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Human Rights Watch Calls for Arms Embargo on South Sudan

FILE - Black smoke is seen rising above the capital Juba, in South Sudan, July 10, 2016.

FILE - Black smoke is seen rising above the capital Juba, in South Sudan, July 10, 2016.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch is condemning the uptick in fighting in South Sudan and is calling on the United Nations Security Council to impose an arms embargo to end the hostilities.

Akshaya Kumar, Deputy United Nations Director at Human Rights Watch, said implementing an arms embargo could immediately ground South Sudanese attack helicopters and limit the ability of armed forces to target civilians.

Kumar said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made "an important call" Monday and very clearly came out in favor of an arms embargo on South Sudan.

FILE - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

FILE - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

"This has been an issue that's been kicked around the Security Council for months and months and months, but to have the secretary-general speak out in favor I think is incredibly important, and hopefully the Council will listen," Kumar said.

In the past, Russia and China, two permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, have stood in the way of approving an arms embargo on South Sudan.

Kumar said that in the mid- and long term, an arms embargo would reduce violations and human rights abuses against civilians, which are currently being committed with heavy weapons — including shells and mortars.

"I just heard about a maternity ward getting shelled earlier today [Monday] in Juba. More specifically, operationally," he said, "we're hopeful that the foreigners who are operating attack helicopters on the behalf of the SPLA and maintaining them, the ones who are wreaking havoc and firing missiles on U.N. installations, will be prevented from doing so because a global arms embargo would prevent not only selling weapons to South Sudan, but selling the kind of technical operational systems support that happen."

The 15-member U.N. Security Council, which includes the African countries of Egypt, Angola and Senegal, must vote in favor of an arms embargo for it to take effect, but if that happens, Kumar said it could happen immediately.

"Once those 15 countries vote, then a global embargo is enforced and so anybody who continues to sell weapons or provide support militarily would be against international law," Kumar said.