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Human Rights Council opens special session on the situation of human rights in South Sudan

MORNING

GENEVA (14 December 2016) - The Human Rights Council this morning opened its twenty-sixth special session to discuss the situation of human rights in South Sudan.

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the people of South Sudan had by now endured three full years of wanton conflict; over two million had been forced to leave their lands and homes, and over 200,000 were sheltering from the belligerents in protection of civilians bases adjacent to United Nations compounds. The work of humanitarian agencies had been repeatedly impeded by both government and armed opposition forces, and more than 65 humanitarian staff had been killed since the outbreak of the conflict in 2013. The levels of sexual violence related to this conflict were shocking, said High Commissioner Zeid, citing a United Nations survey of June 2016 which had found that 70 per cent of women at one protection of civilians site in Juba had suffered a sexual assault. In recent months, many leaders from across the political spectrum had intensified calls to ethnic animosity. The High Commissioner warned that with the beginning of the dry season, South Sudan teetered on the brink of disaster, and urged the Council to use all possible means within its remit to discourage violence and push for peaceful dialogue in South Sudan.

Yasmin Sooka, Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, said that all early warning signals for mass atrocities in South Sudan were there, including an increase in polarized ethnic identities and a culture of denial, while the steady process of ethnic cleansing was already underway in some parts of the country. The environment for abuses had been further enabled by the spewing of hate speech and the dehumanization of ethnic groups by key government officials, including the President. The level of gang rape in this conflict was epic, but the Commission was running out of adjectives to describe the horror. South Sudan stood on the brink of an all-out ethnic civil war which could destabilize the entire region. Ms. Sooka urged the immediate deployment of the 4,000-strong regional protection force, the establishment of the hybrid court by the African Union and South Sudan, and coordinated and systematic investigations in human rights violations and abuses with a view to gathering and preserving evidence.

Yanghee Lee, Chairperson of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures, referred to multiple reports of atrocious attacks on civilians, widespread use of sexual and gender-based violence, in particular the use of rape as a tool for ethnic cleansing, forced recruitment of children by armed groups, and arbitrary arrests and detentions. She said that this time, the international community should not fail to prevent the same atrocities that had taken place in Rwanda in 1994. The Transitional Government of National Unity should have been a sign of hope for the youngest country in the world, but instead what had happened was a lack of implementation of the commitments made and a complete breakdown in the political process.

Adama Dieng, United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, in a video statement, warned about an imminent risk of violence in South Sudan escalating along ethnic lines, with the potential for genocide. Genocide was a process, he said; it did not happen overnight and this meant that it could be prevented. Those steps must be taken now, without delay, including imposing an arms embargo and expanding the sanctions regime to all those involved in serious violations. With the divisions in the Security Council and among regional actors, action could still be taken bilaterally, by regional Member States who had the power to influence the known system of international banks, businesses, weapons traders, and intermediaries which had contributed to the perpetuation to the conflict in South Sudan.

South Sudan, speaking as the concerned country, reaffirmed that it was ready and keen to cooperate with the United Nations and its various institutions concerned with the promotion and protection of human rights. The position of the Government was that there was no justification for the holding of this special session. In the spirit of dialogue, cooperation and constructive engagement, South Sudan was ready to work with other delegations with an open mind. However, because the Government had not been given the chance to study and reply to the glaring allegations contained in the statements of the distinguished members who had spoken, South Sudan as an independent and sovereign State reserved the right to take the appropriate action it deemed fit at an appropriate time.

