Ten years after gaining independence, civilians in South Sudan still longing for sustainable peace, national cohesion, and accountability – UN experts note
09 July 2021
Juba/Geneva (9 July 2021) – The Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan extends its congratulations and best wishes to the people of South Sudan today on the 10th anniversary of the country’s independence. On 9 July 2011, the Republic of South Sudan gained independence from Sudan, becoming the world’s youngest nation. South Sudan initially made enormous strides given the goodwill of its people and the international community that wanted it to succeed.
Just two and a half years later, however, South Sudan descended into a brutal civil war, and even though the Revitalised Peace Agreement of 2018 has brought some stability, the Equatorias remain engulfed in brutal conflict, while a series of extrajudicial killings in Warrap State and the localised conflicts in Jonglei and Warrap States and the Greater Pibor Administrative Area have had disastrous consequences.
“As South Sudanese women, men, and children across the country mark today’s important anniversary, it is truly unfortunate that much of the hope and expectations that came with the birth of South Sudan have only been delivered for the country’s elite and ruling class,” stated Commission Chair Yasmin Sooka. “For ordinary civilians, much of the past decade has been marked by brutally violent conflict and on-going human rights violations. Others, including tens of thousands of internally displaced persons and millions of refugees who are still unable to return home, also have very little to be optimistic about today,” she added.
The Commission implored the Government of South Sudan to ensure that key elements of the Revitalised Peace Agreement were implemented, including the formation and training of a unified national army, the swearing in of legislators, and the necessary constitutional reforms. “While progress has indeed been made on some of the commitments made by parties to the Revitalised Peace Agreement, considerable work remains to be done to ensure that South Sudan does not slide back into violent national conflict,” noted Commission Chair Sooka. “This includes implementing the Transitional Security arrangements envisaged under the Peace Agreement, which would provide a clear structure for security sector governance,” she added.
“A lack of state investment over the past decade has also meant that the Government never prioritised economic development, reneging on its obligations to provide numerous basic services such as healthcare. This, coupled with widespread and systemic grand corruption, has had extreme consequences. Over 80 per cent of the population is now living in extreme poverty. For a country so rich in natural resources, it is sobering to note that, ten years after independence, South Sudan is just as reliant on foreign assistance as it has ever been, with more than 8 million civilians currently dependent on aid,” she added.
The Commission also raised concern at the protracted hunger crisis faced by South Sudanese civilians, stating that over half of the population (5.8 million civilians) is currently food insecure, of which 1.8 million are severely food insecure.
“The weaponisation of hunger and the use of starvation as a method of warfare by both Government forces and members of armed groups has had catastrophic effects for civilians, many of whom have been punished by both sides for supporting one party or another,” explained Commissioner Andrew Clapham. “In addition, some 1.4 million children will suffer acute malnutrition this year alone. Around 30,000 civilians in several counties across South Sudan are also enduring famine-like conditions. This continues to be made worse every year by seasonal floods and droughts,” he noted.
“Despite the signing of the Revitalised Peace Agreement, the people of South Sudan are yet to embark upon the recovery of peace, stability, and national cohesion that democratic governance promises,” stated Commissioner Barney Afako. “Instead, parties to the Peace Agreement have sustained political and ethnic-based contestations, resulting in delays in the implementation of critical governance, economic, judicial, and security sector reforms. In order to restore the trust of its citizens and meaningfully address the root causes and drivers of conflict, South Sudan requires a robust, holistic approach to transitional justice, 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,” he added.
The Commission again urged the Government, and its regional and international partners, to act swiftly to fully implement the Revitalised Peace Agreement and establish vital governance and security institutions, to implement accountability, and transitional justice mechanisms to ensure sustainable peace for South Sudanese women, men, and children.
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 further years in March 2018, March 2019, June 2020, and March 2021, 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.