NAIROBI/GENEVA (20 February 2019) – With thousands of people once again forced to flee their homes because of ongoing violence in South Sudan, the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan urges the Government of South Sudan and all parties to the conflict to respect the cessation of hostilities and implement the revitalized peace agreement signed five months ago.
In its third report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, the Commission finds that continuing violence and human rights violations, including rape and sexual violence, may amount to war crimes.
Since its December 2017 update to the Human Rights Council on the magnitude of the crimes of rape and sexual violence perpetrated in South Sudan, the Commission notes the situation has markedly worsened, with documented cases showing a surge in rapes between November and December 2018, particularly in Northern Liech state.
“There is a confirmed pattern of how combatants attack villages, plunder homes, take women as sexual slaves and then set homes alight often with people in them,” commented Commission Chairperson Yasmin Sooka.
“Rapes, gang rapes, sexual mutilation, abductions and sexual slavery, as well as killings, have become commonplace in South Sudan. There is no doubt that these crimes are persistent because impunity is so entrenched that every kind of norm is broken,” she added.
UNICEF reports that 25 per cent of those targeted by sexual violence are children, including the rapes of girls as young as 7. Elderly and pregnant women have also been raped. The Commission also received reports of male victims of sexual violence. Sexual and gender-based violence against men and boys is even more underreported than that against women and girls as there is a greater level of stigma. There are even reports of raping and killing of the young and the elderly.
The Commission documented a case study on Leer, in Southern Unity state, where more than 8,000 young men were recruited to fight with the words: “you go and get cattle from Mayendit, also abduct and rape beautiful women you find here, loot their properties”. The men were also told that this was the perfect time to seek revenge for relatives they had lost in the conflict and that they would never have another such opportunity.
Noting that a lack of accountability for decades of violence during the struggle for independence helped to fuel the current conflict in South Sudan, the report stresses that sustainable peace requires a tangible and credible pursuit of accountability and justice that meets the needs of the many thousands of victims.
“We do acknowledge the efforts of the Government to hold some perpetrators accountable for gross violations of human rights and serious violations of international humanitarian law, such as the trial and conviction of SPLA soldiers in the Terrain Hotel case,” stated Commissioner Andrew Clapham. “However, we also have to note that pervasive impunity remains the norm,” he added.
The Commission has long been concerned about the lack of progress in establishing the Transitional Justice mechanisms, particularly the Hybrid Court for South Sudan, the Commission for Truth Reconciliation and Healing, and the Compensation and Reparation Authority, which were adopted in the 2015 Peace Agreement. It notes that the Revitalized Agreement has reaffirmed the importance of these institutions to build sustainable peace. It fully expects that concerted efforts will be made by the Revitalized Government, the African Union and Regional Governments to ensure these bodies are set up and contribute to the consolidation of peace in South Sudan.
The Commission has also looked at the allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). From January 2018 to 2019, seven such cases involving 18 alleged UNMISS perpetrators were registered in the UN Sexual Exploitation and Abuse Database. These cases were swiftly investigated by the UN mission, resulting in the repatriation of peacekeepers implicated in sexual activity with women in one of the Protection of Civilians sites. The Commission has further recommended that the current database, which only reflects incidents involving UN Peacekeepers, should be expanded to include personnel of implementing partners.
The Commission also notes a link between the conflict and the political economy of South Sudan, where even before independence, there were concerns about the misappropriation of natural resources, particularly oil. The oil producing areas of the country have become increasingly militarized by Government forces, including by the National Security Services, which have expanded their involvement in the oil sector. The state-owned Nilepet oil company’s operations have been characterized by a total lack of transparency and independent oversight, allegedly diverting oil revenues into the coffers of elites in the government. Furthermore, oil revenues, and income from other natural resources such as illegal teak logging, have continued to fund the war, enabling its continuation and the resulting human rights violations. The Commission notes South Sudanese activists have urged the Commission and the AU to ensure that the mandate of the Hybrid Court for South Sudan incorporates such crimes.
The Commission underlines that in implementing the Transitional Justice agenda in South Sudan, victims and vulnerable communities, especially women and those internally displaced and refugees, are core stakeholders who must be included in the design and implementation of such mechanisms. The Commissions welcomes the provision in the Revitalized Peace Agreement that women must make up 35 per cent of participants at all levels in the Transitional Government institutions, including the Transitional Justice mechanisms, and urges all parties to respect and implement this important provision.
The Commission also calls on the region and wider international community to invest, politically and materially, in these Transitional Justice mechanisms, essential for building sustainable peace, as well as supporting the people of South Sudan in rebuilding all aspects of national life, especially the rule of law.
The Mandate of the Commission includes the collection and preservation of evidence. The Commission has continued to document violations, build dossiers on perpetrators, collect evidence and preserve it for future accountability processes. In this report, the Commission details three cases studies in which the incidents and events have been extensively documented taking account of those who allegedly have command responsibility for the crimes. The names of these alleged perpetrators are contained in a confidential dossier which will be handed over to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva. The acts described as war crimes in our report are also human rights crimes under the Torture Convention and the Convention on Enforced Disappearances – both monitored in Geneva. All states parties to those instruments are obliged to prosecute or extradite persons found on their territory suspected of such crimes.
“The evidence we have collected and preserved will be available to the prosecutor of the future Hybrid Court and other transitional justice mechanisms,” noted third Commission member stated Barney Afako, “This evidence may be used beyond South Sudanese bodies – it may be available on request to regional and state parties for future prosecutions.”
South Sudan’s challenges are immense, says the Commission, given the protracted conflict, its ethnic dimensions and deep divisions; the inability of the population to access the economy; the lack of financial capacity and capable organisational and human resources; and what is perceived to be a dysfunctional and predatory elite system of government.
“With sustained political will and effective leadership,” concludes Commission Chair Yasmin Sooka, “The transitional justice framework and mechanisms can help to bring accountability, reconciliation and healing as South Sudanese deal with the past and secure their future stability and prosperity.”
The Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan was established by the Human Rights Council in March 2016 and extended in March 2017 and for a further year in March 2018, with a mandate to determine and report the facts and circumstances of, collect and preserve evidence of, and clarify responsibility for alleged gross violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes, including sexual and gender-based violence and ethnic violence, with a view to ending impunity and providing accountability.
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