In the ensuing dialogue, delegations highlighted the preventive role of this Council and its mechanisms in addressing dire human rights situations around the world and said that this special session could be a step toward the prevention of the catastrophic scenario described by the Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide. There were many worrying signs of genocide in South Sudan, but there was still time to prevent the escalation of violence and avoid irreparable harm to the population. It boggled the mind that 70 per cent of women in one camp in Juba had been raped, they said and called upon all parties to the conflict to end sexual violence, ethnically targeted killings, child recruitment and attacks on civilians. The humanitarian situation was of particular concern, with famine looming unless assistance was provided to an estimated six million people. Speakers stressed the need to urgently deploy the regional protection force and establish the African Union hybrid court, and said that it was key to set up a Special Investigative Team for South Sudan in order to document evidence of the violence that would enable prosecutions in the future. The Transitional Government of National Unity must take necessary measures to ensure discipline within its army and security forces, and to protect civilians from violence, in particular sexual and gender-based violence.

Speaking were Slovakia on behalf of the European Union, Sudan on behalf of the Arab Group, the Netherlands on behalf of a group of countries, Slovenia, Germany, France, Belgium, Venezuela, United Kingdom, Switzerland, China, Mexico, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Portugal, Albania, Botswana, Nigeria, Kenya, Canada, Croatia, United States, Norway, Holy See, Australia, Italy, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Ireland, Brazil, Japan, Egypt, New Zealand, Sudan, Eritrea, Uruguay and Costa Rica.

Also speaking were UN Watch, International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, CIVICUS-World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Human Rights Watch and Rencontre Africaine Pour la Defense des Droits de l'Homme.

At the beginning of the meeting, the President of the Council said that the request for the special session was supported by the following members of the Council: Albania, Belgium, France, Georgia, Germany, Latvia, Mexico, the Netherlands, Panama, Paraguay, Portugal, the Republic of Korea, Slovenia, Switzerland, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The request was also supported by the following observer States: Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and United States of America.

The Council will reconvene at 3 p.m. today, 14 December, to start taking action on draft resolution on the situation of human rights in South Sudan before concluding the special session.

Opening Statement by the President of the Council

CHOI KYONG-LIM, President of the Human Rights Council, said that the request for a special session of the Council on the human rights situation in South Sudan was received by the Secretariat on 9 December 2016. The request for the special session was supported by the following members of the Council: Albania, Belgium, France, Georgia, Germany, Latvia, Mexico, the Netherlands, Panama, Paraguay, Portugal, the Republic of Korea, Slovenia, Switzerland, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The request was also supported by the following observer States: Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and the United States of America.

Statement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

ZEID RA’AD AL-HUSSEIN, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, welcomed the convening of this special session, which honoured the Council’s commitment to addressing the most critical human rights situations. The people of South Sudan had by now endured three full years of wanton conflict. Killings, sexual violence, ill-treatment, abductions, forcible recruitment and the looting and destruction of homes and villages were taking place on a massive scale across many parts of the country. Over 2 million people had been forced to leave their lands and homes. More than one million had fled to neighbouring countries, while within the country, over 200,000 were sheltering from the belligerents in “protection of civilians” bases adjacent to United Nations compounds. South Sudan’s economy had been ravaged. Some 4.8 million people, stripped of resources, faced the very real spectre of severe food insecurity and famine. Infrastructure, healthcare and education systems were in advanced stages of collapse. The work of humanitarian agencies had been repeatedly impeded by both government and armed opposition forces, including violent attacks, abductions, denials of access and demands for illicit payments. More than 65 humanitarian staff had been killed since the outbreak of conflict in 2013. The appalling attack on humanitarian staff in July had demonstrated the acute challenges of this security context, and led a number of humanitarian personnel to leave the country.

