45th session of the Human Rights Council
Assembly Hall, Palais des Nations
Geneva, 23 September 2020
Madame President, Excellencies,
Since the formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity on 22 February 2020, there have been positive developments in relation to the implementation of the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS), particularly the appointment of nine of the 10 State Governors. However, the pace of implementation has been slow and we encourage the Government to implement the Revitalised Peace Agreement in full and particularly the stipulated 35% participation of women in the Executive, the establishment of transitional justice mechanisms and the finalisation of the transitional security arrangements for combatants.
We remain concerned about the increase in intercommunal violence between January and July 2020 as compared to the same period in 2019, particularly in Jonglei, Lakes, Warrap, Unity and Western Bahr el Ghazal. Incidents of intercommunal violence increased by 371% in 2020 as compared with 2019 while the number of victims increased by 304% over the same period.
Despite signing of the Revitalized Peace Agreement in September 2018, intercommunal violence has taken on an increasingly militarized character, particularly with the use of military-style tactics and military-grade weapons. Civil defence groups have been co-opted, armed and used as proxy armed elements by all parties to the conflict and by local actors, thus contributing to the progressive militarization of intercommunal conflicts.
We strongly encourage the Government to work closely with local leaders to attain peaceful resolutions to localized conflicts, often rooted in pre-existing communal tensions, and call to account high-ranking politicians and Commanders, from both the national army and the Opposition, fueling inter-ethnic violence and exacerbating grievances.
In addition to violence across communal lines, clashes between Government forces, factions of Opposition forces and the non-signatory armed group National Salvation Front (NAS) mainly in Central and Western Equatoria continued to put civilian lives at risk. Women and children continue to be exposed to abduction and conflict-related sexual violence.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread quickly through South Sudan, it is notable that South Sudan has made efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19, including through decongesting places of detention, following guidance by the National Prisons Service of South Sudan, on 17 March 2020, to release individuals charged with or convicted of minor/non-violent offences. However, it is important to note that the restrictive measures put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19 should not impede the vital humanitarian assistance and response, nor our office’s capacity to access potential witnesses, victims or survivors of alleged human rights violations and abuses. Excellencies,
It is no secret that impunity has fuelled violence in South Sudan. Since independence, violence has been rewarded with power, not sanctioned. Reluctance at the political level of the Government and limited judicial capacity and independence, continue to pose great challenges to the prosecution of perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses, including intercommunal violence.
We acknowledge some positive developments in relation to accountability. The Yei District Court Martial, established by the South Sudan Peoples Defence Forces to prosecute soldiers accused of perpetrating serious crimes in Lasu payam and other areas between 2019 and 2020, announced recently the conviction of 26 soldiers for serious crimes, including rape.
Similarly, on 2 September the President of South Sudan issued a directive calling for 14 judges, previously relived of their duties by Presidential Decree on 12 July 2017, to re-apply to the Judiciary for reinstatement to their previous positions. The directive follows a July 2020 judgement by the East African Court of Justice rendering the removal of the judges unlawful.
However, the implementation of transitional justice measures provided for in the Revitalized Peace Agreement, namely the Hybrid Court on South Sudan; the Commission on Truth, Reconciliation and Healing (CTRH); and the Compensation and Reparation Authority (CRA), has stalled. The Government must sign the Memorandum of Understanding with the African Union on the establishment of the Hybrid Court, which according to the Peace Agreement should be established to prosecute individuals bearing responsibility for the most serious violations of international law and/or applicable South Sudanese law committed from 15 December 2013 through the end of the Transitional period.
Decades of violent conflict characterised by unspeakable violations combined with weak rule of law institutions have resulted in diminished security, lawlessness and a population sharply divided along ethnic lines. Immense political and social investment is therefore required to rebuild society and to achieve a durable peace.
Thank you, Madame President.