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Statement to the Security Council by Navi Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights [South Sudan] New York, 2 May 2014

Mr. President,
Distinguished Members of the Security Council,

I thank this Council for the opportunity to address you on the crisis in South Sudan. My visit to the country this week, together with the Secretary General’s Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, revealed a sharp and drastic deterioration in the human rights situation. The deadly spiral of revenge killings that has developed over the past four and a half months appears to be reaching a level of intensity that generates a real fear of disaster for the people of South Sudan, and, furthermore it is compounded by the likelihood of widespread famine that the conflict has generated.

Two weeks ago, in the aftermath of the capture of Bentiu by the SPLA in Opposition, hundreds of people, many of them civilians, were hunted down based on their ethnicity and killed – including those sheltering in places of worship and hospitals. Following the massacre at Bentiu, a retaliatory assault occurred in Bor against displaced people who had sought refuge in the UNMISS compound, leading to the death of at least 50 women, men and children. Many more were injured, including two peacekeepers.

Earlier this week Mr. Dieng and I travelled to Bor and met several of the survivors who described the assault to us and expressed fears of being targeted on grounds of their ethnicity or perceived as supporters of one or other of the warring sides.. Thankfully the strong intervention of Indian peacekeepers prevented hundreds more from being killed or injured.

UNMISS has performed commendably in opening its doors to some 80,000 people and is sheltering and protecting them as best it can. However, several community leaders told us they were terrified of further attacks and wish to be moved from the UN compound, to places of safety.

UNICEF reports that more than 9,000 children have been recruited into armed forces by both sides. Thirty-two schools have been taken over by military forces, and there have been more than 20 attacks on clinics and health centres. Children have also been killed during indiscriminate attacks on civilians by both sides.

Since December we have seen versions of this targeted ethnic violence in Malakal and dozens of other, smaller towns across the country, as well as in Juba itself. The accelerating cycles of revenge are now such that the slaughters in Bentiu and Bor could ignite further violence. . Some of these key state capitals have changed hands numerous times since the conflict started, either following fighting or after the other party retreated, leaving civilians more vulnerable to attacks.

Elements on all sides of the conflict have called publicly for their supporters to hunt down other ethnic groups. Harking back grimly to the events that led up to the Rwandan genocide, following their capture of Bentiu this month, rebels commandeered a local radio station and urged supporters to take revenge, including by raping women from other communities. Even more recently, according to media reports, the Governor of the Lakes region told a gathering of youths last weekend “What we are doing today is eye for eye. You pinch me, I pinch you too, no forgiveness. If someone pinches you time and again and you don’t do the same, you are creating a point of weakness in yourself.” Such statements by senior public officials fuel violence

President Kiir told us that he hated revenge. I urged him to make his position know publicly in order to stem the continued violence. Riak Machar acknowledged the need for a political solution, stating that he “hates the situation that he is in” and would be open to peace talks.

A matter of pressing urgency is the looming humanitarian disaster. The rainy season has begun, meaning that the planting season is already half over, and this raises the spectre of widespread famine. Mr. Dieng and I urged leaders on both sides to observe a 30-day ceasefire to allow people to return to their fields to plant as much as possible. Shockingly, their reaction indicated that this was not an overriding concern.

Impunity and accountability

Last month I said in this Council that the pervasive culture of impunity in South Sudan had fuelled the current violence, and that it was critical that the capacities of the domestic judicial system to effectively address accountability should be established without delay. Only clear and decisive moves towards accountability can hope to stop the cycles of revenge killings and re-establish a sense of a common destiny across the country.

During our mission, Mr. Dieng and I conveyed this concern to President Salva Kiir and five senior Cabinet Ministers in his Government. We also travelled to Nassir, where we discussed the killings in Bentiu with opposition leader Riek Machar, the former vice-President of South Sudan, since they were carried out by forces associated with the SPLA in Opposition, which he leads.

The Government has said it is investigating the mass killings of civilians in Juba in mid-December, and Dr. Machar similarly assured us that he will investigate the slaughter in Bentiu, adding that he will do his utmost to stop his forces from attacking civilians.

I welcome these commitments to investigate. But as I said this week to my various interlocutors, such investigations must be independent, transparent and consistent with international standards, and they must move swiftly to take action against alleged perpetrators, in order to reassure a terrified civilian population that the escalation of ethnic violence will not continue to intensify.

Unfortunately, I am not convinced that this will be the case. I fear that South Sudan’s leaders are locked in a purely personal power struggle, with little or no regard for the appalling suffering that it inflicts on their people. Mr Dieng and I warned them that they will inevitably be the subject of international investigations regarding the extent of their knowledge of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by subordinates under their authority and their failure to take reasonable measures to prevent such crimes.

Peace negotiations

International pressure has had some effect on the deadlock between President Kiir and Dr. Machar. Last week, in what was perceived as a gesture of reconciliation, the Government released four prisoners whom it had accused of plotting a coup. And on Monday, peace talks between the warring sides re-opened in Addis Ababa  under the auspices of the regional East Africa bloc, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development.  And today, I understand that US Secretary of State John Kerry has announced the two leaders have agreed to meet.

I was able to meet in Addis Ababa with the Head of the   IGAD Mediation Team, the AU Commissioner for Political Affairs and the Ethiopian State Minister of Foreign Affairs. IGAD is pushing for the quick deployment of the proposed Protection and Deterrent Force which will provide protection for the Monitoring and Verification Teams responsible for monitoring the implementation of the cessation of hostilities signed in January. The head of IGAD sees this as, in his words, “a game changer” in reducing the ongoing violence. Despite egregious violations of the cessation of hostilities by both parties, the Monitoring and Verification Teams have not investigated any reported violations. As I was reminded by the Ambassador during our meeting, more people have been killed after the cessation of hostilities was signed than before. I call on the Security Council to support this initiative. The deployment of the protection force will help save lives in the short run. The force should be deployed only if it has a clear mandate that supports the political resolution of the conflict.   

I also met with four members of the African Union Commission of Inquiry. They have just returned from their first visit to South Sudan, where they met with IDPs and victims in furtherance of their mandate to enquire into accountability, justice and reconciliation.. The Commission will require substantial support; if it is effectively fulfil its mandate including a fully staffed secretariat with the required expertise.  My office stands ready to support the Commission whenever requested.  

IGAD and regional leaders share the same outrage as the rest of the world. They see the conflict as a showdown between two leaders for political power and the control of oil revenues.

International action and recommendations

In December, this Council agreed that the number of UNMISS peacekeepers should be increased from 7,700 to 13,200. However, the contributing countries have still not supplied some two thirds of the extra troops. They are desperately needed. Excellencies, I trust that you will do your utmost to ensure that UNMISS can count on a full complement of peacekeepers, as well as an adequate budget.

Mr. President, the world’s youngest country has a long history of suffering.  Its people look to this Council to exert its authority to ensure a speedy political solution to this dreadful conflict.

Thank you for your attention.