The levels of sexual violence related to this conflict were shocking. According to a survey by the United Nations Population Fund last June, 70 per cent of women at one protection of civilians site in Juba reported having suffered sexual assault. All armed actors in the country appeared to be responsible for gang rape. Cases of sexual slavery had been reported, as well as the sexual assault of children. In many cases this sexual violence had appeared to be targeted at members of particular ethnic groups, or on the basis of perceived political affiliation. Other human rights violations were widespread, including arbitrary arrests, abduction, prolonged and arbitrary detention, forced displacement of civilians and infringement of the rights to freedom of movement, expression and opinion. There were multiple allegations that human rights defenders, journalists and civil society actors had been targeted by the security services because of their work, including reports of reprisals against people who engaged with members of the Security Council during their visit to South Sudan in September. In recent months, many leaders from across the political spectrum had intensified calls to ethnic animosity, and repeated surges of violence had set off waves of revenge and counter-revenge across an increasingly broad swathe of territory. With the beginning of the dry season, South Sudan teetered on the brink of disaster. The High Commissioner urged the Council to use all possible means within its remit to discourage violence and push for peaceful dialogue in South Sudan. The highest priority must urgently be given to protection for those most at risk from killings, sexual violence and other serious human rights violations. It was time for all national and regional actors to advocate decisively for a political process that was both inclusive and implemented on the ground.

In closing, the High Commissioner deplored the restrictions imposed on the work of the representatives of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights by security considerations as well as by government authorities, and condemned the increasing threats of reprisals against witnesses, victims and sources who contacted the Office.

Keynote Statements

YASMIN SOOKA, Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, said that a recent United Nations survey had found that 70 per cent of women in civilian camps in the capital Juba had been raped since the conflict had erupted, mainly by the police or soldiers, and a staggering 78 per cent had been forced to watch someone being sexually violated. The scale of sexual violence in the world’s youngest country already matched that of the Bosnian war, and yet the world rarely heard about it. A quarter of the population was already internally displaced or abroad as refugees but South Sudan had fallen off the international radar. This special session should be a turning point for the country, urged Ms. Sooka. All of the early warning signals for mass atrocities in South Sudan were there. There was an increase in polarized ethnic identities, a culture of denial, and in some areas systematic violations were being planned. The steady process of ethnic cleansing was already underway in some parts of the country. Targeted displacement along ethnic lines was taking place through killing, abductions, rape, looting and burning of homes, while the redrawing of state boundaries to create 28 states had exacerbated this displacement. The Commission had heard accounts of land grabbing, and had heard displaced people saying they were willing to die to regain their land. Across the Upper Nile states, Unity and the Equatorias, people were preparing for war. Forced recruitments of youth and children, and forced conscription of adults was taking place and there was a heightened expectation that the fighting would begin in earnest now that the dry season had arrived. The environment for abuses had been further enabled by the spewing of hate speech and the dehumanization of ethnic groups by key government officials, including the President.

The level of gang rape in this conflict was epic, but the Commission was running out of adjectives to describe the horror. Perhaps the worst thing was that many now considered sexual violence to be a “normal” facet of life for women. Conflict-related sexual violence and gender-based violence by all armed groups had reached crisis proportions and that was why the Commission had called for an international investigation that would map the hot spots for rape and take detailed testimony from survivors so that patterns of violations could be matched with the military units deployed in the area. South Sudan stood on the brink of an all-out ethnic civil war, which could destabilize the entire region. The international community must act now, including the countries in the region which guaranteed the peace process but were not sufficiently implementing the necessary steps towards justice and accountability. Ms. Sooka urged the immediate deployment of the 4,000-strong regional protection force for the country, full implementation of Chapter Five of the Peace Agreement and the establishment of a hybrid court by the African Union and South Sudan, and coordinated and systematic investigations with a view to gathering and preserving evidence.

