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Briefing to the Security Council on South Sudan by Andrew Gilmour, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, New York, 25 June 2019

Thank you, Mr. President, Ambassadors, for this opportunity to brief the Council on the human rights situation and its impact on peace and security.

In line with the important progress that SRSG David Shearer just reported, since September 2018, the Human Rights Division of UNMISS has documented a significant and welcome decrease in the number of human rights violations and abuses perpetrated by Government forces and organized armed groups throughout the country. A major exception to this, however, has been the continued prevalence of sexual violence by parties to the conflict which SRSG Pramila Patten have briefed you about.

The Revitalized Peace Agreement does not address all divisions, with their increasingly ethnic dimensions, that lie at the root of the conflict. Nor the extremely high level of corruption, which continues to undermine sustainable peace and justice in South Sudan, as well as the economic and social rights of the population.

In Central Equatoria, we have just heard about the continued serious human rights violations there are continued reports of killings, abductions, sexual violence and forced displacement, by all major parties to the conflict, including Government forces and Opposition armed groups and elements, in particular the National Salvation Front (NAS).

In other parts of South Sudan, the violence has shifted primarily to acts perpetrated by community-based militias and armed elements. Frequently referred to as “cattle raids” or “inter-communal violence”, these incidents have largely evolved from a traditional practice to acts of political violence, involving various actors including State security forces, elements of organized armed groups, and “self-defence” groups established by local communities. Since the signing of the Revitalized Peace Agreement in September 2018, civilian casualties resulting from this form of violence have far exceeded those resulting from violations and abuses by conventional parties to the conflict.

The restriction of political and civic space is also a worrying trend. Freedom of expression is under constant attack in South Sudan and is closely linked with the unfettered power of the National Security Services (NSS) to impede citizens’ civil and political rights. Surveillance, intimidation and arbitrary arrests are commonly used to restrict the activities of human rights defenders, critics and journalists. The case of Mr Peter Biak Ajak is noteworthy in this regards.

The real guarantee of lasting peace in South Sudan lies with efforts to end impunity. Reports have repeatedly concluded that there are reasonable grounds to believe that gross violations of international human rights law, international humanitarian law and international crimes have been committed by the parties to the conflict. These include joint reports by OHCHR and UNMISS, those of the Panel of Experts established pursuant to resolution 2206 (2015) as well as the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan established by the UN Human Rights Council.

Despite this, no significant action has been taken against the perpetrators. To break the longstanding cycle of impunity as well as to prevent future violations, we believe that the transitional justice mechanisms outlined in the peace agreement must be implemented.

The Government has not yet signed the Memorandum of Understanding with the African Union for the establishment of the hybrid court.

UNMISS has supported the State in its efforts to deliver justice at local levels, offering some important glimmers of hope amidst the challenges facing the country, including through mobile court initiatives. The UNMISS-supported mobile courts in Bentiu and Malakal have led to the conviction of at least three members of organized forces for rape. We are encouraged that on 14 March, Government speakers including the Minister of Defence, and the Chief of Defence Forces publicly conceded that members of the Government security forces had been involved in perpetrating sexual violence, and urged commanders to ensure that the perpetrators of these acts are held accountable. Real change starts with an acknowledgement of the problem. So we welcome this step.

UNMISS Human Rights Division also regularly engages with and provides support to national authorities, security forces, civil society organisations and community groups on a range of human rights issues. It supports Human Rights Forum in all field offices: such as in Bentiu last week, chaired by the States Governor and attended by key partners, to address justice and sexual violence in hotspot areas.

Two concluding observations, Mr President:

We hope that international community and the Security council will to continue to urge as strongly as possible the South Sudanese parties to implement their commitments made to end hostilities and to stop sexual violence. As we just heard SRSG Shearer said: “let’s be frank, the fighting has stopped because the leader ordered the soldiers to stop” and this surely applies to the continued human rights violations and the sexual violence. If the leaders order the soldiers to stop, they will stop.

And secondly, we also hope everyone including Council will continue to press the parties for the establishment of the accountability and transitional justice mechanisms outlined in the Revitalized Peace Agreement.

Thank you