February 12, 2009

VII. Southern Sudan's Human Rights Challenges

The most pressing human rights challenges in Southern Sudan today arise out of the GoSS's inadequate responses to various security threats and its failure to rein in human rights abuses by security forces, primarily the SPLA. In addition, systemic weaknesses in the rule of law institutions give rise to abuses in the administration of justice and contribute to a culture of impunity for crimes and human rights violations. The following provides an overview of key human rights issues in Southern Sudan. It is not, however, an exhaustive catalogue of all human rights challenges facing the South.

Lack of Civilian Protection

There are many examples of authorities deploying soldiers to locations where civilians face security threats. In Western Equatoria, GoSS security forces have conducted patrols since December 2008 to protect civilians from attacks by the Lord's Resistance Army. But there are just as many examples where authorities have not deployed security forces to protect civilians from violent criminal acts or conflict situations.

In Central Equatoria, for example, a man who fled his village after it was attacked by a group of bandits and renegade soldiers who perpetrated a string of attacks in early spring 2008 told Human Rights Watch, "No soldiers are being deployed and there is no protection. Unless the situation is cooled down, I cannot go back. I ran from a bullet. Even if soldiers are taken in there for protection, I want to see the reality first."[60]

Even in Western Equatoria, where GoSS security forces have patrolled main roads against attacks by LRA, civilians have told UN staff they have lost confidence in the government's ability to protect them and some villages have turned to self-protection by youth groups armed with guns and bows and arrows. [61]

In the North-South border areas, southern authorities have not deployed forces to protect civilians in some instances-possibly because of the political implications of deploying military in that area given the terms of the CPA. Victims of attacks in Unity State prior to the population census in March and April 2008 reported that they did not feel protected. "There was no South Sudan army, it was only petroleum security at that place. There was no intervention," said one man who was shot by a group of armed men, whom he described as Arab militia and Sudanese Armed Forces.[62]

Weak Police Response

The Southern Sudan Police Service (SSPS), established under a separate command from the Khartoum-based police service, is still in very early stages of development. Most police are former SPLA soldiers, poorly trained and lacking basic education. Challenges training them include lack of infrastructure, lack of command and control, and low levels of literacy. [63] In many areas they are not sufficiently deployed to cover the terrain (for example, there are only 700 police for all of Lakes State, an area roughly the size of Switzerland with an estimated population of 350,000) and lack the  transportation and communications resources they need to respond effectively to security problems.

The police are vulnerable to attacks themselves. In November 2008 in Unity state, for example, a feud between Nuer clans led to one death. Police arrested the assailant, but the victim's family then attacked the police station, setting fire to the cell, and killed the assailant.[64] In Eastern Equatoria in December 2008, county authorities tried to quell a cattle-raiding dispute by sending an official delegation to villages in Lopit county, but armed men ambushed the team, killing ten people including a police officer.[65] In January 2009, an attack on one village in Western Equatoria by Lord's Resistance Army rebels killed three people including police. [66]

In some cases, the inappropriate use of force by police contributes to the escalation of violence leading to human rights abuses. For example, in January 2009 in Malakal at the CPA anniversary celebrations, SSPS fired into a crowd where Shilluk and Dinka traditional dancers were arguing over which group should take the lead in the celebrations, resulting in six injuries. The incident sparked clashes between the two ethnic groups in a nearby village, resulting in a reported additional eleven deaths, burned houses, and displacement of villagers.[67] Police excess use of force also led to injuries and at least one death at student demonstrations in November 2008 protesting non-payment of teacher salaries in Juba.[68]

Human Rights Consequences of Using SPLA to Keep Public Order

As a result of weak law enforcement capability in the police force, GoSS regional and state authorities-almost all of whom are former soldiers themselves-turn to the SPLA to patrol against crime, protect civilians from attacks from armed criminal groups, and quell disputes.

