Header image for news printout

Speech by the Deputy High Commissioner to the University of Juba, South Sudan

Mr. Vice Chancellor, students and staff of the University of Juba, ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you very much for the kind invitation for me to come here and share with you my thoughts on the future of your country from the perspective of human rights. I realize that it is rather presumptuous of me to do so, coming as I do with little knowledge and experience of the ground here. However, perhaps that is just as well, for I come with a fresh pair of eyes to offer you the views and expectations from the vantage point of international human rights standards. I hope that you will find my remarks useful as you go forth to build your new country.

It is indeed a great honor to address you today on the topic of Human rights as catalyst for security and development in the new Southern Sudan.

South Sudan will soon become an independent sovereign nation, and the newest member of the United Nations. This is a remarkable achievement for people who have suffered immensely over the past 25 years. I am privileged to be here at such a momentous time in your history. Your expectations and enthusiasm for a better future are palpable and inspiring.

South Sudan has attained this stage in history as a result of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended 20 years of conflict between the North and the South. The Agreement sought not only to find an end to the conflict, but also to redress the grievances of the people of Southern Sudan. It envisaged a comprehensive framework which upholds social, political and economic justice, as well as fundamental freedoms for all the Sudanese people.

Daunting challenges remain in resolving the outstanding issues and fully realizing the promises of the CPA. In particular, the military standoff in Abyei and the recent flare-up of armed conflict around Kadugli between the SAF and the SPLA-N are of grave concern, not least because of the misery and pain visited upon a people who have already suffered too much. It would be an utter betrayal of the people of Sudan who had waited for so long this historic opportunity, if these situations relapse into all-out conflict. .

South Sudan cannot be at peace when the Transitional Areas remain mired in conflict. All sides must be urged to take a step back and seek solutions through dialogue. Yesterday’s agreement on Abyei may be a positive step in that direction.

Meanwhile, South Sudan, with the generous and active assistance of the international community, must take crucial first steps as an independent state that clearly demonstrate its commitment to becoming a peace-loving democracy based on the values of equal rights and dignity for all of its people without discrimination.

Indeed this new beginning for South Sudan should be anchored on a bold vision of freedom from fear, freedom from want and need, and peaceful co-existence in mutual respect. This is certainly about the human rights of the people of South Sudan. But it is also about the fundamental principles that should underpin the development and security policies of this fledgling country. To those who argue that security and development must be pursued before the attainment of human rights, I respond that where human rights are overlooked, the welfare of a country rests on shaky grounds, irrespective of military prowess or economic might.

South Sudan has now the opportunity to pursue the simultaneous objectives of justice, human rights, good governance, peace and prosperity. In this endeavor, the international community must actively assist with all the support it can muster. The suffering, resilience, and aspirations of the people of Sudan demand such a course of action and such cooperation. In the face of so little existing capacity and infrastructure, many find it hard to see results anytime soon. But let us have hope and optimism in envisioning the future of this country.

The democratic and prosperous country that South Sudan aspires to be would be based on a system of institutions based on the rule of law and good governance, participation, equality before the law, and accountability. International human rights law and decades of jurisprudence built around the law offer rich guidance on how these institutions should be developed. I would like to briefly touch on a few of these: the Constitution, as the fundamental law of the land; the National Assembly, where laws are made in accordance with the Constitution and the aspirations of the everyday people; the judiciary where the rule of law is upheld and justice is rendered; and civil society, whose activism ensures that the powers that be are held accountable to the people.

South Sudan is in the process of elaborating a new Constitution to come into effect after the transitional period. In line with human rights principles, the constitutional process must be transparent, participatory and inclusive. The process must open up and embrace opportunities to address the root-causes of societal strife and to enshrine protections of all human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights, as well as civil and political rights at the very core of the fundamental law of the land. It should be accompanied by outreach, education, capacity building and institutional strengthening so as to anchor the aspirations and vision firmly in reality.

Thus crafted in a participatory process, the Constitution will provide for the separation of powers with checks and balances among the institutions of governance, an independent judiciary with powers for judicial review, popular participation in governance, periodic elections, and an independent human rights commission. Crucially, it will give recognition of all human rights and their protection and promotion as a fundamental duty of the State towards its citizens and its obligations under international law. This is not just a lofty ideal but the mandate of history. It is not by coincidence that the principles of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights have been reflected in the Constitutions of more than 90 countries, as well as in countless laws all over the world.

While the Interim Constitution of South Sudan has a bill of rights that provides for the promotion and protection of human rights, there is a need to pass appropriate enabling legislation to protect and implement these rights and give real effect to both the spirit and the letter of the fundamental charter of the land.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The National Assembly will be one of the pivotal institutions for the new South Sudan to attain these goals. It should provide a forum to channel the people’s aspirations and requirements, and serve as a mechanism of checks and balances vis-à-vis- the executive power. It must be accountable and open to the public.

The National Assembly can also monitor and investigate allegations of human rights violations, conduct parliamentary hearings on human rights issues, and commission investigations and reports so as to enable it to act appropriately.

In fulfilling these purposes, its members will be well-served by having a good understanding of international human rights law. A series of international human rights treaties and other instruments adopted since 1945 have conferred legal weight to inherent human rights that apply to all. International human rights law lays down obligations which are binding on States. Through ratification of international human rights treaties, Governments undertake to put into place domestic measures and legislation compatible with their treaty obligations and duties.

