On 23rd February, United Nations Security Council’s (“UNSC”) ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee added the Islamic State West Africa Province (“ISWAP”) and Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (“ISGS”) to its Sanctions List. The groups were subsequently added by the United Kingdom Treasury’s Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (“OFSI”) on 24th February and the European Union on 28th February, having already been designated as Foreign Terrorist Organisations by the US Department of State in 2018.
ISWAP was formed in March 2015 as a re-branding of Boko Haram following its pledge of support to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (“ISIL”). In August 2016, a faction of ISWAP broke away and has continued to operate under the name Boko Haram. The latter was listed by the UNSC in May 2014. ISWAP is primarily based in Nigeria, although it has carried out operations in Niger, Chad and Cameroon. Under its current guise, the group has conducted a series of attacks, including the apparent beheading of 11 Christian hostages in Nigeria’s Borno State in December 2019.
ISGS was formed two months later in May 2015 as a splinter of the former jihadist group al-Mourabitoun and similarly pledged allegiance to ISIL. The group is based in Mali and Niger and is also active in the insurgency taking place in Burkina Faso and the greater Sahel region. It has been responsible for a string of high-profile attacks, including the ambush and killing of 28 Nigerien soldiers near the Malian border in May 2019.
In an unrelated action, two individuals were removed from the same list, following a request to the Office of the Ombudsperson. Imad Ben Bechir Bend Hamda Al-Jammali and Al-Mokhtar Ben Mohamed Ben Al-Mokhtar Bouchoucha are both Tunisian nationals, with links to addresses in Italy. Al-Jammali was added to the list in 2004, having been imprisoned in Tunisia in 2002. While Bouchoucha was added in 2002, having been arrested and jailed in Italy. Both men were released early, although it is not clear on what basis they successfully applied to have their names de-listed by the UNSC. The EU and UK have since followed suit in de-listing the two individuals.
The UNSC’s ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions committee added Amadou Koufa to its Sanctions List on 4th February. Koufa is the leader of the armed group Katiba Macina, and also a founder of the Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (“JNIM”) alliance, which operates in the Sahel region. The latter group came together in 2017 under the al-Qaida banner.
In November 2019, Koufa was added to the US Specially Designated Global Terrorist list by the State Department. Following the UNSC’s action, Koufa has been subjected to an asset freeze by the EU and OFSI.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
On 6th February, the UNSC’s committee concerning the Democratic Republic of the Congo (“DRC”) added Musa “Seka” Baluku to its Sanctions List. Baluku, a Ugandan national, is the leader of the Allied Democratic Forces (“ADF”), a rebel group that operates in the DRC and Uganda, which has reportedly adopted jihadist ideology. He is accused of directing a series of atrocities against civilians, particularly in Beni territory in the DRC.
Pursuant to the UNSC’s designation, the EU and OFSI also placed Baluku under sanction. The ADF itself has been under sanction from the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) since 2014. Baluku, alongside five other ADF leaders, was designated by OFAC in December 2019.
A resolution was passed on 12th February by the UNSC that called for an immediate ceasefire without preconditions in Libya. Days later, in light of routine violations of the UNSC-imposed arms embargo on the country, the EU reached an agreement to launch a new operation to enforce the embargo in the Mediterranean Sea.
The current civil war in Libya has been raging since 2014. The conflict has intensified in recent months, following the arrival of Marshal Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army (“LNA”) in Tripoli and its assault on the Government of National Accord (“GNA”). The situation escalated further in January when, given Haftar’s advances and the perilous position that the Turkish-backed GNA found itself, Turkey deployed troops to the country, supported by Turkish-backed Syrian opposition fighters.
On 20th February, the White House gave notice that President Donald Trump would extend the national emergency with respect to Libya for an additional year until 25th February 2021. The measures have been in place since 2011, when Executive Order 13566 was issued by then President Barack Obama to counter the “serious risk that Libyan state assets would be misappropriated” by the Gaddafi regime and its inner circle. The Libyan Civil War that was unfolding at that time, the precursor to the current conflict, ended with the ousting of the Gaddafi regime and the death of former President Muammar Gaddafi. It has been reported that “Gaddafi loyalists” are currently fighting alongside Haftar and the LNA. Indeed, Gaddafi’s son and one-time heir-apparent, Saif al-Islam, is still active in the country.
