A brutal civil war has been taking place in South Sudan since December 2013. This conflict is a direct continuation of previous internal conflicts between South Sudan and Sudan, which in 2011 led to South Sudan’s independence. The exact estimates regarding those impacted by the civil war are still unclear, although the most recent estimates show that approximately 50,000 people have been killed, 2 million people have become refugees or displaced people and another 2.5 million are in danger of starvation. A year and a half into the war it has become clear that all parties involved, including the South Sudanese government and its affiliated militias, are committing war crimes, crimes against humanity and violations of human rights.
Throughout these events, Israel has been exporting weapons and security systems to the South Sudan government, in addition to training the South Sudan army in both Israel and South Sudan. According to the Ministry of Defense, the defense export to South Sudan has risen dramatically over the past few years, from $107 million in 2012 and $223 million in 2013 to $318 million in 2014. Although economic and strategic considerations have guided the export policy, it is time to consider other factors, specifically moral ones.
Israel is one of the few countries that continue to be active in the South Sudan region, whether by defense export or by military training. Since early last year the United States has ceased its military aid to South Sudan and has imposed sanctions. An executive order issued by President Barack Obama has frozen all assets located in the United States that are owned by those involved in the conflict. A year after the civil war began, a complete weapons embargo was imposed on South Sudan by the European Union, which stated that “the civil war has resulted in the death of tens of thousands and in the uprooting of 2 million people…causing serious violations of humanitarian international law and of human rights…The European Union is deeply concerned by the reports showing the continued infringement of human rights and of physical and sexual abuse, especially that of women, to this day.” The EU has encouraged countries to join the weapons embargo.
In light of all the evidence and international efforts, Israel too must reexamine its defense exports to South Sudan. Clause 9 of Israel’s Defense Export Control Law states that one may repeal or suspend the export due to diplomatic considerations, previous commitment to international treaties, as well as considerations regarding the ultimate use of the weapons and security systems. Israel has already signed (albeit without ratifying) the Arms Trade Treaty, which was voted on in the UN in 2013 and came into effect a year in a half later. This treaty states that “a state party shall not authorize any transfer of conventional arms…if it has knowledge at the time of the authorization that the arms or items would be used in the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity, and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949…” All of the evidence points to the fact that this knowledge was known and that a change in policy must come into effect.
We must not turn a blind eye away while these horrible crimes are being done, most probably with Israeli weapons and security systems. From a political perspective, as Israel’s relationship with the EU and the US are increasingly strained over settlement construction and our military actions in Gaza, aspects of our foreign policy like this exacerbate the rift instead of creating a bridge with our allies at these moments.
However, this is not only a political move or a legal obligation but most importantly a moral standard which we are all committed to. As a democratic state whose people are all too familiar with ethnic persecution, Israel must put the economic and strategic benefits aside. We are obligated to know to whom and to where our defense export goes and what is being done with it upon arrival. We must demand that weapons which could be used for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and for systematic violations of human rights will not be sent.
The Defense Minister must stop Israeli defense export to South Sudan immediately.