We urge South Sudan to ratify the core international human rights treaties, creating the normative framework for national legislation that will protect and promote human rights in Southern Sudan. Efforts must be exerted to ensure that national laws promulgated by the Assembly are in harmony with these international standards, and that they are applied to national issues. These norms also make clear that people represented by the National Assembly are not merely voters, but rights holders who must be empowered to claim their rights in all halls of power and participate in shaping laws and public conduct, including through public hearings.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Along with a responsible executive and a representative legislature, an independent judiciary lies at the core of the rule of law and good governance. No foundation can be laid for sustainable peace, stability and economic development in any country emerging from conflict, if it is not grounded on justice and the rule of law. Consolidation of peace in the immediate post conflict period, as well as the maintenance of peace in the long term, cannot be achieved unless the people are confident that redress for grievances, past and present, can be obtained through legitimate structures for the peaceful settlement of disputes and the fair administration of justice.

Establishing institutions of justice that hold human rights violators to account will thus be critical for creating a peaceful environment in which sustainable development can take place. The right to justice of victims, to know the truth, to receive reparations, and to be protected from recurrence of violations are of paramount importance. To this end, transitional justice mechanisms may be explored to help achieve communal reconciliation. If carried out purposefully, with clarity and with the best interest of victims in mind, these processes can also re-establish the confidence of citizens in the public institutions which have direct bearing on the protection of their rights. Indeed, combating impunity through a variety of processes and building strong institutions of justice will be crucial for South Sudan. Government action and leadership will be key in this regard, in particular in its willingness to investigate allegations of human rights violations and hold perpetrators to account. The government must demonstrate its commitment to fighting impunity through concrete action.

Civil society is also critical to the process of democratization and the protection of human rights. It is important that the Government of Southern Sudan and international partners recognize the key role that non-governmental organizations, the press, and individual advocates can play in sensitizing and empowering their communities to identify, assert and demand the protection of their rights, and by doing so foster peace and stability. As Sudan enters into a new era, it is crucial that civil society be recognized as partners in the development agenda of the nation and to involve them every step of the way in this process. Equally so for a fully functioning and independent national human rights commission.

Ladies and gentlemen,

All human rights – civil, cultural, economic, political and social – are indispensable and interrelated. The human rights edifice is an organic whole, where problems and violations in one area inevitably impact on others. Human rights policies must be designed and implemented to focus on those areas where the challenges are greatest. For South Sudan, I would submit that the right to education, women’s rights, economic and social rights, and the rights of returnees and other vulnerable groups should be given priority attention:

Education is not only a right in itself, but is also an enabler of other rights. It empowers individuals to claim their rights and make their contributions to social development. I know this by heart from the experience of my own country. The Republic of Korea was able to rebuild itself from total devastation of civil war into a modern, thriving democracy, thanks to the demand of the people for education, matched by the efforts of successive governments to meet those demands. In this regard, I am heartened to learn that enrollment in primary schools quadrupled during the years since the CPA. But still 2 million children of school age remain outside the schools. There is so much more to be done. Speaking here at the heart of higher learning where future leaders of South Sudan are being nurtured, I am sure I have your full agreement on this point, and also your commitment to become educators and models for the younger generations.

I would also add that education of women and girls, in particular, should be pursued with utmost commitment and drive. I am told that a 15 year old girl in South Sudan has a higher chance of dying during child birth rather than graduating from secondary school. This is unacceptable. Gender equality and equal rights of women, in law and in practice, is not only a key goal of all areas of UN work, but is also operational principle that has proven to significantly advance other goals, such as the peace and security and Millennium Development Goals and other development goals. I look forward to the day when the empowered women of South Sudan will be your proud representatives in international fora, sharing the successful experience of how the integration of gender equality set you on the right course of State-building.

No less important will be the embracement of returnees as full and equal participants in the State building processes. The long civil war was an object lesson in how marginalization on the basis of ethnicity can degenerate into violent conflict. Let the leaders and people of this young country learn from that history, and practice the wisdom to embrace the diversity among the people and turn it into an asset for the growth of a tolerant democratic country.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We applaud the significant strides that the Government of South Sudan has made thus far in creating the institutional framework for the protection of human rights. It must be commended for the establishment of the Southern Sudan Human Rights Commission, for the creation of a Human Rights Committee in the National Assembly, which has now been replicated in various state assemblies, for the creation of a post for advisor to the President on Human Rights and Gender; and for a Unit in the Ministry of Justice for human rights, treaties and Conventions. But much more needs to be done.

International partners must assist South Sudan as it builds its institutional and policy-making capacity to deliver on human rights. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in close collaboration with the Southern Sudan Human Rights Commission, has established a human rights forum bringing together the Government, the UN, diplomatic community, the Commission and civil society to share information on the human rights situation and to identify strategies to address them. It is critical that the international community support this Forum and the Human Rights Commission and the programs designed to build relevant capacities in the government and civil society in furtherance of human rights. At the same time, international partners must remain vigilant when violations are committed and ensure that the Government is equipped to address them, hold perpetrators to account and stem abuse.

Rest assured that the OHCHR along with other partners in the UN system and beyond, remain committed to assisting you, as you embark on a bold new chapter. We look forward to walking with you along this exciting and challenging path.

Thank you.