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Human Rights must guide the completion of South Sudan’s transition – UN experts

19 February 2024

JUBA/GENEVA (19 February 2024) – South Sudan’s leaders must carefully navigate the conclusion of the country’s political transition to achieve durable peace and prevent violence and gross human rights violations, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan said today.

The Commission has concluded its twelfth visit to South Sudan, from 12 to 17 February 2024.

“Establishing a unified national army and transitional justice processes to deal with the past and the root causes of the conflict is indispensable,” said Yasmin Sooka, Chairperson of the Commission. “Our investigations have found that the violence and gross human rights violations continue with impunity, with women and children being the main target of these crimes. Critical security arrangements, and an independent justice system supported by constitutional processes provided under the Revitalized Agreement, are essential to avoid a return to conflict following elections.”

These processes under the 2018 Revitalized Agreement lay the foundations for sustainable peace and human rights protection, yet none is even close to completion, even though the transitional arrangements conclude following the elections planned for December 2024.

“South Sudan’s leaders must end the political and local conflicts and contestations that have brought so much pain and suffering to the people, and invest in State and nation building grounded in respect for diversity, and the protection of human rights,” said Commissioner Barney Afako.

In the capital, Juba, the Commissioners held discussions with the President, the First-Vice President, senior cabinet ministers and legislators. They engaged with civil society, victims and survivors, human rights defenders, and journalists. They also met with the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, the UN Mission in South Sudan, the UN Country Team, and diplomats from the African Union and its member states, as well as the European Union and the ‘Troika’ of Norway, the United Kingdom and United States.

The Commissioners travelled to the Greater Pibor Administrative Area and Jonglei State. There, women and children continue to be abducted in violent attacks along ethnic lines, carried out by heavily armed militias.

Many abductees are held hostage, subjected to forced marriage, and suffer brutal abuse, rape, and sexual slavery. Last year, some of the abducted women and children were put on display like goods in a market and sold.

The Commission interviewed women who had been in captivity for more than four years, separated from families and their children. A dysfunctional criminal justice system enables perpetrators to operate with impunity. Ransoms negotiated by authorities and paid to abductors do not deter these crimes; rather they act as an incentive for further abductions.

“Victims and their family members told us they are traumatized by the abductions, and disillusioned at the lack of support to return their loved ones who are missing or held hostage,” said Commissioner Carlos Castresana Fernández.

“Their situation reflects the Commission’s broader findings from investigations across the country - that the population is defenceless against human rights abusers and lacks protection, as the institutions needed to prevent and punish crimes are deprioritized and under-resourced by the State,” Fernández said. “Addressing the lack of functioning rule of law institutions is urgent, as is the need for an independent referee who can peacefully resolve possible electoral disputes.”

In a welcome development, on 5 February 2024, South Sudan completed the process for becoming a State Party to several core UN international human rights treaties.

“South Sudan’s ratification of human rights treaties is an important step. Implementing the obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights would open civic and political space, and orient State institutions toward protecting civil society actors and journalists, rather than repressing them,” Sooka said.

The Commissioners held a press conference in Juba on Friday 16 February. In early March 2024, the Commission will present its next report on the human rights situation in South Sudan to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Background: The Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan is an independent body mandated by the United Nations Human Rights Council. First established in March 2016, it has been renewed annually since. Its three Commissioners are not UN staff, they are not renumerated for their work as Commissioners, and they serve independently in their capacity as experts. They are supported by a Secretariat based in Juba, South Sudan. The Commission is mandated to investigate the situation of human rights in South Sudan and to make recommendations to prevent a deterioration of the situation, with a view to its improvement. The Commission is also mandated to determine and report the facts and circumstances of human rights violations and abuses, including by clarifying responsibility for crimes under national and or international law. The Commission’s findings are informed by independent interviews conducted with victims and survivors of human rights violations, as well as witnesses, service providers, and related experts and stakeholders.

More information about the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan can be found here.

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For media queries, please contact: In Juba: Rajeev PS, Public Information Officer/Media Adviser, [email protected] / +211912174078; Or in Geneva: Todd Pitman, Media Adviser for the UN Human Rights Council’s Investigative Missions, [email protected] / +41 76 691 1761; or Pascal Sim, Human Rights Council Media Officer,  [email protected].