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Human Rights Council holds enhanced interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights in South Sudan

Human Rights Council 
MORNING

22 June 2016

The Human Rights Council this morning held an enhanced interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights in South Sudan.

Choi Kyong-Lim, President of the Human Rights Council, said the enhanced dialogue on South Sudan would focus on the situation of human rights and the steps taken by the Government to ensure accountability for human rights violations and abuses. 

Kate Gilmore, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that two and a half years since the beginning of the crisis in South Sudan, the situation was still very volatile.  There was no evidence of any genuine effort by the Government or the opposition to investigate, prosecute and punish violations and abuses.  Without accountability, sustainable peace for South Sudan would remain elusive, with grave consequences for its people.  The pervasive cycle of impunity could only be addressed by mechanisms which would address the root causes of the conflict and prosecute perpetrators.  The Human Rights Council must therefore remain focused on accountability for past and present violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in South Sudan. 

Akech Chol Ahou, Chargé d’Affaires at the Permanent Mission of South Sudan to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that the Transitional Government of National Unity had been formed in April 2016 to begin the implementation of the agreement on the resolution of the conflict in South Sudan, and had taken steps to ensure accountability for alleged human rights violations, such as the establishment of the Joint Court for the trial of members of the armed forces on alleged human rights violations against civilians, while the Military Tribunal had prosecuted members of the SPLA involved in looting and destruction of properties and other human rights violations and abuses.  South Sudan called upon the international community to expedite humanitarian assistance that the country desperately needed.

Pansy Tlakula, Chairperson of the African Commission for Human and People’s Rights, said it was important for the international community to encourage the Government of South Sudan to ratify the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, which would go a long way toward ensuring accountability for human rights violations.
Francois Fall, Deputy Chairperson of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission,  said that the parties to the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan aspired to achieve peace, but a dire humanitarian situation had shifted immediate attention from much-needed legal and political reforms into dealing with more pressing security and livelihood concerns.
 
Nyuol Justin Yaac Arop, Chairperson of the South Sudan Human Rights Commission, said there was a need to assess the Government’s willingness to address grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. 

Eugene Nindorera, Director of Human Rights, United Nations Mission in South Sudan, noted that the Transitional Government would have to tackle long-standing demands, including guaranteeing the principles of good governance, constitutionalism, human rights and the rule of law. 

During the interactive debate, delegations stressed their deep and abiding concern about the human rights situation in South Sudan.  Many called on the Transitional Government to end all violations and abuses and investigate atrocities.  Others underlined the importance of the continuation of the role of mediation of the African Union, adding that the Human Rights Council and other United Nations bodies should provide support.  Justice and accountability were needed, and it was critical that human rights defenders were involved in peace efforts. 

Speaking in the debate were European Union, South Africa on behalf of the African Group, Norway, United Kingdom, Germany, Sierra Leone,  Republic of Korea, Denmark, Portugal, China, Belgium, Senegal, Czech Republic, Spain, United States, Mexico, New Zealand, Albania, Australia, Sudan, Slovakia, Botswana, Ireland, and France.

The following non-governmental organizations also spoke: Vivat International, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project together with CIVICUS, Human Rights Watch, Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l’Homme, International Service for Human Rights, International Federation for Human Rights League, and Africa Culture Internationale. 

The Council is holding a full day of meetings today, and at noon will start its general debate on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention. 


Opening Statements

CHOI KYONG-LIM, President of the Human Rights Council, opened the enhanced dialogue on South Sudan and said it would focus on the situation of human rights and the steps taken by the Government to ensure accountability for human rights violations and abuses.  The President introduced the participants in the dialogue.

