48th session of the Human Rights Council
Statement by Nada Al- Nashif UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights
Geneva, 23 September 2021
Palais des Nation, Room XX
Madame President, Excellencies,
Peace in South Sudan continues to be plagued by high levels of localised violence that threatens to further destabilise the country and endanger sustainable peace. Implementation of the Revitalised Peace Agreement that was signed three years ago last month, continues to be slow and selective, which additionally contributes to the uncertainty surrounding the peace process.
I am encouraged by the recent reconstitution of the country’s Transitional National Legislative Assembly, which is a positive step that will certainly support and facilitate the passing of legislation relating to transitional justice mechanisms as stipulated by the Revitalised Peace Agreement. I further welcome the first-ever appointments by the Government of a female speaker of the Transitional National Legislative Assembly and a female Deputy Speaker of the Council of States - an encouraging achievement. However, I urge the Government to work towards the 35 percent quota of women at all levels of Government, as detailed in the Revitalised Peace Agreement.
I remain deeply concerned about the staggering levels of localized violence attributed to community-based militias, which continues to be the main form of violence perpetrated in South Sudan. During the second quarter of 2021, this violence accounted for roughly 90 per cent of all victims affected by four major forms of individual harm, namely killing, injury, abduction and sexual violence, as documented by the UNMISS Human Rights Division.
Scores of innocent civilians have been affected and continue to bear the brunt of this violence. Reports from the UNMISS Human Rights Division indicate that between April and June 2021, 1,097 civilians have been affected by the violence, with 585 people killed, 305 injured and thousands forcibly displaced throughout the country. Jonglei and the Greater Pibor Administrative Area, in particular, have witnessed a sharp increase in violence involving community-based militias often bolstered by the support of national and local actors driven by political and/or economic interests and aligned through community kinships. Despite the numerous allegations of serious violations and abuses of human rights and humanitarian law, there has been minimal progress in combating impunity. I strongly encourage the Government to work closely with local leaders to attain peaceful resolutions to localized conflicts including by holding perpetrators accountable, particularly the high-ranking politicians and Commanders, from both the national army and the Opposition, inciting inter-ethnic violence and exacerbating localized grievances. A durable peace and sustainable development requires the cessation of the cycle of violence through lawful means.
I am particularly concerned at attempts to curb localized violence through extra-judicial executions by Government officials, mainly in Warrap and Lakes states. Since March, UNMISS Human Rights Division has documented the extra-judicial execution of at least 45 individuals, including two boys, reportedly for committing crimes such as murder and cattle rustling in both states. Most victims were allegedly removed from prison or police custody, taken to local officials for “sentencing” without access to a court, before they were executed by a firing squad. I implore the Government to halt such practices and ensure that these executions are thoroughly investigated and that the perpetrators, including on the basis of command responsibility, are held accountable.
The exercise of fundamental freedoms and the lack of meaningful political and civic space in South Sudan remains an issue of concern. UNMISS Human Rights Division continues to document incidents of arbitrary arrest and detention, harassment and intimidation of journalists, human rights defenders and civil society activists. Planned protests organised by the Peoples Coalition for Civil Action (PCCA) failed to materialize on 30 August 2021 amid a heavy deployment of security forces in the capital, Juba and a nationwide disruption of internet services. Reports indicate that security forces briefly detained three journalists and shut down an independent radio station in eastern Jonglei. Overly restrictive measures and the sweeping powers of arrest and surveillance of the National Security Services (NSS) gravely inhibit South Sudan’s ability to exercise its fundamental freedoms and its citizens to freely express themselves, which is critical for the implementation of transitional justice mechanisms, particularly the Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing.
Transitional justice in the context of South Sudan is critical to achieving sustainable peace, national reconciliation and healing, and rebuilding the rule of law. Decades of violent conflict characterised by unspeakable atrocities 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 such a society and to achieve durable peace where the rule of law is re-established, gross human rights violations and abuses are addressed and measures of reconciliation and healing are prioritised.
I welcome the launch of the Technical Committee to undertake consultations for the establishment of the Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing (CTRH) in South Sudan on 30 June this year. While the government has taken steps in the right direction, further actions, including the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding with the African Union for the establishment of the Hybrid Court, will have to be made towards the implementation of transitional justice mechanisms as stipulated in Chapter V of the Revitalised Agreement. I additionally encourage the African Union to strengthen its support to transitional justice efforts for the realization of these critical transitional justice mechanisms, including the Compensation and Reparations Authority (CRA).
OHCHR continues to work closely in support of the implementation of the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, as created by the Human Rights Council in March 2016.
We remain fully committed to supporting the Government of South Sudan in implementing its Revitalised Peace Agreement and overall human rights programme.