As we speak today, largescale fighting has declined, and a government of national unity is being formed, giving South Sudanese renewed hope for sustainable peace. However, during a public briefing we co-hosted last week, colleagues from the ground spoke about the prevailing human rights and humanitarian situation, revealing a concerning and complex reality that demands the Council’s continued scrutiny.
Sporadic fighting and abuses including abductions for sexual violence and forced recruitment continue in parts of the Equatorias and intercommunal fighting in Jonglei, Warrap, Lakes and Northern Bahr el Ghazal has not only displaced thousands from their homes but also led to unlawful killings and other abuses.
Civic space has shrunk as the National Security Service targets critics and perceived dissidents with arrest, detention, torture and enforced disappearance-forcing activists and broader population to self-censor. There are at least 100 individuals detained without charge or trial in the headquarters of the national security service, Human Rights Watch has found. These abusive practices hinder an environment where citizens can come forward and speak about their experiences without fear of reprisals. Such space for dialogue is important especially as victims seek to participate in envisioned transitional justice processes.
The mandate of the Commission on Human rights in South Sudan includes the collection and preservation of evidence in order to help foster justice for the crimes committed, including prosecutions by the Hybrid Court as set out under Chapter V of the peace agreement. South Sudan’s government has often said that it is awaiting the formation of the Unity Government before establishing the Court, a position which we find untenable as so much preparation, which was encouraged by the African Union Commission, already was possible. We urge the Unity government to sign the memorandum of understanding for the court’s creation and work with the African Union on the court’s formation without delay.
Both government and opposition forces have committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other grave violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. The report of the Commission shows evidence of continuing violations including starvation, recruitment and use of child soldiers, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, rape and other acts of sexual violence, and targeted attacks against civilians. Impunity for these crimes prevails to date.
Mr. President, it is incumbent upon the Human Rights Council to act on these serious human rights violations and ensure that there is no impunity for the perpetrators of these atrocities. How the Council responds to the situation in South Sudan is a test of its credibility. It is therefore essential that the Human Rights Council:
- Renews the mandate of the Commission in full, to allow it to continue to conduct independent investigations into alleged human rights violations and abuses and violations of international humanitarian law and collect and analyse evidence to support criminal accountability,
- Calls for increased cooperation by the government of South Sudan including by granting the Commission unrestricted access to all places of detention run by the National Security Service and Military Intelligence and army,
- Urges all States to encourage further concrete action to deter and address ongoing violations of international law and to exercise their jurisdiction over crimes under international law committed in South Sudan and where the opportunity arises,
- Finally, provides greatly enhanced technical, logistical, and financial support to the Commission