KATE GILMORE, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, in her opening statement, said that two and a half years since the beginning of the crisis in South Sudan, the situation was still very volatile.  The Office of the High Commissioner had reported to the Council during its thirty-first session, noting that despite the signing of a peace agreement in 2015, killings and sexual violence continued unabated throughout 2015, with State actors bearing the greatest responsibility for the violence committed during that period.  The formation of the new Government of National Unity in April this year offered new hope, and yet, violence continued in Greater Equatoria and Greater Bahr el Ghazal, which had not been previously affected by the conflict.  With civilians caught in the fighting, the country had plunged into the humanitarian crisis: more than 1.6 million people were displaced, and 600,000 sought refuge in neighbouring countries; most parts of the country faced severe food insecurity and possibly famine.   The number of violent incidents against humanitarian workers had increased, and 55 had been killed since December 2013.  The space for civil society and an independent media had narrowed since the beginning of conflict: civil society activists and humanitarian activists had been subjected to threats, intimidation, arbitrary detention and death.  In 2015, seven journalists had been killed, while human rights defenders and activists seeking cooperation with this Council were being subjected to threats and reprisals.  The parties to the conflict and their allies had killed civilians, deployed rape as a weapon of the conflict and pillaged and destroyed civilian property, said the Deputy High Commissioner, noting that some of those crimes might amount to war crimes and/or crimes against humanity.

There was no evidence of any genuine effort by the Government or the opposition to investigate, prosecute and punish violations and abuses.  The August 2015 Agreement for the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan had renewed hope for justice and a chance to break the cycle of impunity that plagued the country, including through the creation of a Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing to establish a record of human rights violations and abuses, and a Hybrid Court for South Sudan to try genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious crimes.  Without accountability, sustainable peace for South Sudan would remain elusive, with grave consequences for its people.  The pervasive cycle of impunity could only be addressed by mechanisms which would address the root causes of the conflict and prosecute perpetrators.  The Human Rights Council must therefore remain focused on accountability for past and present violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in South Sudan, concluded the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

Statement by the Concerned Country

AKECH CHOL AHOU, Chargé d’Affaires at the Permanent Mission of South Sudan to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that the Transitional Government of National Unity had been formed in April 2016 to begin the implementation of the agreement on the resolution of the conflict in South Sudan, and had taken steps to ensure accountability for alleged human rights violations, such as the establishment of the Joint Court for the trial of members of the armed forces on alleged human rights violations against civilians, while the Military Tribunal had prosecuted members of the SPLA involved in looting and destruction of properties and other human rights violations and abuses.  Concerning the transitional security arrangements, all the armed forces within Juba had been deployed 25 kilometres outside of the town, and the joint police force had been established, in cooperation with the United Nations.  Other steps included the release of all detainees who had waged war against the State, including prisoners of war, and the reinstatement of civil servants who fled the conflict.  The justice system was capable of conducting and investing cases brought under its attention, so the perception that the legal system in South Sudan was not independent, was incapable, unfit and ill-equipped to deal with crimes and violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, was misplaced. 

The traditional customary laws in South Sudan had been very effective in solving conflicts among the communities and the Transitional Government would not hesitate to cooperate with the African Union’s Hybrid Court as soon as it was established.  South Sudan asked the international community to support the local justice mechanisms, just like they had done with the Gacaca Courts in Rwanda, which had been hailed as a success story in the continent.  Justice could not be measured by how many people were judged, but how fast the Government could restore security, peace, reconciliation, and healing for the victims and communities.  South Sudan called upon the international community to expedite humanitarian assistance that the country desperately needed.

Keynote Statements

PANSY TLAKULA, Chairperson of the African Commission for Human and People’s Rights, said that the human rights violations in South Sudan had been well documented following a number of initiatives of the United Nations and the African Union.  The African Commission was concerned about the human rights situation in South Sudan, and had adopted a resolution on the situation between Sudan and South Sudan, calling on the two governments to take all measures to ensure the rights to peace and security of persons living in their territories, and more.  The African Commission had also adopted a resolution noting the importance of redress for victims at all levels so as to end impunity.  There was concern about delays in ratifying human rights instruments since that would provide avenues for redress for victims of human rights violations.  Non-ratification of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights was a missed opportunity for the promotion and protection of human rights in South Sudan.  Without ratification, the African Commission and its special mechanisms dealing with freedom of expression, migrants and transitional justice, among others, could not undertake promotion missions to South Sudan on measures taken to implement provisions of the Charter.   It was important for the international community to encourage the Government of South Sudan to ratify the Charter, which would go a long way toward ensuring accountability for human rights violations.

