United Nations (New York)

2 May 2014

South Sudan Risks Spiralling Out of Control Amid Revenge Killings, Human Rights Abuses, Impending Famine, Security Council Warned

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With the sharp and drastic deterioration of the human rights situation in South Sudan, and the accompanying spiral of revenge killings, the country was at risk of a wide-spread humanitarian crisis, the United Nations human rights chief told the Security Council today.

Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said her recent visit to South Sudan, accompanied by the Secretary-General's Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, had revealed not only extensive violence, but also a real fear of disaster among the population, including the likelihood of a massive famine. That atmosphere had been fuelled by elements on all sides of the conflict calling publicly for their supporters to hunt down members of different ethnic groups, including a rebel radio broadcast urging the rape of women from other communities.

Adding to that was the prevailing lack of concern for innocent civilians, she continued, adding that, with the planting season almost halfway over, she and her colleague had urged leaders of both the Government and rebels sides to call a 30-day ceasefire to facilitate the planting of food crops in order to avert famine. Judging from the leaders' reaction, that was not an overriding concern, she noted. "I fear that South Sudan's leaders are locked in a purely personal power struggle, with little or no regard for the appalling suffering that it inflicts on their people."

However, international pressure seemed to be having some effect, she noted. Peace talks between the warring sides had reopened in Addis Ababa under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD), the East African subregional bloc, earlier in the week. Still, she reminded the Council, it had agreed in December to increase the number of peacekeepers in South Sudan from 7,700 to 13,200, but the troop-contributing countries had still not supplied some two thirds of the extra troops. "They are desperately needed," she emphasized, adding that the Mission must have a full complement of personnel and an adequate budget.

Adama Dieng, Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, recalled the recent brutal attacks on Bentiu, in Unity State, and on Bor, in Jonglei State, emphasizing that unless such attacks were not be stopped immediately, South Sudan could plunge into serious violence and spiral out of control. Yet, in consultations with senior Government officials in Juba and with rebel leader and former Vice-President Riek Machar, both sides had either denied attacks against civilians or justified by claiming they had been carried out in self-defence against a vengeful group.

"If we are to ensure the protection of the civilian population in this country," he said, "the State must acknowledge that it has the primary responsibility to protect all South Sudanese, irrespective of nationality, ethnicity or political affiliation." However, if the parties did not clearly demonstrate their intention to end the violence, the Council should consider taking additional measures to prevent the situation from deteriorating further. The violence was not motivated by a desire to change the country, but rather by self-interest related to gaining access to oil wealth and development resources, he said. "The international community must not be complicit in this agenda," he stressed.

Rwanda's representative recalled the day three years ago when South Sudan had been welcomed into the United Nations as a Member State, while ruing the current violence and crisis. "You can't fight for independence for years and then turn around and kill your people; it's a shame." He said the international community had just commemorated the anniversary of his own country's genocide and had said "never again". Now, the call was "lessons learned", words that Rwanda feared were merely "cosmetic". Why was it that when politicians fought for power, it was the people who paid the price?, he asked.

South Sudan's representative, however, emphasized that a democratically elected Government could not be placed on the same moral, political and legal footing as a rebel group using violence to overthrow that Government. Although South Sudan understood that the United Nations needed to take into account the urgent need to protect civilians, deliver humanitarian assistance and promote respect for human rights, the country also needed support for capacity-building, now more than ever before. Withdrawing that support could only compound the crisis, he cautioned.

Also speaking today were representatives of the United States, Australia, Nigeria, China, Chad, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, France, Jordan, Lithuania, Chile, Argentina, Luxembourg and the Republic of Korea.

The meeting began at 3:04 p.m. ended at 5:15 p.m.

Background

Meeting this afternoon, members of the Security Council had before them reports of the Secretary-General on Sudan and South Sudan.

Briefings

NAVI PILLAY, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said her recent visit to South Sudan with Adama Dieng, the Secretary-General's Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, had revealed a "sharp and drastic deterioration" in the human rights situation in the country, marked by a spiral of revenge killings that had generated a real fear of disaster for the people, as well as the likelihood of wide-spread famine. The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) had opened its door to some 80,000 people, sheltering and protecting them as best they could. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) had reported that both sides had recruited more than 9,000 children into their armed forces, a elements on both sides of the conflict had called publicly for their supporters to hunt down other ethnic groups. Following their capture of Bentiu this month, rebels had commandeered a local radio station and called for revenge, including the rape of women from other communities. According to media reports, the Governor of the Great Lakes region had told youths at a gathering that, "what we are doing today is eye for eye. You pinch me, I pinch you, too, no forgiveness... ".

