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Statement by Yasmin Sooka Chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan to the Human Rights Council

23 September 2021

23 September 2021 (Geneva)

Good morning, Mme. President, and Members of the Council. On behalf of the Commission on Human Rights for South Sudan I present an update on the Human Rights Situation in South Sudan to the 48th Session of the Human Rights Council. The Commission’s statement is accompanied by a conference room paper on economic crimes and related violations. 

Mme. President,

South Sudan’s transition is faltering with the humanitarian crisis unfolding characterized by insecurity and the erosion of human rights. The prospect of elections in this insecure and unstable environment further heightens concerns. 

Nine out of the ten States in South Sudan is engulfed in violence. Recently, the deadly ethnic clashes between the Azande and Balanda communities in Tambura, in Western Equatoria resulted in the massacre of more than 100 civilians, with women and children raped and sexually violated, before being killed. A further 80 000 and 125,000 civilians are said to be displaced. Hundreds of children became separated from parents. The South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/In Opposition (SPLA/IO have) are responsible for arming the Azande and Balanda communities. South Sudan’s leaders and political elites are active participants and enablers of this violence.

Faltering transition
The failure to establish a joint army and command structure has heightened tensions in the country. The lack of basic services has led to the widespread desertions, which have affected all sides with armed elements preying on vulnerable communities. The proliferation of armed groups outside of the peace process and the fragmentation of the SPLM/IO have led to violent clashes including in the Upper Nile region, and the massive displacement of civilians. The disintegration and fragmentation in the security sector owes its origins to the current political process which rewards military actors with political power in an elite accommodation.

Assault on Civil Liberties
The recent violent crackdown on civil society has been accompanied by a nation-wide internet and media shutdown in Juba. Human Rights defenders Jame David Kolok and Michael Wani requested that the Commission brief the Council on their plight including the excessive force used by the government to counter country-wide protests by the Peoples Coalition for Civil Action (PCCA) in August. Since the 1 September, they and other members of the PCCA have been on the run, fleeing from the National Security Services (NSS) officials who are hunting them down ‘like dogs’ and put a price on their heads. Their homes and offices have been raided, their staff unlawfully detained and released against the payment of bribes and their families’ members face retaliation. Jame and Michael as well as other human rights defenders want the international community to promote a dialogue between them and the government as they fear that future constitutional and transitional justice discussions will be impossible in the current political climate. 

Extrajudicial executions
Mme. President, in March and July, the Governors of Warrap State and Lakes State ordered the execution of more than 56 individuals, including minors. These extra-judicial killings orchestrated by governors from the ruling party are sufficiently similar, widespread and systematic to support the conclusion that this is government policy and that they may constitute crimes against humanity.

Enforced disappearances
Mme. President, the NSS has been responsible for a marked increase in the enforced disappearances of countless individuals, whom they arbitrarily and unlawfully arrest and detain in secret prisons where they are tortured and killed.

Child Recruitment
Hundreds of children were forcibly recruited by various armed groups including the National Salvation Front (NAS); the SPLA/IO; a splinter group from the SPLA/IO; as well SSPDF and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in Opposition.

Abject Poverty and Food Insecurity
Ten years after independence, more than 80% of South Sudanese live in extreme poverty; over 7 million are enduring severe hunger – the highest since 2011. Tens of thousands of civilians are experiencing famine conditions. National authorities appear to have abandoned their responsibility to fulfill their socio-economic rights obligations to the people of South Sudan.

Economic Crimes and violations
Madame President, OCHA has appealed for 1.7 billion dollars to address South Sudan’s humanitarian crisis – a fraction of the amounts that have been stolen and diverted by the elites in South Sudan, including on the high-end real estate abroad. Our investigations reveal that more than $73 million USD was recently unlawfully diverted to the detriment of South Sudanese people and much needed investment in public services and infrastructure. Cases of economic crimes implicate senior officials, international corporations and banks. President Salva Kiir himself admitted that more than 4 billion USD remains unaccounted for.

Conflict-related sexual violence, and sexual and gender-based violence
The current insecurity across the country provides a fertile environment for conflict-related sexual violence with the Central Equatoria, the Greater Equatoria, Unity, Jonglei, Lakes, and Warrap states being the most affected. It has resulted in women and girls as young as 6 forced into sexual slavery and forced marriages. Government forces are reportedly cited as being responsible for these violations. Not only the lack of accountability for these crimes has further entrenched impunity but the complete absence of the enforcement agencies and survivors’ support structures have exacerbated the victimization and suffering.

Transitional Justice
Mme President, the Commission has urged the Government of South Sudan and the African Union to demonstrate political will and implement the provisions of Chapter 5 so that the long delayed transitional justice mechanisms can be established. However, despite the commitments by the government and the African Union in March this year, the Hybrid Court is yet to be set up. 

Most South Sudanese the Commission interviewed including refugees and IDPs, have lost faith in the government’s commitment to justice and accountability for serious crimes, but insist that the Hybrid Court and the Commission on Truth, Healing and Reconciliation must be established in order to secure peace and security as stipulated in the Revitalised Peace Agreement.

The Commission’s confidential list of perpetrators now totals 104 individuals with command or superior responsibility and continues to grow to support future accountability processes including criminal prosecutions.

Madame President

Sustainable peace in South Sudan requires the pursuit of a shared vision of power sharing which draws in all of South Sudan’s constituencies and regions. It requires of all South Sudanese political elites to agree among each other on how to share power, resources, and sovereignty in this national state they have struggled so long to achieve.

I thank you Mme. President and Members of the Council.