Technically, the SPLA does not have the legal authority to fulfil these functions unless directed by civilian government officials.[69] However, GoSS has not demonstrated the political will to ensure civilian oversight of law enforcement operations conducted by military at this stage. Even in instances in which civilian authorities call upon SPLA for law enforcement support they do not actually oversee operations.

Under international law, military personnel carrying out policing duties-such as searches, arrest, and detention-are bound by the same human rights standards applicable to all law enforcement officials.[70] Just as the police and other regular forces lack training as to their roles, current soldiers lack the training required to fulfil civilian law enforcement functions.

In March 2008 the GoSS issued a White Paper on Defence, describing the process of "transforming the SPLA into a regular, professional, non-partisan modern army."[71] Training needs are enormous and programs are just beginning, largely benefiting the higher ranks. With illiteracy in the armed forces estimated at 80 percent, the majority of soldiers lack basic education in addition to specialized training in, and practical skills for, their peace-time role or in human rights and humanitarian law.

In practice, the soldiers often employ military tactics in civilian law enforcement functions, such as by surrounding villages and using heavy weaponry and otherwise intimidating civilians. The strategy often backfires, leading to violent clashes with armed civilians and soldiers committing serious human rights violations in the process, often with ethnic dimensions.

Case Study from Eastern Equatoria, June 2008

In one example from Eastern Equatoria in June 2008, an SPLA operation to prevent a conflict between two villages, Logurun and Iloli, turned into a deadly clash between SPLA soldiers and civilians. At least 10 civilians and nine soldiers were killed and an estimated 4,000 villagers were forced to flee to neighbouring Hiyala village. The Governor of Eastern Equatoria ordered the operation after he heard that the villages were preparing to fight. Representatives from the communities told Human Rights Watch that the SPLA took a heavy-handed approach that spiralled out of control.[72]

According to eyewitnesses and local government officials Human Rights Watch interviewed, at around 3 a.m. on June 4, on the Governor's instructions, several hundred SPLA soldiers arrived on the outskirts of Logurun village with orders to secure it and the neighbouring village of Iloli to curtail a cattle-raiding conflict between the residents, to seize their cattle for return to their rightful owners, and to disarm civilians.[73] Men from Logurun saw soldiers in the bush and, believing they were "enemies" from Iloli preparing to attack, opened fire, killing nine of the soldiers.[74] SPLA soldiers fired back, entered the village, moved house to house with guns, and ordered people to leave before setting fire to the huts and stealing livestock.[75]

Meanwhile, another contingent of soldiers who were surrounding neighbouring Iloli village, some 10 kilometres away, attacked when they learned about fighting at Logurun. The soldiers fired on the village, which sits on a hilltop, from positions at the bottom of the hill, then went house-to-house threatening people and ordering them to leave.[76] Several witnesses said soldiers killed three men at close range, execution style, during the incident.[77]

Soldiers ordered the villagers to Hilaya village, where they stayed with host families and in temporary shelters. They also arrested some males from both villages and assaulted them. "I was beaten by the SPLA when they brought me to Hiyala…the soldier hit me with metal on my head, and I was bleeding," recalled one man who had been detained.[78]

Three days after the clashes, in broad daylight, the soldiers killed an additional two Lotuku civilians, an old woman and a 17-year-old boy, whom they encountered in a garden near Hiyala, where both victims were residents. According to local people, the victims were targeted because they belonged to the Lotuku ethnicity. "The soldiers said 'you are all Lotuku' and did not care which village we come from," the chief told Human Rights Watch.[79]

In the clashes, at least 10 villagers and nine soldiers died, hundreds of homes were destroyed, livestock was stolen, and some 4,000 villagers were displaced to nearby Hiyala village. According to an official complaint submitted to the GoSS Vice President by members of the Lotuku community, SPLA soldiers unlawfully killed a total of six additional persons after the clashes, and arbitrarily arrested civilians from the villages and detained and tortured them in their barracks.[80]