YANGHEE LEE, Chairperson of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures, said that since armed conflict had broken out in South Sudan in December 2013, violence had continued unabated, leading to an ever accelerating and alarming downward spiral of the situation of human rights. There were multiple reports of atrocious attacks on civilians, widespread use of sexual and gender-based violence, in particular the use of rape as a tool for ethnic cleansing, forced recruitment of children by armed groups, and arbitrary arrests and detentions. This time the international community should not fail to prevent the same atrocities that took place in Rwanda in 1994 from happening. The Transitional Government of National Unity should have been a sign of hope for the youngest country in the world, but instead what happened was a lack of implementation of the commitments made and a complete breakdown in the political process. The Government and all parties to the conflict were urged to abide by the peace agreement and immediately cease all hostilities, protect civilians and punish perpetrators. Since the start of the conflict, 1.87 million people had been displaced within South Sudan, and a further 1.15 million people had fled to neighbouring countries. Funding had to be urgently mobilized to provide immediate assistance and protection to those inside South Sudan and those who had sought refuge outside the country. All States were called upon to translate pledges made into action as soon as possible. All had to take their collective responsibility seriously and do everything in their power to prevent atrocities from occurring and stop the ongoing ones. The Government of South Sudan was called on to allow unhindered access to United Nations human rights monitoring and investigation teams.

ADAMA DIENG, United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, in a video statement, referred to his visit to South Sudan in November 2016 and warned about an imminent risk of violence escalating along ethnic lines, with the potential for genocide. Particularly worrying were reports of ethnically fuelled violence, including hate speech and incitement to violence. Statements by public officials in the media, including social media, were being used to spread hatred and encourage ethnic polarization. The involvement of youth was a great concern as well: they made up a large percentage of the population and were particularly susceptible to the dissemination of hatred and incitement to violence. Genocide was a process, it did not happen overnight. This also meant that it could be prevented and those steps must be taken now, without delay. It was urgent for Member States to impose an arms embargo which would have an important impact on the current proliferation of arms. The sanctions should not be limited to a few individuals and freezing of assets and restrictions of movements of those involved in serious violations should be imposed more widely. South Sudan’s top officials had benefited both financially and politically from the war, and could not maintain the status quo without the free flow of funds and arms into the country.

While the number of persons in need of emergency food aid would reach 4.6 million in the first quarter of 2017, the Government was spending a disproportionate share of the national budget on security. There would be neither growth nor development in South Sudan if this continued, said Mr. Dieng, noting that the economy was stagnated, inflation was very high and the population was becoming increasingly desperate. With the divisions in the Security Council and among regional actors, action could still be taken bilaterally, by regional Member States who had the power to influence the known system of international banks, businesses, weapons traders, and intermediaries which had contributed to the perpetuation to the conflict in South Sudan. In conclusion, Mr. Dieng reiterated that the situation of civilians in South Sudan was dire, and that there were all the signs that another outbreak of violence could be imminent. The current instability, desperate situation of civilians and deliberate manipulation of ethnicity for political gain, as well as the availability of the means and motivations to instigate violence, could evolve into genocide if concerted action was not taken now to stop it.

Statement by the Concerned Country

South Sudan, speaking as a concerned country, said that without going into the substance of the allegations contained in the statements of the distinguished members who had spoken, South Sudan reiterated and reaffirmed that as a responsible member of the United Nations and the international community, it was ready and keen to cooperate with the United Nations and its various institutions concerned with the promotion and protection of human rights. As for the convening of this special session, South Sudan wanted to make very clear the position of the Government. There was no justification for the holding of this special session. The Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan was established by the Council in March 2016 for a period of one year, and was requested to present a comprehensive written report and an interactive dialogue to the Council at its thirty-fourth session, which would be held in March 2017. The Council institution-building document said thematic mandates would be for three years while country mandates would be for one year. So there was no reason for holding this special session. As for the outcome of this special session, the delegation, in the spirit of dialogue, cooperation and constructive engagement, was ready to work with other delegations with an open mind. However, because the Government had not been given the chance to study and reply to the glaring allegations contained in the statements of the distinguished members who had spoken, South Sudan as an independent and sovereign State reserved the right to take the appropriate action it deemed fit at an appropriate time.

Debate

Slovakia, speaking on behalf of the European Union, was profoundly disturbed by the deteriorating human rights and humanitarian situation in South Sudan. The European Union condemned in the strongest terms all the atrocious acts of violence, including killing and maiming of civilians, use of child soldiers, and use of rape as a weapon of war. All perpetrators of human rights abuses needed to be held accountable. The European Union stood ready to support the establishment of the African Union Hybrid Court for South Sudan.

