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JUBA CITY - 19 Feb 2024

‘Human Rights must guide the completion of South Sudan’s transition’–UN experts

Chairperson of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, Yasmin Sooka, (L) and First Vice President Reik Machar. (Courtesy photo)
Chairperson of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, Yasmin Sooka, (L) and First Vice President Reik Machar. (Courtesy photo)

South Sudan’s leaders must carefully navigate the conclusion of the country’s political transition to achieve durable peace, and prevent violence and gross human rights violations, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan said Monday.

The Commission concluded its 12th visit to South Sudan, from 12 to 17 February 2024.

“Establishing a unified national army and transitional justice processes to deal with the past and the root causes of the conflict is indispensable,” said Yasmin Sooka, Chairperson of the Commission. “Our investigations have found that the violence and gross human rights violations continue with impunity, with women and children being the main target of these crimes.”

“Critical security arrangements, and an independent justice system supported by constitutional processes provided under the Revitalized Agreement, are essential to avoid a return to conflict following elections,” she added.

These processes under the 2018 Revitalized Agreement lay the foundations for sustainable peace and human rights protection, yet none is even close to completion, even though the transitional arrangements conclude following the elections planned for December 2024.

“South Sudan’s leaders must end the political and local conflicts and contestations that have brought so much pain and suffering to the people, and invest in state and nation building grounded in respect for diversity, and the protection of human rights” stated Commissioner Barney Afako.

In the capital Juba, the Commissioners held discussions with the president, the first vice President, senior cabinet ministers, and legislators. They engaged with civil society, victims and survivors, human rights defenders, and journalists. They also met with the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, the United Nations Country Team, and diplomats from the African Union and its member states, the Trokia of Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States, and the European Union.

“The Commissioners traveled to the Greater Pibor Administrative Area and Jonglei State. There, women and children continue to be abducted in violent attacks along ethnic lines, carried out by heavily armed militias. Many abductees are held hostage, subjected to forced marriage, and suffer brutal abuse, rape, and sexual slavery,” the statement said. “Last year, some of the abducted women and children were put on display like goods in a market and sold. The Commission interviewed women who had been in captivity for more than four years, separated from families and their children.”

According to the statement, a dysfunctional criminal justice system enables perpetrators to operate with impunity, and ransoms negotiated by authorities and paid to abductors do not deter these crimes; rather they act as an incentive for further abductions.

“Victims and their family members told us they are traumatized by the abductions and disillusioned at the lack of support to return their loved ones who are missing or held hostage,” said Commissioner Carlos Castresana Fernández. “Their situation reflects the Commission’s broader findings from investigations across the country that the population is defenseless against human rights abusers and lacks protection, as the institutions needed to prevent and punish crimes are deprioritized and under-resourced by the State.”

“Addressing the lack of functioning rule of law institutions is urgent, as is the need for an independent referee who can peacefully resolve possible electoral disputes,” he added.

The Commission said that in a welcome development, on 5 February 2024, South Sudan completed the process of becoming a State Party to several core United Nations international human rights treaties.

“South Sudan’s ratification of human rights treaties is an important step,” Sooka observed. “Implementing the obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights would open civic and political space, and orient State institutions toward protecting civil society actors and journalists, rather than repressing them.”

The Commissioners held a press conference in Juba on Friday 16 February. In early March 2024, the Commission will present its next report on the human rights situation in South Sudan to the United Nations Human Rights Council, in Geneva.

The Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan is an independent body mandated by the United Nations Human Rights Council. The Commission is mandated to investigate the situation of human rights in South Sudan and to make recommendations to prevent a deterioration of the situation, with a view to its improvement.