FRANCOIS FALL, Deputy Chairperson of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, said that the parties to the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan aspired to achieve peace.  He listed details of the Agreement, which included a mandate to inquire into all aspects of human rights violations, among other issues.  A hybrid court set up under the Agreement would have jurisdiction over crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious crimes under international law, including sexual and gender-based crimes.  The formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity was the most significant milestone in ending the conflict.  A permanent ceasefire had facilitated the return of formerly displaced people, and the security situation around the country had improved with the resolution of the cantonment site issues in western Bahr el Ghazal and Equatoria.  But the worsening economic and financial crisis and a dire humanitarian situation around the country had obviously shifted immediate attention from much-needed legal and political reforms into dealing with more pressing security and livelihood concerns.  Reforms were critical and necessary to enhance accountability for past human rights violations and abuses.  The Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission was committed to fully implement all components of the Agreement, including all Chapter V institutions and mechanisms for South Sudan to achieve lasting peace, stability and good governance. 

NYUOL JUSTIN YAAC AROP, Chairperson of the South Sudan Human Rights Commission, said South Sudan’s domestic institutions were unable to mediate the conflict and ensure accountability.  There was a need to assess the Government’s willingness to address grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.  The Government had instituted a local inquiry for violations, but it needed to do more.  The Commission newly instituted by the Human Rights Council would hopefully support the Government’s efforts in that regard.  While the Government’s cooperation with the United Nations human rights mechanisms was important, it was not enough, and the Government could and should do more.  The inability to address past wars had created a legacy of impunity in the country.  He called upon the international community to stand together and ensure that the current peace agreement was implemented in letter and in spirit. 

EUGENE NINDORERA, Director of Human Rights, United Nations Mission in South Sudan, noted that the signature of the Peace Agreement was a positive step, and provided tremendous opportunities to ensure accountability, end impunity and deliver justice for those who had suffered.  Challenges remained, as civilians continued to be killed.  The administration of justice had been left in the hands of traditional courts and non-institutional actors.  The Transitional Government would have to face these challenges, and to tackle long-standing demands, including guaranteeing the principles of good governance, constitutionalism, human rights and the rule of law.  The United Nations faced difficulties, particularly with the denial of the access so vital for preventing and deterring human rights violations, and for facilitating the delivery of humanitarian assistance.  It was critical that the Transitional Government identify impartial individuals trusted by a broad spectrum of South Sudanese to make these transitional justice institutions representative and credible in the eyes of the nation.  

Interactive Dialogue

European Union was appalled by grave human rights violations committed with complete impunity, including the recruitment of children, killing of children, rape of girls, and castration and sexual mutilation of boys.  The August 2015 Peace Agreement must be fully implemented, in particular its justice and accountability provisions, especially the establishment of the Hybrid Court by the African Union.  South Africa, speaking on behalf of the African Group, expressed concern about the impediments to the implementation of the Peace Agreement by the parties and called upon the international community to assist the Transitional Government to address the challenges before it, including the economic crisis.  South Sudan should accelerate the adoption of the legislation for the establishment of the Truth, Reconciliation and Healing Commission and the establishment of the Hybrid Court with the African Union.  Norway remained gravely concerned about the continuing human rights violations in South Sudan and stressed that there must be no delay in ensuring accountability and justice for those crimes.  The Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan would be highly important in documenting human rights violations and abuses, holding perpetrators accountable, seeking justice for the victims and moving towards reconciliation and healing.  United Kingdom said that the political progress so far must lead to the improvement of the situation for the people of South Sudan.  The United Kingdom called upon the Transitional Government to end all violations and abuses and investigate atrocities, ensure a permanent ceasefire, guarantee freedom of expression for all, stop the recruitment of children, and act on commitments given to the Special Representative on sexual violence in conflict.

Germany said that although the Government of National Unity had been formed, the human rights situation in South Sudan had not improved since the publication of the report on human rights, accountability, reconciliation, and capacity in South Sudan in March.  The question was asked how the panellists thought the Commission could best fulfil its mandate and engage with the Government of South Sudan.  Sierra Leone shared its experiences with transitional justice, saying that after an 11-year war, the country had set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a Hybrid United Nations/Sierra Leone Court, to bring those with the greatest responsibility for the perpetration of hostilities to justice.  For that system of transitional justice, financial resources were required and should be guaranteed in advance.  Republic of Korea said that the success of the Government depended on the establishment of a transitional justice mechanism that promoted reconciliation, and called for the removal of impediments on the ground to the provision of humanitarian aid to 2.5 million internally displaced persons and more than 6 million people in need of such aid.  Denmark said it was crucial for the international community to uphold a constructive but critical dialogue with the Transitional Government of National Unity, and asked the panellists how the international community could hold the South Sudanese leaders up to their responsibilities to protect the population of South Sudan and counteract impunity.  