International law requires that the use of force by law enforcement officials, including members of the armed forces, be proportionate and necessary to achieve law enforcement ends.[81] The evidence suggests the SPLA soldiers violated international law when they committed extrajudicial executions, beat and tortured civilians, destroyed civilian property, and stole livestock. The SPLA launched an investigation into the incident, but the results have not been made public and to date there is no indication soldiers have been prosecuted. [82]

This incident shows the need to train soldiers in the applicable laws and in civilian policing techniques, the need for accountability mechanisms, and for more inclusive strategies for dealing with localized conflict. One man from Logurun said, "The problem was that there was no communication with us [villagers]. There was no warning and this was not organized."[83]

The Civilian Disarmament Challenge

Similar violence and human rights violations have occurred in the context of civilian disarmament operations, particularly when they are led by military rather than civilian authorities.

One of the GoSS' primary strategies for managing conflict has been to disarm civilians to reduce armed inter-communal violence. This strategy, which has been used piece-meal by state-level authorities for several years, became more prominent in May 2008 when Southern Sudan's President Salva Kiir issued an order to all states to conduct civilian disarmament over a six month period.[84] Although the time-frame expired in December, Kiir has repeatedly urged the States to continue to improve security by disarming civilians.[85] Authorities in several states have proceeded with disarmament campaigns, forced and voluntary, with varying degrees of consultation with the communities and planning. The newly established GoSS Bureau of Community Security and Small Arms Control aims to develop policies on disarmament and weapons storage, but to date GoSS has not put into place a clear policy to guide civilian disarmament efforts across Southern Sudan.

The task of civilian disarmament in Southern Sudan is complicated by historical and political realities. Communities that traditionally raised their own defence forces are often the same ones that have not allied with SPLA. Many perceive disarmament efforts as thinly veiled attempts by authorities to weaken communities that do not support SPLM. Although the operation at Logurun and Iloli was not strictly a disarmament campaign, villagers told Human Rights Watch they believed the soldiers wanted to disarm their community because it has had a troubled relationship with the SPLA.[86]

Moreover, unless authorities disarm neighbouring communities simultaneously, they make the disarmed communities more vulnerable to threats from armed neighbours with whom they have long-running feuds. These political dimensions have fuelled violence including serious violations of human rights in the past. In 2005-6 a civilian disarmament operation targeting primarily Lou Nuer communities in Jonglei state turned extraordinarily violent. The Lou Nuer, some of whom perceived the disarmament to be a politically-motivated crack-down, objected that they needed weapons to protect their cattle from seasonal raids by the Murle, a different ethnic group who have carried out raids against the Lou and other neighbours for decades.[87]

When the SPLA refused to disarm the Murle at the same time as the Lou Nuer, battles erupted between the SPLA and the Lou Nuer "white army" supported by elements of former Southern Sudanese Defence Forces (SSDF) and the northern Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF). The battles left an estimated 1,600 soldiers and militia members dead and an unknown number of civilian casualties.[88]

The disarmaments in 2008-carried out according to the May Presidential Decree-have been less violent than in 2006, but not all peaceful. In July 2008, soldiers in Pibor, Jonglei, used force that UN monitors reported was excessive during house-to-house searches.[89] In Lakes State, authorities carried out a disarmament campaign in September that spiraled out of control and led to violence and human rights violations.

Case Study from Rumbek, September 2008

The disarmament campaign in Rumbek, Lakes State, spiraled out of control when SPLA soldiers, deployed from other parts of Southern Sudan to carry out the disarmament campaign, ran amok in the market, looting money and goods, wounding eight civilians and beating a member of parliament.[90]

According to state authorities and residents interviewed by Human Rights Watch, the disarmament operation began early on September 8 without fair warning to civilians except for radio announcements the night before instructing residents to remain at home the following day. The soldiers were ethnically Dinka and Nuer and not from the area-a factor that may have contributed to tensions with the local civilians. They surrounded Rumbek town and began house-to-house searches in the early morning. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that many soldiers were drunk and beat civilians, shot at them, and stole personal items including cash, mobile phones, and military uniforms from civilian homes.

