small arms and light weapons.
“The rebels shot dead the four people in the beds next to mine,” a civilian patient named John told Amnesty International, referring to a raid on Malakal hospital by forces loyal to former Vice President Dr Riek Machar in mid-February 2014. Individuals have also been shot dead in hospitals in Bor and Bentiu.
In the South Sudanese capital Juba, too, civilians have repeatedly been targeted using small arms and light weapons. A resident of the city’s Jebel Kujur area described to Amnesty International how government soldiers attacked his home on 17 December 2013:
“My house was surrounded with heavy artillery and many soldiers as well. Gun shots were fired at me and my relatives in the house, and three of them were killed on the spot.”
Nyaliap witnessed the massacre of 11 men in Pariang County, Unity state by government forces in December 2013. A group of about 20 soldiers “stripped them naked and tied their hands behind their backs. They lined them up…and they [shot] them from behind.”
Amnesty International continues to call for accountability for all those responsible for such actions by government and opposition forces, which constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious human rights violations.
The Bloomberg news agency reported on the Chinese arms transfer on 9 July (“China Sells South Sudan Arms as Its Government Talks Peace” by Ilya Gridneff) and also released the shipping documents to Jane’s Defence Weekly (“South Sudan takes delivery of Chinese ATGWs” by Jeremy Binnie).
The Chinese company NORINCO combines manufacturing, research and trading of arms and related equipment.
Between 2007 and 2008 various large shipments of arms arrived in South Sudan from Ukraine via Mombasa. It is not clear if Ukraine was aware that South Sudan government forces were the intended end-user, and not Kenya, as stated in the documentation.