Portugal remained deeply worried by the human rights situation in South Sudan, and was shocked by reports of the gang rape of girls and castrations of boys.  Steps had to be immediately taken towards accountability.  The Commission on Human Rights had an essential role to play in that regard, and Portugal urged all parties to fully cooperate with it.  China was concerned over the escalation of the conflict, and strongly condemned all violence against civilians and United Nations Peacekeepers.  Problems in South Sudan could only be resolved by political means.  It was necessary to continue the role of mediation of the African Union, and the Human Rights Council and other United Nations bodies should provide support.  China opposed any external pressure in the human rights field.  Belgium underlined the importance of ensuring that the Peace Agreement was implemented as soon as possible, including the Hybrid Court to prosecute perpetrators.  It expressed serious concerns about continuing arbitrary detentions, the high level of sexual violence, the lack of access granted to United Nations agencies, and continuing impunity.  Belgium asked how victims could be involved in truth and justice efforts.  Senegal shared concerns expressed regarding the human rights and humanitarian situation in South Sudan, including food insecurity and the fleeing of thousands of refugees.  Despite efforts made, the human rights situation remained fragile, Senegal noted, calling on the Government and all parties involved to respect the Peace Agreement.  Senegal urged the international community to continue providing support to South Sudan.   

Czech Republic noted the deterioration in the human rights situation in South Sudan since December 2013 and, calling for the speedy establishment of the Hybrid Court, asked the Transitional Government to ensure accountability and justice.  Spain decried the situation in South Sudan and the lack of progress in ensuring the security of citizens, freedom of expression, and in the humanitarian situation which remained very worrying.  Spain strongly condemned the continuation of violence, the recruitment of children, and the violence against humanitarian workers, and recognized the efforts of the African Union in ensuring accountability, including the pending establishment of the Hybrid Court.  United States welcomed the High Commissioner’s announcement of the new Commission for Human Rights in South Sudan and was looking forward to receiving its report.  There was a pressing need for justice and accountability and the United States stood ready to support the setting up of the Hybrid Court by the African Union and making it the credible and impartial mechanism that South Sudan needed to address the worst crimes of the conflict.  Mexico reiterated concerns about the deteriorating situation in the country and about the grave violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, and recalled the importance of implementing steps to prevent sexual violence in conflict.  The accountability of those principally responsible for crimes would support peace and reconciliation in the country, and in this the role of the Commission for Human Rights in South Sudan was indispensable.

New Zealand said the Transitional Government had primary responsibility for protecting civilians, and looked forward to the findings of investigations into an attack on the Malakal Protection of Civilians site, expressing intent to progress the findings from that report during the remainder of New Zealand’s term on the Security Council.   Albania said that while efforts with regard to peace, transitional governance and national unity in South Sudan were welcomed, serious concerns remained at the humanitarian situation in the country.  It was of particular concern that violence and conflict was spreading to new areas of the country.  Australia strongly condemned grave human rights violations and abuses that had been perpetrated routinely by forces loyal to the President and First Vice President of South Sudan, and urged the Government of South Sudan to uphold its responsibility to protect its population from mass atrocity crimes.  Sudan said that South Sudan faced tremendous challenges in order to promote and protect human rights, but that despite challenges,  it would do so, having signed the peace agreement.  The Government needed assistance and capacity-building from the international community so they could cooperate with human rights mechanisms .

