Fact sheet on the United Nations arms embargo on Sudan

How did the arms embargo come about?

  • In the summer of 2004, the United Nations (U.N.) Security Council responded to growing reports of mass atrocities in Darfur by imposing an arms embargo on some parties to the conflict. Resolution 1556 passed on July 30, 2004, and prohibited the sale or supply of arms and military equipment to non-governmental actors in Darfur.
  • In the eight months following this action, reports from both the U.N. and human rights groups revealed regular violations of the embargo.
  • The U.N. Security Council acted to modify and expand the embargo with Resolution 1591 on March 29, 2005. The embargo was extended to apply to all signatories to the N’Djamena Ceasefire Agreement, including the Government of Sudan.

What does the arms embargo mean?

  • The embargo demonstrates an international commitment to halting the supplies that allow violence to continue in Darfur.
  • Member states of the U.N. have an obligation not to sell or supply arms or related materiel, or provide military training or assistance to any parties to the conflict in Darfur rebel groups, state-sponsored Janjaweed militias, or the Sudanese military.
  • The Government of Sudan has an obligation to request prior approval from the Sanctions Committee of the Security Council before transferring any troops or military supplies into Darfur.
  • The embargo allows for the imposition of additional measures, including a travel ban and assets freeze, on individuals identified as responsible for violations.

How is it enforced?

  • The Sudan Sanctions Committee was created by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1591 on March 29, 2005 to monitor compliance with the embargo.
  • The Sanctions Committee comprises one representative of each member of the U.N. Security Council, and it is required to report to the U.N. Security Council on its work at least every 90 days.
  • The Committee is authorized to consider requests for prior approval from the Government of Sudan for the movement of military equipment and supplies into Darfur; to maintain and update the consolidated travel ban and assets freeze list; and to assess reports from the Panel of Experts.

What is the Panel of Experts?

  • The Panel of Experts is the “eyes and ears” of the Security Council. It comprises four or five experts who are given a mandate (usually lasting one year) to assist the Sanctions Committee in monitoring implementation of the embargo.
  • The Panel conducts its research in strict independence of the U.N. Secretariat or any member state, and is expected to receive the cooperation of all U.N. member states.
  • Each year, the Panel produces interim reports, and then a final report, which is discussed at the Sanctions Committee before being sent to the U.N. Security Council. The final report is made public, but all other work of the Panel remains confidential.
  • The Panel of Experts issued five reports from 20062008, and the most recent report was completed in October 2009. Each report has documented flagrant violations of the embargo, but no action has been taken in response.

Why are the significant findings of the latest Panel of Experts report?

  • It provides new evidence of violations of the arms embargo and related U.N. Security Council resolutions by the Government of Sudan and other belligerents.
  • It reveals ongoing and systematic abuses against civilians in Darfur and offers a detailed account of violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.
  • It describes rampant sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls in Darfur.
  • It catalogs examples of the unwillingness of the Sudanese government to cooperate with the Panel’s requests and monitoring activities.
  • It explores China’s role as a manufacturing hub for arms and ammunition in Darfur.
  • It includes a focus on the role of corporations, whose products and services affect the ability of all parties to sustain the conflict in Darfur.

What should the Obama Administration do?

  • The U.S. should condemn the serious and continued violations of the arms embargo by the Government of Sudan and other parties to the conflict in Darfur. These violations perpetuate violence and flout the will and the laws of the international community.
  • The U.S. should seek the implementation of the arms embargo as a readymade tool that has never been enforced, but that can be used now to leverage pressure on the Sudanese government to change its ways.
  • The U.S. should pursue the enforcement of multilateral sanctions on Sudan with the same determination with which it enforces its own unilateral sanctions, with a view to changing the political and military dynamic in Darfur.
  • The U.S. should assert leadership at the U.N. Security Council in response to the Panel of Experts’ request for renewed efforts to ensure the cooperation of the Government of Sudan.
  • The U.S. should hold accountable those who are directly engaged in the violence against civilians in Darfur, as well as those countries and corporations whose products and actions violate the embargo and sustain the conflict.
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Published on November 10, 2009

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