... there is no protection.
-Interview with a man from the village of Tore, Central Equatoria, Lumuke, who fled his village after it was attacked by a group of bandits and renegade soldiers, April 2008.
Nearly four years after the government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that brought an end to 21 years of civil war, the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) has made limited progress in addressing impunity and establishing the rule of law. Soldiers and other security forces that commit human rights violations and other crimes against civilians are rarely brought to account. The nascent justice system suffers from systemic weaknesses leading to arbitrary detentions, prolonged pre-trial detentions, and very poor prison conditions.
The GoSS, created under the terms of the CPA in 2005, is responsible for administering a severely under-developed area nearly twice the size of France that has been shattered by civil war. Given the sheer scale of its state-building and reconstruction challenges, the GoSS has made significant progress, including by absorbing dozens of formerly hostile militia into the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA). But the fledgling government, dominated by the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) has not managed to protect civilians from crimes committed by its security forces, and public disquiet over these abuses is growing.
Southern Sudan's security landscape remains extremely fragile. In addition to threats emanating from national political tensions or attacks by the Ugandan rebel group Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), many southerners' security and livelihoods are affected by localized communal fighting, often linked to competition over land, livestock, or other resources. Large numbers of weapons remain in civilian hands, turning many disputes violent and deadly. Soldiers and renegade soldiers from the SPLA also contribute to insecurity with infighting or by crimes against civilians for personal gain.
The Southern Sudan Police Service (SSPS) lacks resources and training to effectively provide security. In their absence, GoSS officials, who are almost all former military themselves, turn to SPLA soldiers to manage security threats. The soldiers are untrained in civilian law enforcement and often undisciplined. For example, a policing operation carried out by SPLA soldiers in Eastern Equatoria in June 2008 spiraled out of control, leading to the deaths of at least 12 civilians, arbitrary arrests, torture and the displacement of 4,000 people. Nine soldiers also lost their lives.
Very weak rule of law institutions and insufficient attention by GOSS authorities to rule of law issues have given rise to an environment of impunity, particularly for soldiers who view themselves as "liberators" of the South and above the law. In this environment, soldiers and other security forces commit serious crimes, often opportunistically, against civilians. The crimes include beatings, robbery, intimidation, land-grabbing, and sexual violence. In a series of cases in 2007-8, security forces carried out illegal arrests, beatings, robbery, and sexual violence targeting foreign traders in major towns.
In the broader context, the two parties to the CPA (Government of Sudan and SPLA/M) remain seriously behind schedule in implementing key aspects of the CPA. The CPA, which sets out a series of national reforms aimed at democratic transformation in Sudan, provides an interim six-year period that ends when southerners vote on self-determination in 2011. To date, the parties have not agreed to a demarcation of the North-South border, completed security arrangements, or made significant progress in preparing for national elections scheduled for mid-2009-a key milestone in the agreement.
As the window of opportunity for implementation gets smaller, it is becoming more urgent than ever that parties to the CPA adopt and advance the agreement's human rights agenda-both nationally and in Southern Sudan-as a means to achieving the envisioned democratic transformation that would allow for free and fair elections and enable a meaningful referendum. This agenda includes a comprehensive law reform process at the national level, and action in Southern Sudan to improve human rights and rule of law, and to address impunity.
Within Southern Sudan, GoSS should hold soldiers and other security forces transparently accountable for crimes against civilians. GoSS security sector reforms should include appropriate human rights training of soldiers in their peacetime role. The SPLA should issue clear instructions to soldiers that they are not above the law and will be tried for their crimes, including illegal arrests and detentions. The police should also establish transparent accountability mechanisms, accessible to civilians. GoSS should expand training and support for police, legal advisors, and judicial authorities and encourage a proactive approach to ending illegal detentions.
These security sector reforms are especially urgent in view of potential political tensions and violence in the lead-up to national elections, currently scheduled July 2009, and the 2011 referendum. Flashpoints could include the announcement of the April 2008 national census results, the physical demarcation of the North-South border, the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration on Abyei's boundaries, and demarcation of electoral constituency boundaries.
The GoSS's response to violent crimes and inter-communal violence, which often erupts in predictable geographic and seasonal patterns, should prioritize human rights and civilian protection and be better coordinated, with involvement from relevant GoSS, State, and local civilian authorities. GoSS should develop a coherent strategy for managing conflict in a manner that protects human rights rather than violates them.
GoSS should also strengthen nascent rule of law institutions and ensure that the Human Rights Commission, Land Commission, and Anti-Corruption Commission are empowered and operational. Action in these areas could improve human rights in Southern Sudan and contribute tangibly to "peace dividends" that have so far eluded Southern Sudanese citizens.
The United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) should re-assess its role in civilian protection, improve its monitoring of insecure and volatile areas by its military and civilian components, and help local authorities respond effectively and appropriately to civilian insecurity. UNMIS, together with United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and other international agencies, should also accelerate assistance for appropriate training and reform of security forces, and ensure support for the Joint Integrated Units (JIUs) and Joint Integrated Police Units (JIPUs). They should simultaneously strengthen civilian rule of law institutions-police, prisons, and judiciary-and government commissions that help promote human rights and rule of law. Another key measure that could improve human rights protection is deployment of additional human rights officers more widely throughout Southern Sudan by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UNMIS.