"The soldiers did not care who you were, they beat people and looted shops," said one journalist who witnessed the events.[91] By mid-afternoon, the SPLA commander in charge agreed to suspend the operation, but more violence erupted later that evening in the market.[92]

Abraham, a 26-year-old former security officer himself, was one of the first market shooting victims and bore a fresh bullet wound scar on his back and stomach when Human Rights Watch spoke to him. He told Human Rights Watch he went to the market to charge his mobile phone, then noticed a group of soldiers trying to commandeer a motorcycle from a young man he knew. They opened fire on the young man, but Abraham, who was running away in the same direction, got shot instead.

"There were about six of them chasing us. One of the soldiers started shooting at my back," he recalled. "I fell down. After I fell they took my wallet. I heard a voice saying in Arabic 'just leave him.' They took my money and left." He claims to have lost more than $2,000, all of his savings that he put in his wallet that morning so that soldiers could not take it from his home during the disarmament campaign.

The incident sparked an outbreak of more shooting violence in the market in which at least seven civilians were shot.[93] At least one civilian died.[94] State and SPLA authorities suspended the disarmament operation and ordered SPLA out of Rumbek following the day's events. SPLA reported they had arrested at least 10 soldiers. [95] State authorities publicly apologized for the botched campaign and announced some soldiers suspected of shooting civilians had been arrested and would be tried in military court. [96] They also told UN human rights monitors that they registered cases and compiled lists of lost or stolen items, and that the Governor paid several hundred US dollars in compensation to some victims at the hospital.[97]

However, these efforts at accountability have not been made public. "We do not know how they work or the results of their investigation," the deputy Governor told Human Rights Watch. [98] Moreover, some victims (including Abraham) say they have not received promised compensation for loss and medical treatment. State authorities told Human Rights Watch that the onus is on SPLA to pay compensation. [99]

State authorities acknowledge there was a break-down in communication with the soldiers, and that the operation was not coordinated with civilian police and other civilian authorities. The episode underscores the need for careful planning and oversight, and also points to the lack of coherent GoSS-wide policies on civilian disarmament and limitations in providing accountability.

[60] Human Rights Watch interview with man (name withheld) from village of Tore, Central Equatoria, Lumuke, April 1, 2008.

[61] UNMIS activity report, January 20, 2009, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[62] Human Rights Watch interview with man (name withheld), Bentiu, March 21, 2008.

[63] See United Nations Security Council, "Report of the Secretary-General on the Sudan," S/2008/485, para. 47, July 23, 2008, http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N08/430/60/PDF/N0843060.pdf?OpenElement (accessed February 2, 2009).

[64] UNMIS Protection of Civilians report, December 14, 2008, on file with Human Rights Watch

[65] UNMIS Security report, January 1, 2009, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[66] UNMIS Security report, January 20, 2009, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[67] UNDSS, Sudan Weekly Security Situation report #2, 2009; "Hundreds flee clashes in Malakal," Sudan Tribune, January 13, 2009, http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article29847 (accessed February 3, 2009).

[68] Human Rights Watch interviews with UN police and human rights staff (names withheld), Juba, December 2008.

[69] The Interim Constitution of Southern Sudan Art. 154 (c) states that armed forces do not have a mandate for internal law and order,"except as may be requested by the civil authority with necessity so requires."

[70] See the United Nations Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, adopted December 17, 1979, G.A. res. 34/169, annex, 34 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 46) at 186, U.N. Doc. A/34/46 (1979), art. 1 cmmt.