Slovakia called on the Transitional Government and all other parties to take immediate steps to implement the Peace Agreement and in particular to investigate crimes and bring to justice the perpetrators, including those responsible for the attacks and killing of humanitarian workers.  Botswana said that it was easy to forget that South Sudan had become an independent State only five years ago, after the long and brutal civil war, and that the international community had a responsibility to assist this young nation to rebuild itself and to prevent further deterioration of the human rights situation in the country.  Ireland welcomed the assurances and determination of the President and the Vice-President to reconcile communities and said that those commitments must be acted upon.  The Presidential Decree dividing the country into 28 states had deepened the insecurity in South Sudan and increased tension in communities.  This decision should be suspended pending a review by an inclusive National Boundary Commission.  France urged all parties to free the children who had been recruited, condemned the attacks on humanitarian workers, and stressed that the fight against impunity was now the priority.  The Transitional Government must take all measures to guarantee fundamental freedoms and to ensure that non-governmental organizations carried out their activities unimpeded.   

Vivat International welcomed the efforts by the Government of South Sudan, especially with regard to human rights defenders.  It remained concerned about children, women and men living in insecurity, being killed and forced to leave their homes.  It expressed deep concern about the killing of one of its members, and demanded that the Government investigate this case, as well as all other cases of violence against human rights defenders.  East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, in a joint statement with CIVICUS, welcomed steps taken towards accountability, but remained concerned about the growing number of human rights defenders being threatened and targeted for their work.  Justice and accountability were needed, and it was critical that human rights defenders were involved in peace efforts.  Human Rights Watch was deeply concerned that there had been little progress in the protection of human rights, and referred to the killing, rape and unlawful detention of civilians, which had forced tens of thousands of people to flee their home.  No meaningful measures had been taken to identify perpetrators of attacks against civilians, nor to hold them accountable.  It urged the Human Rights Council to call on South Sudan to ensure full cooperation with the Commission.  Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l’Homme reminded all parties of their responsibility to protect the rights of women and children.  It was deeply concerned about the targeted killing of civilians, sexual violence and the recruitment of child soldiers.  It was equally concerned about mass displacement, and called for unhindered humanitarian access. 

International Service for Human Rights said that the status of human rights defenders in South Sudan remained unchanged, especially in provinces where violence continued.  The Commission for Human Rights in South Sudan should properly investigate violence against human rights defenders and civil society activists and ensure that those who engaged with it were protected from reprisals and harassment.  International Federation for Human Rights League welcomed the appointment of the members of the Commission for Human Rights on South Sudan and asked that it ensure the engagement of the Transitional Government in the establishment of the Hybrid Court.  The demand for justice, truth and reparation from the people of South Sudan was growing and the establishment of the Hybrid Court was instrumental.  Africa Culture Internationale said that freedom of expression had been increasingly restricted, and journalists, activists and human rights defenders had been unlawfully detained.  It expressed concerns about the situation of displaced persons, who were subjected to torture and sexual violence, and lacked access to basic needs.  Africa Culture Internationale asked whether the United Nations Mission in South Sudan could have an explicit mandate of arresting the perpetrators of human rights abuses.  


Concluding Remarks

AKECH CHOL AHOU, Chargé d’Affaires at the Permanent Mission of South Sudan to the United Nations Office at Geneva, underlined the need for humanitarian assistance and financial support to local courts, which was critical for reconciliation efforts.  The Government had taken steps towards accountability, and was waiting for additional funds in order to continue in that direction.

PANSY TLAKULA, Chairperson of the African Commission for Human and People’s Rights, reiterated her call on the authorities of South Sudan to ratify the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, and called for the improvement of the situation of freedom of expression in the country. 

FRANÇOIS FALL, Deputy Chairperson of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission for the Agreement of the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan, said that the Commission was undergoing efforts for facilitating the implementation of the Peace Agreement.  He highlighted the bad economic situation of the country, and called for international assistance to the Government, so that it did not collapse. 

NYUOL JUSTIC YAAC AROP, Chairperson of the South Sudan Human Rights Commission, stated that it was important that the international community worked closely with the local authorities and the United Nations peacekeeping mission, with the view of ensuring that the agreement was fully implemented.  Local human rights defenders needed to be strengthened so that they could carry out their work.

EUGENE NINDORERA, Director of Human Rights, United Nations Mission in South Sudan, emphasized the importance of political will, without which accountability could not be promoted.  The establishment of a hybrid court could be supported by the Government, which was already supported by the European Union and other partners.  Freedom of expression should also be looked into.  Some journalists had been forced to go into exile.  The national security service was not fully respecting the rule of law, and their representatives were not brought to justice.   Civil society should be involved in the establishment of transitional justice mechanisms.

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