Sudan, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, expressed its deep sorrow over the escalation of the conflict in South Sudan, which had led to the killing of civilians and the destruction of property. The Arab Group supported humanitarian efforts, which needed to take place within the national and the regional framework. South Sudan was commended for cooperating with the Council on the implementation of resolution 31/20. It was premature to judge the work of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan.

Netherlands, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, was deeply concerned about the situation in South Sudan and the rising incidents of hate speech and targeted crimes against the civilian population. Many worrying signs of genocide were already there. There was still time to prevent the escalation of violence which could lead to genocide. The Council was called upon to strongly condemn ethnically fueled violence and hate speech, as well as horrendous levels of sexual violence. The hybrid court ought to be established.

Slovenia highlighted the preventive role of this Council and its mechanisms in addressing dire human rights situations around the world. Welcoming the cooperation of South Sudan with mainstreaming human rights, Slovenia expressed deep concern about the deterioration of the humanitarian and human rights situation in the country, and said that the warnings of genocide were most worrying. The Transitional Government of National Unity bore the primary responsibility to protect the population, while all perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses must be held accountable.

Germany was deeply concerned about the findings of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan and called upon all parties to cease all attacks, and in particular the atrocious acts of sexual and gender-based violence. This special session could be a step toward the prevention of the catastrophic scenario described by the Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide. The Government must rely on an inclusive political process to broaden the political basis of the Transitional Government of National Unity, and the Regional Protection Force must be deployed rapidly.

France was extremely worried by the situation and the worsening human rights violations despite the declared political will of the parties to implement the 2015 Peace Agreement. There must be an end to the cycle of impunity and the provisions of the Peace Agreement on justice and reconciliation must be implemented, with the support of the African Union. The Transitional Government must fulfil its responsibility to protect the population and to lift the restrictions imposed on the exercise of fundamental rights and freedoms by civil society and the media.

Belgium shared the concern by Mr. Dieng on the emerging ethnic violence in South Sudan with the potential for genocide. Because of the deteriorated humanitarian situation, malnutrition among children had dramatically increased, while millions of people were in dire need of food and humanitarian assistance. Belgium called upon all parties to the conflict to end sexual violence, ethnically targeted killings, child recruitment and attacks on civilians. There was time prevent the genocide if the international community acted now.

Venezuela expressed its reservations over the real motivations behind convening the special session. It was worrying that the proposed text was built on unreliable information which lacked necessary corroboration of the source and did not take into consideration the position of the country concerned. Attempts by certain countries were underway again to politicize the Council. Venezuela would continue to raise its voice against any actions undermining the fundamental principles of the United Nations Charter.

United Kingdom was appalled by the scale and horrendous nature of human rights abuses and violations, in particular gang rapes of women and girls used as a weapon of war. As the dry season was commencing, the fears were growing that the violence would once again escalate. When the person designated by the world to warn of genocides raised the alarm, the world had to act. The targeting of aid workers was unacceptable. South Sudan was urged to do all it could to facilitate the deployment of the regional protection force.

Switzerland was alarmed by the grave abuses and violations of human rights in South Sudan. The international community had to act strongly before it was too late. Switzerland was also worried about the forced displacement and sexual abuse of women. In light of the current alarming situation, the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan was fully justified. Switzerland highlighted the importance of transitional justice, accountability and reconciliation, and supported the immediate establishment of the hybrid court.

China urged all parties in South Sudan to pursue a political settlement to the conflict and said that the international community must bring all the parties back to the political track to solve their differences. China supported African people using African mechanisms to solve African problems. The Council must respect the sovereignty of the country and all measures taken must be conducive to the political settlement process. China was ready to continue to play a constructive role in searching for a political solution and to speed up the development of South Sudan for the benefit of all its people.