Noting that the rainy season had begun and the planting season was half over, she said that, in light of the spectre of wide-spread famine, she and Mr. Dieng had urged leaders on both sides to call a ceasefire for 30 days to enable people to return to their fields and plant as much as possible. "Shockingly, their reaction indicated that this was not an overriding concern," she said. Furthermore, the pervasive culture of impunity in South Sudan had fuelled the current violence. It was critical to establish immediately a national judicial system with the capacity effectively to ensure accountability, a concern that had been conveyed to President Salva Kiir and his senior Cabinet Ministers. Discussions had also been held with opposition leader and former Vice-President Riek Machar about the killings in Bentiu. The Government had said it would investigate the mass killing of civilians in Juba, and Mr. Machar had pledged to investigate the slaughterer in Bentiu. She said that she had stressed that investigations must be transparent and consistent with international standards, moving swiftly to hold alleged perpetrators accountable. Unfortunately, that might not be the case, she said. "I fear that South Sudan's leaders are locked in a purely personal power struggle, with little or no regard for the appalling suffering that it inflicts on their people."

International pressure seemed to be having some effect, she noted. The Government had released four prisoners accused of plotting a coup, and peace talks had reopened in Addis Ababa between the warring sides under the auspices of the East African subregional bloc the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) earlier this week. IGAD was pushing for the quick deployment of the proposed Protection and Deterrent Force to provide protection for the Monitoring and Verification Teams, she said, adding that she had also met with four members of the African Union Commission of Inquiry, who had just returned from their first visit to South Sudan. IGAD and regional leaders shared the same outrage over the crisis, viewing the conflict as a showdown between two leaders for political power and control of oil revenues. Recalling that the Council had agreed in December to increased the number of UNMISS peacekeepers from 7,700 to 13,200, she said troop-contributing countries had still not supplied some two thirds of the extra troops. "They are desperately needed," she said, urging the Council to do its utmost to ensure that the Mission had a full complement of personnel and an adequate budget.

ADAMA DIENG, Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, recalled the recent brutal attacks in Bentiu, Unity State, and in Bor, Jonglei State, which seemed to have changed the conflict's trajectory. If such attacks were not stopped immediately, South Sudan could plunge into serious violence, spiralling out of control. In Bentiu, more than 200 civilians of Dinka ethnicity had been massacred and over 400 injured, reportedly by opposition forces allied to former Vice-President Machar. According to United Nations reports, the attackers had separated ethnic Dinka from ethnic Nuer civilians and then executed the former and others perceived to support the Government. In Bor, armed Government-affiliated elements had forced entry into the UNMISS camp, killing more than 50 civilians, mostly of Nuer ethnicity, and over 100 others.

However, during consultation with senior Government officials in Juba and with Mr. Machar, he said, both sides had either denied having conducted attacks against civilians or justified them by claiming self-defence against a vengeful group. There were worrying reports that the security forces of both camps were homogenizing. The perception that those supporting Riek Machar were mostly ethnic Nuer and President Kiir's supporters mostly Dinka had heightened the risk that individuals could be targeted on the basis of ethnicity. "If we are to ensure the protection of the civilian population in this country, the State must acknowledge that it has the primary responsibility to protect all South Sudanese, irrespective of nationality, ethnicity or political affiliation," he emphasized. He commended UNMISS for its efforts under difficult circumstances, saving lives by opening its gates in Bentiu, Bor, Malakal and other places.

The Mission was under stress, however, and troop-contributing countries must expedite the deployment of additional personnel, he said. Furthermore, if the parties did not clearly demonstrate their intention to end the violence, the Council should consider taking additional measures to prevent the situation from deteriorating further. The issue of weaknesses in governance must be addressed by development partners, he said, pointing out that the national authorities, seemingly disregarding the people's situation, had ignored corruption, thereby creating clear motivation for others to take up arms in order to access nation resources for personal gain. The violence in South Sudan was not motivated by a desire to change the country, but rather by self-interested goals, such as gaining access to oil wealth and development resources, he emphasized. "The international community must not be complicit in this agenda," he stated, stressing that preventing further violence required a coordinated international response, including a new posture by development partners. Any resolution must reflect that, he added.

