After a five-and-a-half years interim period under the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which marked the end of nearly two decades of civil war with northern Sudan, South Sudan emerged as an independent nation on 9 July 2011. In spite of the success of the referendum, complicated post-CPA negotiations have continued between the Sudan and South Sudan, particularly with respect to border demarcating and the management of petroleum resources. The two countries are also embroiled in a protracted dispute over Abyei, a contested region straddling the borders of the two countries. Since the referendum, an outbreak of fighting in Abyei and in the two Sudanese border states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile has sent streams of refugees into South Sudan, raising tension between the two countries.
The Transitional Constitution of the new Republic of South Sudan constitution made far-reaching provisions in its bill of rights, which guaranteed civil, political, economic and social rights to citizens of the Republic. Notable is also the inclusion of a minimum of 30 per cent women’s representation in the national cabinet, in a move designed to compensate for past injustices that women have suffered.
Despite progress made by the new Government of South Sudan to create a society where respect for human rights and democratic principles is ensured, challenges remain after a legacy of prolonged civil war and severe under-development. An inadequate legal framework, with many international human rights instruments yet to be ratified, makes it difficult for State agents to be held accountable and impunity is endemic. The Government has demonstrated a lack of tolerance for political opposition and the press, frequently restricting the freedoms of expression and the press and subjecting those who hold contrary political views to harassment, arbitrary arrest and detention.
The human rights situation in the country further suffered from activities of rebel militia groups (RMGs), as well as inter-ethnic clashes, for example in Jonglei State. The latter has resulted in numerous deaths and the abduction of a large number of women and children. The arrival of returnees and refugees from the Sudan, drought, and overburdened resources has further deepened the humanitarian crisis.
In a climate of extreme poverty and underdevelopment, economic and social rights have remained largely unfulfilled, with low levels for the realization of the rights to food, health, access to clean and safe water and sanitation, education and adequate housing. South Sudan has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, while indicators worryingly suggest that HIV is on the increase.
South Sudan is yet to ratify all the core international human rights instruments including the ICCPR, ICSECR, CERD and CEDAW. It is also not a party to any of the main regional human rights instruments such as the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
In September 2011, the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution calling on the international community to provide the Government of South Sudan with appropriate technical assistance and capacity building to promote respect for human rights.
OHCHR engagement and priorities for 2012-2013
Following the independence of South Sudan, the Security Council established UNMISS in 2011 with a mandate to consolidate peace and security in South Sudan and help establish conditions for the development of the country. The Human Rights Division (HRD) of UNMISS has a robust mandate that includes monitoring, investigating and reporting on human rights and potential threats against the civilian population as well as violations of international humanitarian law. In addition, the HRD undertakes capacity-building activities, in close collaboration with the Southern Sudan Human Rights Commission and UN Agencies, Funds and Programs, aimed at developing sustainable national capacity for the promotion and protection of human rights.
In 2012 – 2013, OHCHR’s priorities in South Sudan will focus on the following:
- Ensure the ratification of international and regional human rights instruments by the Government of South Sudan as well as the harmonization of statutory and customary frameworks with international and regional human rights standards;
- Support for civil society through training, mentoring and setting up of human rights resource centres to enhance its ability to monitor and report on human rights and empower local communities;
- Strengthening of the South Sudan Human Rights Commission through training on human rights norms and standards and facilitating its presence in all the states of South Sudan;
- Ensure that the Government of South Sudan and civil society organizations increasingly engage with UN human rights mechanisms and bodies.