The United States has officially charged South Sudan’s First Vice President with the abduction and killing of two opposition figures in the country.
Taban Deng Gai is accused by America of being complicit in or having directly/ indirectly engaged in serious human rights abuse, including the disappearance and deaths of lawyer Samuel Dong Luak and SPLM-IO member Aggrey Idry.
The two men, who were sympathetic to SPLM-IO, disappeared off the street of Nairobi on January 23 and 24, 2017.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) believes Taban Deng reportedly arranged and directed their abduction and disappearance “to solidify his position within President Kiir’s government and to intimidate members of the SPLM-IO.”
These alleged actions have warranted the U.S to invoke Executive Order 13818, which places General Taban Deng on its sanction list.
The order known as the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act targets perpetrators of serious human rights abuse and corruption.
Last month, the U.S also sanctioned five South Sudanese individuals who it said were also involved in the disappearance and reported deaths of Dong and Aggrey.
Abud Stephen Thiongkol, Malual Dhal Muorwel, Michael Kuajien, John Top Lam, and Angelo Kuot Garang have all been identified as agents of the internal and external security services in South Sudan.
According to a UN Panel of Experts on South Sudan, Dong and Idri were executed by Internal Security Bureau agents at a Luri National Security facility three days after they were taken to Juba.
But the government has denied involvement in the reported extra-judicial killing of its critics.
Division and Distrust
In a statement issued today, the Treasury Department pointed fingers at FVP Taban Deng Gai as the man responsible for “dividing and sowing distrust within the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in Opposition (SPLM-IO) and broader Nuer community.”
It said this has potentially extended the conflict in South Sudan and deteriorated the reconciliation and peace process.
“Taban Deng Gai’s attempt to silence the opposition party is derailing the country’s ability to implement a peace agreement,” said Deputy Secretary Justin G. Muzinich.
The Trump administration identified the Government of South Sudan’s “refusal to create political space for dissenting voices — from opposition parties, ethnic groups, civil society, or media” — as being the obstacle to achieving lasting peace.
“The United States calls on all nations to exclude from the international financial system those who jeopardize South Sudan’s future,” Mr Muzinich asserted.
In September 2018, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar reached a revitalized peace agreement that called for the formation of a national unity government on May 12, 2019.
The leaders extended that deadline twice, most recently on November 7, 2019, but more than 50 days into the extended pre-transition period, the U.S notes that “there have been no concrete steps to create the security conditions conducive to implementing a peace deal.”
It decried the continued killing, raping and abduction of civilians, including clashes reported in December 2019 around Yei River State.
“The U.S Government will not hesitate to target those who have perpetuated the conflict in South Sudan and will continue to apply pressure on the senior leadership to take concrete measures to bring peace and stability to the country,” concludes the statement.
U.S rationale for sanctioning Taban Deng Gai
In January 2017, South Sudan’s First Vice President Deng Gai reportedly advised and influenced another South Sudanese government official to execute Dong and Aggrey after they were kidnapped from Kenya.
Deng ostensibly believed that by murdering Dong and Aggrey he would weaken support for opposition leader Riek Machar and thus solidify his political position within the SPLM-IO and keep his position as First Vice President.
Further, Deng had reportedly arranged the abduction of Dong and Aggrey in an effort to intimidate SPLM-IO members and officials to abandon Riek Machar and return to Juba, South Sudan to support Deng.
Deng had regularly sent his own security officials to monitor and plan the abduction of SPLM-IO members located outside of South Sudan, and it was believed that Deng wanted to send a clear message to all SPLM-IO members that they were not safe even outside of South Sudan and that they must support Deng.
Deng is being designated for being responsible for, being complicit in, or having directly/ indirectly engaged in serious human rights abuse.
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