The United States Department of Treasury on Wednesday sanctioned South Sudanese First Vice President Taban Deng Gai for “his involvement in serious human rights abuse, including the disappearance and deaths of civilians.”
The move seeks to pressure the country’s politicians to form a unity government.
According to the Treasury, Gai arranged and directed the alleged killings of opposition politician Aggrey Idri Ezibon and human rights lawyer Dong Samuel Luak to entrench his position in the government and intimidate the opposition.
“Deng has acted to divide and sow distrust within the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-In Opposition (SPLM-IO) and broader Nuer community, which has extended the conflict in South Sudan and deteriorated the reconciliation and peace process,” the department said.
It further said the government of South Sudan’s refusal to create political space for dissenting voices — from opposition parties, ethnic groups, civil society, or media — has been a key factor in the country’s inability to implement a peace agreement and ongoing acts of violence against civilians.
In December, President Salva Kiir agreed to form a unity government with rebel leader Riek Machar less than 24 hours after the US sanctioned the country’s top ministers.
Cabinet Affairs minister Martin Elia Lomuro and his Defence and Veteran Affairs counterpart Kuol Manyang Juuk were accused of perpetuating the South Sudan conflict “for their own personal enrichment, leading to much suffering for the South Sudanese people”.
The government and opposition leaders had extended the May 12, 2019 deadline twice, most recently on November 7, and have twice failed to make any progress towards a unity government or adequate implementation of the peace agreement. As a result, the US recalled its ambassador from South Sudan and said it was “gravely disappointed” and would re-evaluate its relationship with Juba.
“Today’s action represents a significant and important ratcheting up of US financial pressure designed to break the impasse in South Sudan and hold those impeding peace accountable. The longer South Sudan’s senior leaders continue to delay the implementation of meaningful peace agreements, the longer these leaders profit and the people of South Sudan suffer,” John Prendergast, Co-Founder of The Sentry, said.
The Sentry is an investigative and policy team that follows the dirty money connected to African war criminals and transnational war profiteers and seeks to shut those benefiting from violence out of the international financial system.
Prendergast added that the likes of Taban Deng have benefited financially and politically from conflict. “These measures should continue until lasting peace is realized,” he said.
JR Mailey, Director of Investigations at The Sentry, said other South Sudanese officials should consider the move as a sign that, unless significant progress toward a peaceful transition is made, pressure will continue to intensify.”
WHO IS TABAN DENG GAI?
Kiir, appointed Gai as Machar’s replacement on July 25 after fled the country following the outbreak of fighting between their soldiers at the Juba presidential palace.
Deng, a former governor of Unity state, and with an alleged long history of commanding militias there, was one of Machar’s lead negotiators in the talks that resulted in the 2015 peace agreement.
Consequently, he was appointed Mining minister in the unity government. Machar, however, sacked him and ousted him from his SPLMO-IO party.
WHAT IMPACT HAS TEH CIVIL HAD SO FAR?
A report by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and financed by the State Department in 2018 said an estimated 383,000 people have died as a result of South Sudan’s civil war.
According to the report, about half of the dead were killed in fighting between ethnic rivals as it spread across the country, and the other half died from disease, hunger and other causes exacerbated by the conflict. On December 20, the Treasury also sanctioned five individuals for prolonging violence and threatening humanitarian assistance in Mali