The United States said Thursday that it would press for a U.N. arms embargo against those responsible for the violence in South Sudan, which has dramatically escalated along ethnic lines.
"In the coming days, the United States will put forward a proposal to impose an arms embargo on South Sudan, and targeted sanctions on the individuals who have been the biggest spoilers to achieve lasting peace in South Sudan," U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power told Security Council members.
She said such a move would be an important step to help halt the violence by government and opposition forces against civilians that has devastated the country for three years.
Not a blockade
Although an embargo would not completely stop weapons flowing into the country or remove those already on the ground, Power said it could still make a difference, especially in preventing the acquisition of more heavy weapons, aircraft and military vehicles.
South Sudan has been mired in a political conflict since December 2013 that has ignited violence among ethnic groups, caused the economy to tank, killed and displaced thousands, and created a dire humanitarian situation, with nearly 5 million people believed to be severely food insecure.
But getting the council to agree to an arms embargo and targeted sanctions may be difficult. When the idea of an embargo was first raised many months ago, some council members expressed reluctance, fearing that such a measure would be difficult to enforce, and that it would hurt the Juba government and favor the opposition.
Russia, for one, does not appear to have softened its opposition.
"Our position hasn't changed," Russian Deputy Ambassador Petr Iliichev told the council. "We think implementing such a recommendation would hardly be helpful in settling the conflict."
South Sudan envoy Joseph Malok told council members that denying his government the means to protect and defend its citizens and its borders would unacceptably undermine its sovereignty.
The call for the embargo came amid intensifying warnings that the violence is getting more dangerous in nature.
"I was dismayed that what I saw and heard in South Sudan confirmed my concerns, that there is a strong risk of violence escalating along ethnic lines, with the potential for genocide," Adama Dieng told council members. He is the U.N. special adviser for the prevention of genocide.
In a trip to South Sudan last week, Dieng said he saw a number of risk factors, enough to lead him to warn that conditions are "ripe for the commission of mass atrocities."
"Inflammatory rhetoric, stereotyping and name-calling have been accompanied by threats, targeted killings and rape of members of particular ethnic groups, and by violent attacks against individuals or communities on the basis of their perceived political affiliation," Dieng said.
He went on to warn that what began as a political conflict has transformed into "what could become an outright ethnic war." He said that with the stalled implementation of the peace agreement, the worsening economic and humanitarian situations and the proliferation of arms, "all of the ingredients exist for a dangerous escalation of violence; there is both motivation and means."
Dieng said there is an urgent need for the Security Council to impose an arms embargo. "It is a serious and grave time in South Sudan, and it is time to act," he said.