Mexico said that the warning signals were there and they were widely documented: war crimes, and crimes against humanity, spiralling into genocide. Genocide never happened without warning, it was a process and therefore the Government of South Sudan and the international community had the responsibility to prevent it and to prevent irreparable harm. Children must be free from forced recruitment, human rights defenders must be enabled to operate freely, and accountability for human rights violations must be ensured, stressed Mexico.

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was deeply concerned about what was happening in many parts of South Sudan and said that it boggled the mind that 70 per cent of women in a camp in Juba had been raped. This happened because there was no accountability, which perpetuated impunity. That was why the purpose of this special session was accountability. The establishment of the African Union hybrid court for South Sudan was imperative and a key step to both justice and accountability. It was key to set up a Special Investigative Team for South Sudan in order to document evidence of the violence that would enable prosecutions in the future.

Portugal strongly condemned the atrocious acts of violence, often with ethnic motivation, committed in many parts of the country, and was shocked by the level of sexual violence, including gang rape committed by armed men belonging to all groups. The humanitarian situation was of particular concern, with famine looming unless assistance was provided to an estimated six million people. Portugal supported the call for a thorough investigation by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan into the violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes.

Albania was extremely worried about the human rights violations and abuses in South Sudan and was deeply alarmed by the statement by Adama Dieng that there was a strong risk of violence escalating along ethnic lines, with the potential for genocide. Albania was also gravely concerned by ethnically-motivated hate speech by all sides, reports of targeting of civilians based on ethnicity, and sexual and gender-based violence. The Government was called to bring to justice all perpetrators of human rights abuses.

Botswana supported United Nations and regional mechanisms established to support peace and security in South Sudan. South Sudan had demonstrated its cooperation with the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan. The Government of South Sudan was called upon to cooperate with the United Nations and regional mechanisms to do all possible to protect its people. The Council had an opportunity to play a significant role in restoring peace in South Sudan, but that role should complement regional efforts.

Nigeria believed that the situation of human rights in South Sudan deserved global attention. Every effort aimed at bringing peace and stability to South Sudan enjoyed Nigeria’s support. Nigeria was encouraged by South Sudan’s cooperation with international mechanisms. Allegations on incidents in the report presented ought to be based on concrete evidence. The Government and the opposition were called upon to end the fratricidal conflict and take genuine steps towards peace.

Kenya expressed its deep concern about the situation in South Sudan. As a neighbouring country, Kenya was concerned that the situation continued to pose a threat to regional peace and security. The brokered agreement was the best starting point to establish sustained peace and promote forgiveness and reconciliation in the country. Most perturbing were the reports of grave human rights violations. The stakeholders were called upon to live up to the expectations of their people, and to establish the hybrid court.

Canada stressed the duty of all to do all in their power to address the situation in South Sudan. Canada fully supported the expanding of the Commission on Human Rights to include the investigation of the human rights situation and provide recommendations to the Government of South Sudan to end such violations and prevent their recurrence, including by ensuring perpetrators were held to account. Canada urged the Government to fully cooperate on the implementation of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan mandate and the deployment of a regional protection force.

Croatia followed with great concern the critical human rights and humanitarian situation in South Sudan and said that the measures and efforts taken by the Council, including the establishment of the Commission on Human Rights, did not prevent horrible atrocities, grave humanitarian crises, and human suffering. More had to be done by the international community to help, encourage and extend technical assistance to the Government of South Sudan. Croatia supported the expanding of the Commission’s mandate and the establishment of the African Union hybrid court for South Sudan.

United States remained concerned about the Government’s ongoing obstruction of humanitarian assistance which exacerbated the already dire humanitarian situation and near-famine conditions. The United States supported the United Nations’ mandate to protect civilians and to deploy the regional protection force, and stressed the importance of the continued engagement of all United Nations bodies and mechanisms in South Sudan at this critical moment, including the Human Rights Council, General Assembly, and the Security Council.