SAMANTHA POWER ( United States) condemned the targeting of civilians and said that far from an end to hostilities, the situation had spiralled into wide-spread violence and ethnically motivated assaults in many areas. More fighting meant more displaced people needing more help from humanitarian groups. Recalling that the new nation had enjoyed a bright start with ample international and civil society support, she emphasized, however, that a country required effective leadership. Personal rivalries had led to the conflicts fuelling the current catastrophe, she said, adding that, in order to prevent the situation from worsening, military action must end, human rights must be respected and there must be a return to the peace process. Responsibility for ending the violence rested with the leadership, but the Council could play a role and should consider imposing sanctions to deter outrageous attacks against civilians.

GARY QUINLAN ( Australia) said that the horrifying events in South Sudan, including the use of radio broadcasts to incite ethnic killings and sexual violence against women and girls, was chilling and harrowing. There could be no military solution to the conflict, and President Salva Kiir and Mr. Machar must uphold their responsibility to protect civilians and commit to a ceasefire. Commending the Mission's swift action to establish protection sites, he called for the urgent recasting of its mandate to provide it with more focused priorities reaffirming neutrality. With the spectre of famine looming, no effort should be spaced to facilitate humanitarian access, he said, noting that Australia had provided more than $10 million in emergency aid. Fighting in oil-rich States demonstrated that competition over natural resources and revenues was a driver of conflict fuelled by the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, he said, stressing that it was time the Council considered applying military, financial and travel sanctions.

USMAN SARKI ( Nigeria) said the situation had degenerated to a point that threatened South Sudan's future, with recent incidents eerily resembling the events that had led up to the genocide in Rwanda. The Council must put a stop to the slaughter of innocent civilians, he emphasized, calling for the arrest and persecution of those who had perpetrated the recent massacres. Welcoming the resumption of peace talks this week, he said there could be no military solution to the conflict, and both sides must embrace dialogue as the only path to peace and stability.

SHEN BO ( China) said that, given the increasing numbers of displaced persons affected by the growing humanitarian crisis, both sides must adhere to the ceasefire, coordinate with IGAD and settle their differences. Welcoming the recent resumption of peace talks, he expressed hope that they would advance positively. Meanwhile, China condemned all attacks against civilians and peacekeepers, he said, emphasizing that the authorities must investigate such incidents. The international community should help South Sudan to "weather the crisis", he said, adding that his country had made efforts to promote peace talks and had offered financial support to IGAD initiatives.

MAHAMAT ZENE CHERIF ( Chad) said that, since the chances for peace seemed to be waning, the international community must exert pressure on both parties with a view to ending violence against civilians and UNMISS sites. Welcoming the decision by neighbouring countries to send in troops to protect civilians, he called upon the warring parties to cease their actions against the Mission and to allow it to meet its mandate fully.

ALEXANDER PANKIN ( Russian Federation), noting that millions had been displaced and millions more needed humanitarian assistance, stressed that a political settlement of the armed conflict was critical to both leaders, who must set aside their own goals. Commending IGAD and other international actors, he called upon the Council to support such an effort, emphasizing, however, that sanctions should be addressed with caution. Extensive experience with such measures had shown that they were far from a panacea, because they could undermine the spirit of cooperation. Furthermore, the latest tragic events called into question the leadership of UNMISS, he said.

MARK LYALL GRANT (United Kingdom), recalling that the international community had recently commemorated the 1994 genocide in Rwanda , said the occasion had been a reminder of the world's failure to act 20 years ago. Recent events in South Sudan should, therefore, serve as a wake-up call to all, he said, urging the application of all tools within the United Nations system, including radio broadcasts to challenge recent announcements calling upon supporters to rape women of other ethnicities. He also called for efforts to end impunity and increase political support for mediation efforts in order to prevent a "devastating slide" to repeated atrocities, and a continuing and clear message that the United Nations would not accept the violence. Mediation efforts must be complemented by sanctions against those who sabotaged peace, he emphasized. South Sudan's needs were urgent and clear, and the international community must meet them. The Government of the United Kingdom would be contributing $65 million to that end.

