The United Nations Security Council's failure to approve a 23 December, 2016, resolution that would have imposed an arms embargo on South Sudan and placed a travel ban and asset freeze on three senior South Sudanese leaders was deeply disappointing, seven non-governmental groups said today.
The measure failed to gain the nine votes needed to pass, with seven in favour and eight abstentions.
"South Sudanese civilians had a reasonable expectation that the Security Council would make good on its long-standing threat to impose an arms embargo and extend sanctions to some of the senior leaders who have been responsible for grave human rights abuses," said John Prendergast, founding director at the Enough Project.
"I can only imagine their frustration with today's vote."
Amnesty International, Control Arms, Enough Project, Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, Humanity United, Human Rights Watch and PAX issued the statement jointly.
African Union and UN investigators have documented war crimes, including killings and rape of civilians, and forced recruitment of children by the warring parties in South Sudan since the conflict began on 15 December, 2013. In the last few months there has been an increase in incitement to violence, hate speech by senior leaders, and targeting of civilians, sometimes based on ethnicity, in parts of the country that were previously untouched by the civil war.
"The Security Council had an opportunity to show that it stands with the civilian victims of this conflict," said Akshaya Kumar, deputy United Nations director at Human Rights Watch.
"Instead, this failure gives the warring parties in South Sudan a green light to buy more weapons and materiel that will end up being used against civilians."
The coalition is especially concerned that the Security Council was unable to come together and take action recommended by the UN's senior leadership, including the Secretary-General and his adviser on genocide prevention.
"Once again, we are seeing civilians in dire need of protection being abandoned by the Security Council," said Dr. Simon Adams, executive director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.
"We hope this effort can be revived in January when we have a new Security Council, with five new members."
The coalition noted that some Security Council members cited President Salva Kiir's December 2016 announcement of an inclusive national dialogue as a reason for not supporting the resolution. However, given the very limited role that non-governmental groups, faith leaders, and women had in the process leading up to the August 2015 peace agreement, and the severe restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly in South Sudan, these assurances need to be tested.
"In a country where the media cannot report on the political situation and many civil society advocates have fled to neighbouring countries for their safety - who is left to participate in a dialogue?" said David Abramowitz, managing director of Humanity United.
"Rather than taking President Kiir's announcement on face value, the international community should be asking a lot more questions about who will be part of this dialogue, who will facilitate it, and what safety assurances citizens will be given ahead of joining it."
Following today's vote, the coalition said that the Intergovernmental Authority in Development (IGAD), together with the AU and countries in the region, should take greater responsibility for ending crimes under international law and other serious violations and human rights abuses and the impunity for these crimes in South Sudan.
"African leaders should use all tools at their disposal and act swiftly - ending the atrocities should not be relegated to the AU Summit at the end of January 2017," said Muthoni Wanyeki, Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes at Amnesty International.
The coalition asked the Security Council to strengthen its efforts to work with the AU and the regional security mechanism, IGAD, to end abuses against civilians, prevent further loss of civilian lives and support efforts to combat impunity in South Sudan by swiftly establishing a competent, independent and impartial hybrid court.