Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan appeals for international support for peace process or risk plunging the country back into full-scale conflict
16 September 2019
Commissioners call for one per cent of South Sudan’s oil revenues to fund reparations
Geneva, 16 September 2019 – Appealing to Member States of the Human Rights Council to help find a durable solution to the ongoing conflict in South Sudan, a group of human rights experts warned there was a risk hardliners could sabotage progress towards implementation of the 2018 peace agreement.
In a statement at the 42nd Human Rights Council session, the Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, Yasmin Sooka, welcomed the announcement by President Salva Kiir and Dr Riek Machar that they would meet the November deadline to form a National Unity Government, but she said time was running out for key issues to be resolved.
With the country’s political elites apparently “oblivious to the intense suffering of millions of their own people,” she told the Council, Member States “Must engage and prevail upon South Sudanese leaders to meet their obligations to make the transition [to a National Unity Government] work, so that its dividends can benefit the South Sudanese people.”
The Commission is mandated by the Council to monitor and report on human rights violations in South Sudan and to establish the facts about such violations and related crimes, with a view to providing evidence for possible prosecutions.
The Commission highlighted continuing violence, hunger, displacement and fear in the continuing conflict, which broke out in December 2013.
“Hunger has become the norm,” the Ms Sooka said, stating that with both Government and opposition forces deliberately preventing the delivery of aid, “Starvation in South Sudan is neither random, nor accidental. It has been part of a deliberate strategy on the part of the warring parties to target civilians.” Such acts, she said, may amount to war crimes.
The crisis in South Sudan is Africa’s largest refugee crisis, with nearly 2 million civilians internally displaced and more than 2 million living as refugees in Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. More than sixty-three per cent of those displaced are children. While some had tried to return home, the Commission said, renewed fighting in some areas made return unsafe or impossible.
“Disparate splinter groups are intentionally using the cover of conflict to change historical boundaries and ownership of land, motivated by the need to build an ethnic majority and dominance in preparation for future elections,” Ms Sooka told the Council. At the same time, she said, the prospect of a peace deal had accelerated the forced recruitment of children by military groups.
Sexual violence, which the Commission has a specific mandate to address, continued, said Ms Sooka. Women in Bentiu, Yei and Wau were still reporting high levels of sexual and gender-based violence.
Surveillance and securitization continued to create a climate of fear, she said, with South Sudanese journalists and human rights defenders unlawfully detained and disappeared, printing presses removed and citizens reporting fear even of being observed buying newspapers. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had reported 451 persons disappeared this year alone, bringing the total figure of the disappeared to over 4,200 since December 2013.
Ms Sooka reminded the Council that the Commission’s mandate included the collection and preservation of evidence in order to assist the Prosecutor to the Hybrid Court as set out in the Revised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan. The Commission had so far identified 66 individuals who it believed bore command or superior responsibility under international criminal law for serious crimes related to the conflict.
However, the establishment of the Hybrid Court still awaited signature by the Government of South Sudan, said Ms Sooka, who raised concerns, based on statements by officials, that the court may never be created. “For the African Union and the international community,” she said, “the court is a test of your credibility over whether you are prepared to move forward with the establishment of the Court if the Government of South Sudan does not.”
She also noted that even in the absence of the Hybrid Court, the Commission had set out a legal framework that would allow other states to prosecute those responsible, using jurisdiction over torture and enforced disappearances.
South Sudan required a robust, holistic approach to transitional justice, said Ms Sooka, including fora for truth telling, reparations, conflict transformation, and the establishment of rule of law institutions such as the Hybrid Court, the Truth, Healing and Reconciliation Commission, and the Reparations and Compensation Authority. This process, she said, may be the last resort for the Government of South Sudan to restore the trust of its citizens.
“There is South Sudanese money available,” Ms Sooka added, “If just one per cent of the annual oil revenues could be placed in a reparations and compensation fund, instead of being diverted for personal benefit by political elites, as has been reported. “Member States of the African Union and the United Nations have the power to make this happen.”