Statement by Andrew Clapham, Member of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, to the Human Rights Council
Good morning, Mr. President, High Commissioner, Minister of Justice. I am now presenting on behalf of the UN Commission on Human Rights, our seventh report to the Council. I am here together with my colleague Barney Afako.
In a world facing multiple crises, the human rights and humanitarian situation in South Sudan should not be forgotten. More people than ever need protection and humanitarian aid. Ongoing conflict is the major driver of these crises, enabled by entrenched impunity.
Since we last addressed this Council in March 2022, our team has documented further gross human rights violations throughout the country, including widespread and horrific attacks against civilians and State-sponsored extrajudicial killings. Sexual violence against women and girls remains systematic, and the use of children by State forces and non-State armed groups continues.
Mr. President, our words cannot fully express the horror and totality of ongoing these atrocities.
During a well-planned and devastating operation in Leer, government-aligned militias carried out widespread killings, rape, and forced displacement against civilians considered to be loyal to the opposition. While instituting terror and trauma, attackers completely destroyed the livelihoods of communities already experiencing famine-like conditions, exacerbating the dire humanitarian situation. Women who survived sexual violence described to us being captured, forced to carry looted food aid to a government base, and then raped for several days. The Government official who instigated these attacks remains in public office.
In Tonj North, joint government forces inflicted a campaign of violence against civilians. This began when the heads of the State’s three main security organs deployed to the area. The operation was in response to the deaths of scores of soldiers who had intervened on one side in a dispute over cattle-raiding.
In Mayom, a military operation overseen by a State Governor and senior military officer culminated in extrajudicial killings of four men allegedly involved in a deadly attack on Government forces. Captured on camera, footage of the killings were shared widely on social media, causing outrage in a country not unfamiliar with such brazen acts of violence.
In Upper Nile, civilians were again targeted by multiple armed groups with competing political agendas, in a quest for territorial control. Survivors recounted moving from village to village, pursued by attackers who killed and raped civilians based on their ethnic affiliation. In September this year, and again in November, civilians sheltering in makeshift camps were attacked, and their food aid looted. No responsible institution took timely measures protect them, despite the risks of attacks being well known. The UN’s protection of civilians site in Malakal has been overwhelmed by tens of thousands of new people arriving to seek safety. They told us of their trauma. We were there just recently. Of their trauma, hunger, and fears for their immediate security, and their futures. We also heard from the humanitarian workers running the camp of the difficulties in getting humanitarian assistance up the river to that protection of civilians camp in Malakal.
Although the Government has announced different special investigative committees to examine these four situations just outlined, only one actual investigation appears to have been carried out. No detailed reports have been published, and no related prosecutions or trials have taken place. As a Commission we welcome the move towards prosecutions by the Military Justice and Courts Martial system, and this has indeed brought some people to justice, but we feel that the net needs to be cast wider in order that senior people feel a sense of responsibility.
Mr. President, South Sudan can be different. The Revitalized Peace Agreement remains the framework to address the conflict and lead the country to a new, more stable future, beyond the violations and suffering.
South Sudan’s stability will depend on a strong permanent Constitution that underpins the rule of law. A credible constitution-making process and subsequent elections will require genuine public participation and an environment for free expression and debate. And yet civic space has virtually disappeared. Journalists and human rights defenders face ongoing threats to their lives and liberty, even when living abroad. We ask the political leaders to clearly instruct all public authorities to end the harassment of civil society and allow political space for a healthy public debate. Our Commission does however welcome moves to end the practice of arrests without warrants by the National Security Services, and we commend the Government for taking this step.
Mr. President, last month we were again in South Sudan, and were privileged to meet with the survivors, who told us of their despair with the situation. We also held a workshop in the region to discuss the transitional justice arrangements foreseen in Chapter V of the Revitalized Agreement. We welcome the Government of South Sudan’s cooperation with our Commission, in Juba, and throughout South Sudan, and thank the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Minister of Justice himself, here today, for his continuing engagement with us as Commission members, and for the cooperation extended to our Secretariat. We look forward to working closely with all those involved in the establishment of the three mechanisms foreseen in the Agreement: the Hybrid Court, mentioned by the High Commissioner just now, the Compensation and Reparation Authority and the Commission on Truth Reconciliation and Healing.
Mr. President, Members of the Council. Our report includes a list of recommendations to improve the human rights situation in South Sudan. We have focused here on the need for future accountability and prosecutions because we consider that addressing impunity in South Sudan is critical for stability and a peaceful future.
Thank you very much.