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Statements and speeches Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Strengthening accountability and civic space critical for South Sudan’s future, says Türk

07 March 2023

Delivered by

Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights


52nd Session of the Human Rights Council



President of the Council,
Distinguished delegates,

I am pleased to participate in today’s session on the human rights situation in South Sudan, and look forward to the important presentation by the Commission of its main findings.

Despite calls for a ceasefire and the implementation of the Peace Agreement, conflict and clashes across the country are resulting in a raft of human rights violations and abuses against its people.

Major outbreaks of violence have occurred recently in the Greater Pibor Administrative Area, in Jonglei State, and in Upper Nile State. 

My Office, through the Human Rights Division of the UN Mission in South Sudan, continues to document killings, injuries, and abductions of civilians; sexual violence; as well as looting and destruction of property.

The number of victims is staggering: between January and December 2022, the Human Rights Division documented 714 incidents of violence affecting 3,469 civilians [2,334 men, 644 women and 491 children].

Some 1,600 were killed, 988 injured, and 501 abducted.

Civilians are at particularly serious risk from armed elements and organized armed groups, who wound, kill and displace thousands. Around 47 per cent of incidents of violence against civilians are perpetrated by these actors.

I am appalled at the rates of conflict-related sexual violence in the country. In March last year, the Commission released a shocking report on this, and the situation has not improved.  

In 2022, there were 380 women and girls who were reported victims of conflict-related sexual violence. Between August and December, at least another 100 women and girls were abducted by parties to the conflict during clashes in Upper Nile State, placing them at high risk of sexual violence, including rape, gang rape and sexual slavery.

We continue to support efforts by the authorities to secure the release of the abductees.

Mr. President,

The humanitarian needs in South Sudan are some of the greatest on the African continent.

Some 8.9 million people are in critical need of humanitarian assistance, 2.2 million are internally displaced, and over 1.4 million children are malnourished.

Compounding this, the country remains one of the most dangerous places for humanitarian aid workers. Nine humanitarian workers were killed in 2022, attacks which I condemn in the strongest terms.

Civic and political space is shrinking dramatically. We have seen many media outlets close, and journalists and human rights defenders abducted, harassed, intimidated and arbitrarily detained.

Ahead of possible general elections in 2024, the trend of censorship and silencing of some of the political parties is worrying.

Civil society and ordinary citizens – whose voices are crucial in calling for accountability - are also reporting being excluded from governance processes.

Overall, accountability for violations and abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law remains lacking, in a context of impunity, absent or weak judicial infrastructure and lack of political will.

I am also concerned by the number of reported extra-judicial executions, in flagrant violation of international law. 

Mr. President,

Generations of South Sudanese have endured lives of fear, extreme violence, and chronic instability.

I urge the Government to uphold its international obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law, including by protecting civilians from attack and ensuring accountability for violations.

All those responsible for atrocities – as identified in various reports by the Commission and my Office – must be investigated and brought to justice.

While there have been some initiatives to improve accountability and redress for victims – such as mobile courts and courts martials which operate in line with international standards – they represent a mere trickle of what is required.

My Office is also providing direct, essential assistance, ensuring that victims are promptly referred to qualified service providers, including legal support. Appropriate measures must be taken to provide full remedy to victims, including victims of sexual violence. 

On transitional justice, some progress has been made towards the establishment of the Commission on Truth, Reconciliation and Healing under the Revitalised Peace Agreement, with drafting of the Bill for this Commission, as well as the Compensation and Reparation Authority Bill, ongoing.

Yet, despite agreement between the parties as far back as 2015, there has been little progress in operationalising the Hybrid Court for South Sudan, which is a crucial component of the accountability architecture foreseen for the country.

This has had the joint backing of both the African Union and the United Nations, with of course the support of my Office. I urge the Government of South Sudan to advance this core issue.

Mr. President,

The world’s youngest nation stands at a crossroads. But the Government, with the support of the international community, has the opportunity to choose the path of healing and sustainable peace. Strengthening accountability and civic space are critical.

In this milestone year as we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which set out the benchmarks for human rights for everyone, everywhere, we need to be ready to continue to accompany the people of South Sudan on their journey to lasting dignity, freedom and justice.

Thank you.