Norway echoed the warnings of a very real risk of mass atrocities in South Sudan, including the potential for genocide, and said that there was a clear case for the Council to act on its mandate to prevent human rights violations. The exodus of refugees into neighbouring countries continued with nearly 3,000 daily arrivals to Uganda, while a record number of 205,000 were seeking protection in United Nations camps. Norway supported the broadening of the mandate of the Commission to include the investigation of alleged violations of human rights to avoid impunity and ensure accountability.

Holy See said that the increased intensity of the violence in South Sudan was contributing to the worsening of the already precarious situation of the nation. Estimates showed that between five and seven million people were facing food shortages. Any solution to the conflict had to take into consideration not only the obvious tension between the parties, but also the underlying motives and factors that fueled the conflict. Others should be seen not as enemies, but as brothers to accept and work with.

Australia was deeply concerned by the latest assessment by the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide that there was potential for the current landscape to lead to further atrocities, including genocide. Australia called upon the Government of South Sudan to fulfill its responsibility to protect its population. The Government was also called upon to control its security forces and address human rights violations and abuses in the interest of all.

Italy strongly condemned human rights violations and abuses, and violations of international humanitarian law. Italy called on all the parties to the conflict to end the violence, and to find a viable political solution, guaranteeing the multi-ethnic character of the South Sudanese society. Italy encouraged South Sudan to conduct an all-inclusive national dialogue, as the only sustainable solution was through the comprehensive implementation of the peace agreement.

Luxembourg noted that every day civilians, especially women, were subject to rape, which was used as a weapon of war. Luxembourg called on all stakeholders to stop the mass escalation of the conflict. The Transitional Government was responsible for protecting civilians. Perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses had to be held accountable for those violations, and the hybrid court should be made operational as soon as possible.

Lithuania was deeply concerned about the situation in South Sudan marked by massive human rights violations, killings and maiming of civilians, starvation, recruitment and use of child soldiers, rape and other forms of sexual violence applied as war tactics. The United Nations Mission in South Sudan must be allowed to exercise its mandate of the protection of civilian sites without hindrance. The Transitional Government should protect civilians and put an end to human rights violations, while the African Union should move forward with the establishment of the hybrid court for South Sudan.

Ireland recognized the important role of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan in monitoring and reporting on the human rights situation, and on South Sudan’s commitment to cooperate with it, and said it would welcome the recommendations from the Commission on the formation of the hybrid court, and on ending sexual and gender-based violence. Ireland urged South Sudan to immediately work with the United Nations, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, the African Union, and the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, and to take all steps to address the crisis and end the violence.

Brazil urged all parties to cease hostilities and resume the political dialogue and said that the Transitional Government should lead this process, with the support of the international community. South Sudan should take urgent measures to stop the escalation of the conflict along ethnic lines. The acceptance by South Sudan to the deployment of the regional protection force was a commitment that the Council should keep in mind, and the Government should take the necessary steps to investigate all human rights violations.

Japan said that the international community and South Sudan must take joint action to address the human rights situation in the country, where a serious confrontation among ethnic groups was on the rise. Japan urged the Government to make every effort to strengthen discipline within its army and security forces, and requested it to agree to the peaceful resolution of the conflict, to continue to hold an inclusive national dialogue, and to strengthen measures for the prevention of violence against civilians, including sexual violence.

Egypt said that the current session had been called for by countries located thousands of kilometers from South Sudan, thus unaffected by the refugee crisis. Egypt was more aware of what people in South Sudan were enduring on a daily basis. Egypt had chosen years ago to extend concrete help to the people of South Sudan, and the international community should follow its suit without delay. The Human Rights Commission was asked to be more balanced.