[71] "SPLA White Paper on Defense: Towards a Secured Southern Sudan/Sudan for All," Government of Southern Sudan, March 2008, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[72] Human Rights Watch interviews with Members of Parliament (names withheld), June 27, 2008. See also Otuho Community Association, "Complaint against SPLA military operations in the villages of Iloli and Oguruny on 4th June 2008," on file with Human Rights Watch.

[73] Memorandum addressed to the President of GoSS from the Eastern Equatoria State Governor's Office, June 10, 2008, on file with Human Rights Watch. The villages had remained armed despite a disarmament program in 2007 that collected some 100 weapons from the area.

[74] Both villages have a protection force, known as "monyomiji," that also serves as the village government. Youth from Lotuku villages are inducted into the village government and protection force once every two decades.

[75] Human Rights Watch interview with witnesses at Hiyala village, July 2, 2008

[76] Human Rights Watch interviews with witnesses at Iloli village, July 2, 2008

[77] Human Rights Watch interview with witnesses at Iloli village, July 2, 2008

[78] Human Rights Watch interview with civilian from Logurun, Hiyala, July 2, 2008.

[79] Human Rights Watch interview with Paramount Chief, Hiyala, July 2, 2008

[80] Otuho Community Association, "Complaint against SPLA military operations in the villages of Iloli and Oguruny on 4th June 2008," on file with Human Rights Watch.

[81] See UN High Commissioner for Human Rights/Centre for Human Rights, Human Rights and Law Enforcement: A Manual on Human Rights Training for the Police (Geneva: United Nations, 1997), para. 525.

[82] United Nations Security Council, "Report of the Secretary-General on Sudan," January 30, 2009, S/2009/61 para. 56, http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/498ab68e9d.html (accessed February 3, 2009)

[83] Human Rights Watch interview with brother of shooting victim, Hiyala, July 2, 2008.

[84] GoSS, Operation Order No.1/2008: Disarmament of Civil Population in Southern Sudan, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[85] At a governor's forum in October 2008, Kiir again encouraged governors to improve security in their states by disarming civilians. "H.E. Gen. Salva Kiir Mayardit Key Note Address at the 6th Governor's Forum," September 29, 2008, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[86] Human Rights Watch interviews at Iloli and Hiyala, July 2, 2009.

[87] John Young, "Emerging North-South Tensions and Prospects for a Return to War," The Small Arms Survey, pp. 24-29, http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/files/portal/spotlight/sudan/Sudan_pdf/SWP%207%20North-South%20tensions.pdf (accessed February, 3, 2009). The SSDF, which had been receiving support from Khartoum, were effectively integrated into the SPLA with the 2006 Juba Declaration but some elements participated in the Jonglei battles fighting against SPLA because of ethnic loyalties.

[88] Ibid.

[89] United Nations Security Council, "The Report of the Secretary-General on the Sudan," S/2008/485, para. 6, July 23, 2008, http://www.un.org/Docs/journal/asp/ws.asp?m=S/2008/485 (accessed October 6, 2008).

[90] Manyang Mayom, "SPLA soldiers wound several civilians, beat Lakes deputy speaker," Sudan Tribune, September 10, 2008, http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article28561 (accessed February 3, 2009). This report was confirmed by UN staff working in Rumbek.

[91] Human Rights Watch interview with journalist (name withheld), December 18, 2009.

[92] Human Rights Watch interview with Lakes State deputy governor, Hon. Awan Riak, Rumbek, December 18 2008.

[93] Human Rights Watch interview with Abraham Mayot Chol, Rumbek, December 18, 2008.

[94] UNMIS Human Rights Bulletin, October 23, 2008, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[95] Ibid.

[96] Sudan Tribune, "Conciliatory officials admonish soldiers, plan for trial after Lakes atrocities," September 13, 2008, http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article28600 (accessed February 4, 2009)

[97] Ibid.

[98] Human Rights Watch interview with Lakes State deputy Governor, Hon. Awan Riak, Rumbek, December 18, 2008.

[99] Ibid.