Following discussions regarding restrictive measures against Zimbabwe, the Council of the EU decided on 17th February that the arms embargo and asset freeze on Zimbabwe Defence Industries is to be renewed for an additional year. Meanwhile, restrictive measures against Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces Philip Sibanda and Minister of Lands and Agriculture Perence Shiri are to be renewed but remain suspended.
Separately, the Council of the EU also decided to suspend restrictions that had been placed on the former First Lady Grace Mugabe. While OFSI initially followed the EU’s actions, reports emerged that suggested that the UK is to diverge from this particular decision. It has been claimed that HM Treasury is preparing to reimpose the sanctions on Grace Mugabe, once the EU withdrawal transition period has been completed, which is currently scheduled for the end of 2020.
The restrictive measures against Zimbabwe have been in place since 2002, at a time when the human rights situation in the country was rapidly deteriorating. As former President Robert Mugabe has died since the sanctions were last renewed, his name has been deleted from the EU’s list of designated persons and entities.
Discussing the landmark peace deal in South Sudan, a senior US State Department official publicly hinted that sanctions on South Sudanese officials may not be lifted for some time. Delivering his remarks on 26th February, the senior official stated that the matter was for the Treasury, rather than the State Department, but that he did not expect removals until “there’s improvements […] in a way that benefits the country rather than contributes to the conflict”. He added that the UN sanctions, “including the arms embargo”, still had some way to go before any lifting of sanctions would be considered. The senior official also remarked that, if the peace process in the country were to unravel, the US would “reserve the right to use all [its] diplomatic tools, including more sanctions, if necessary”.
The US has been targeting South Sudanese businessmen and government officials as a strategic policy to end the political stalemate between the two sides. This strategy seemingly worked, as the government and opposition signed a landmark deal, ahead of the 22nd February deadline.
On the same day, Israel Ziv, a retired former general in the Israeli Defence Forces, had sanctions against him and entities under his control removed by the US Treasury. No explanation was provided for the removals. In 2018, Ziv was accused by the Treasury of using an agricultural business as a front to supply weapons and ammunition to both the government and opposition in South Sudan. In particular, he was accused of providing a sale of arms worth “approximately $150m” to the government, whilst also allegedly planning to organise mercenary attacks on South Sudanese oil fields. Ziv has always strenuously denied that his firms were used for anything other than legitimate agricultural services in South Sudan. There is no suggestion that the two South Sudanese individuals targeted alongside Ziv – Gregory Vasili Dimitry and Obac William Olawo – have had sanctions lifted against them, nor have the three sanctioned entities under Olawo’s control.
The EU implemented the UNSC’s November 2019 resolution that extended the sanctions regime on Somalia until December 2020. The same resolution, passed on 6th February, also renewed the partial lifting of the arms embargo, continuing to allow arms to be provided to the national security forces in some circumstances.
Elsewhere, on 12th February, a network of Somali and United Arab Emirates-registered entities, known as the Al-Barakaat group, was de-listed from OFAC’s Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (“SDN”) List. In the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks, the then US President George W. Bush accused Al-Barakaat, a Somali charity, of having funded al-Qaida. Consequently, it was subjected to UNSC and EU sanctions. In 2008, Al-Barakaat and an accused Saudi businessman named Yassin Kadi launched a case in the European Court of Justice against their EU listings. The judgement found in their favour and ruled that UNSC sanctions did not automatically apply in EU member states.
The UNSC removed the network from its Sanctions List in 2012, as did the EU. Kadi was de-listed by the US in 2014. This month, Al-Barakaat was finally de-listed by OFAC, as was the charity’s director, Abdullahi Hussein Kahie, a Somali-born Norwegian national.
Central African Republic
On 31st January, the UNSC voted to renew the arms embargo on the Central African Republic. China and Russia abstained from voting on the resolution, arguing that the embargo undermines the government’s efforts to re-impose its control. Violence and instability have continued to rock the country, despite a peace deal being signed in February 2019 between the government and armed opponents.