New Zealand stated that the time for dire warnings had well and truly passed. Given the seriousness of the situation, more needed to be done to arrest the downwards spiral. The Transitional Government of National Unity bore the primary responsibility to protect its population from mass atrocities. New Zealand called on all parties to the conflict to engage seriously in developing the requisite parameters of maintaining sustainable peace and pursuing transitional justice.

Sudan could only welcome the progress made by South Sudan in the field of human rights. The extension of the mandate of the Commission, before the end of the mandate, was premature. Time ought to be left for the Commission to submit its report, stressed Sudan, and the Government needed to be given time to respond to what would be included in the report. Sudan invited the Government and all parties to commit to a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

Eritrea regretted the selection of situations that were growing while ignoring critical situations that needed more attention and scrutiny. The dire situation in Ethiopia was being ignored by the Council. Eritrea encouraged the continued efforts by the Government of South Sudan to engage and cooperate with human rights mechanisms and institutions, including at the bilateral level. Eritrea opposed the use of human rights for other ulterior motives related to any geopolitical agendas.

Uruguay said that the timely holding of this special session could enable States to act in time to prevent further atrocities in South Sudan. Thousands of people had had to flee in search for safety and protections, and the international community must not remain indifferent in the face of the deteriorating situation and the possibility that it might spiral into genocide. Justice and reconciliation mechanisms provided for in the 2015 Peace Agreement should be established and start operating to put an end to impunity.

Costa Rica was deeply concerned by the situation in South Sudan, and the warning signs of genocide – hate speech, displacement based on ethnicity, and the flow of arms. The international community must address the issue of arms supply to South Sudan, and the Government must take all measures to protect civilians, particularly curb hate speech and prevent fractioning along ethnic lines. It was an imperative to investigate systematic sexual violence perpetuated against women and girls in South Sudan.

United Nations Watch said that the unprecedented scale of the abuses occurring in South Sudan warranted the urgent attention of the international community and a strong commitment to act and stop all human rights violations. UN Watch was very concerned by reports of the reluctance of United Nations peacekeepers to protect civilians and hoped that measures would be taken to ensure that the United Nations peacekeepers protected civilians and did not become accessories and guilty bystanders to those crimes.

International Federation for Human Rights Leagues was profoundly concerned by reports of the use of rape as an instrument of ethnic cleansing in South Sudan, and the targeting of civil society activists, human rights defenders, journalists and humanitarian workers. The international community must hold the political leadership of South Sudan to their obligation and responsibility to protect the population. The Council should urge the African Union to immediately establish the hybrid court to address the lack of accountability for human rights violations.

East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project said that for three years, the world had watched helplessly as the people of South Sudan suffered at the hands of their leaders. Today, South Sudan was at a turning point, and now was the time to act. There was no doubt that South Sudan was edging closer to an irreparable catastrophe. Sadly, South Sudanese civil society was not present today. The Council should renew and strengthen the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan.

CIVICUS agreed with the assessment that South Sudan was on the verge of an unprecedented spiral of violence which had strong ethnic connotations. CIVICUS was concerned by the wanton destruction of villages, targeting of civilian healthcare facilities and violent attacks on journalists and human rights defenders. The Council was asked to take concerted and swift action to ensure the protection of civilians and end impunity for violations of international humanitarian law.

Human Rights Watch, speaking on behalf of a group of organizations, said that the conflict had left the country at the edge of a precipice. Many acts committed constituted war crimes. It was frustrating that there was little accountability for perpetrators. The Human Rights Council was asked to use its full powers before the situation deteriorated even further. The report of the Human Rights Commission ought to be transmitted to the Security Council, which should look into establishing a comprehensive arms embargo.

Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l’homme said that ethnic genocide was now in progress in South Sudan. The President and Vice-President should be held responsible, as they had pushed the country down the spiral of violence and destruction. What the South Sudanese people urgently needed was security in an inclusive environment. Perpetrators of mass atrocities needed to be held responsible. The international community had to move swiftly and impose an arms embargo.

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For use of the information media; not an official record