EUGÈNE-RICHARD GASANA ( Rwanda) recalled the General Assembly resolution welcoming South Sudan as the newest Member State of the United Nations. It had been with hope, anticipation and pride that the international community had stood ready with South Sudan to build the State. Three years later, however, and in light of the wide-spread killings of civilians, the world could not remain bystanders, he emphasized. "You can't fight for independence for years and then turn around and kill your people; it's a shame," he stressed. Yet, almost five months had passed since the beginning of the conflict, with ethnic killings and the displacement of millions all happening while the world watched. Recalling that the international community had just commemorated the anniversary of his own country's genocide -- having said "never again" -- now the call was "lessons learned". Had that become just become another "cosmetic" word?

"What do we do about the atrocities?", he asked. "What do we do about the radio station, about the rape in retribution?" Would the Council again condemn and adopt statements expressing outrage? Instead, Rwanda hoped it would do whatever it would take to stop the killing of innocent people in South Sudan, he said, stressing that the world must do more. It was critical that action be taken without wasting further time, he reiterated, asking why the people always paid the price when politicians fought for power. Such leaders would be held responsible for all the people over whom they ruled, he said.

GÉRARD ARAUD ( France) said his country supported IGAD-led mediation efforts, but the political process had come to a complete halt, as had the ceasefire agreement. The Security Council could not remain inactive, he emphasized, saying it should rapidly renew the Mission's mandate, according priority to protecting civilians. It was also important to ensure access to humanitarian assistance. Given the absence of political will to end the violence, the Council should also impose a sanctions regime, he said. Impunity must end, independent investigations must be conducted and the guilty brought to justice, he stressed. Attacks against United Nations bases constituted a war crime, and the International Criminal Court should become involved, given the scale of the violations, he added.

MAHMOUD HMOUD ( Jordan) said that, in spite of the commitments made by both parties, the situation on the ground had deteriorated. It was essential to identify and locate the most vulnerable areas of human rights violations and to protect civilians, he said, reiterating the need for the Government of South Sudan and the opposition to take responsibility for bringing perpetrators to justice. The International Criminal Court should also get involved, he added.

RAIMONDA MURMOKAITĖ ( Lithuania) said the personal rivalry between two leaders was dragging the whole country into all-out war. Situation reports read like catalogues of barbarity, with all actors committing shocking crimes, such as targeted killings, rapes and attacks on the basis of ethnicity. Those were the ingredients that led to genocide, she said, emphasizing that impunity for crimes against humanity must end. The threat of sanctions was very real and imminent if the warring parties failed to change their behavior, and referral to the International Criminal Court could also be considered. The Council was looking to revise the mandate of UNMISS in such a way as to prioritize the protection of civilians, she said.

CRISTIÁN BARROS ( Chile) said accountability in human rights should be at the centre of the Mission's renewed mandate as the situation threatened to spiral into a "humanitarian catastrophe". The Council must act using all mechanisms at its disposal to save lives. The grim reports heard today, including the recruitment of child soldiers, massacres of communities in towns and radio broadcasts inciting attacks and calling for sexual violence against women and girls, must end. Targeted sanctions should be considered. The bravery of Hilde Johnson, head of the Mission, as well as its personnel, in protecting civilians are to be commended. Now, the Council and the United Nations must redouble their efforts to prevent the "disintegration" of the youngest member of the Organization.

MARÍA CRISTINA PERCEVAL ( Argentina) said her country supported the Mission, which had prevented many deaths. Serious human rights violations had been perpetrated by both parties in South Sudan recently. Future inquiries would investigate possible crimes against humanity. The African Union Commission of Inquiry's work was essential for bringing those responsible to justice. All efforts must establish who held responsibility at the highest level, all the way up the chain of command. An agreement to end hostilities must be reached. Death had spoken loudly, she said, as had been seen with many being murdered only for their ethnicity. Now, the Council must hear that voice and continue to support a package of measures, including bolstered troop numbers in the Mission that would better protect civilians and an end to impunity.

SYLVIE LUCAS ( Luxembourg) said given the ongoing human rights violations, it was imperative that both parties worked to end the carnage. Since the Government and opposition forces had violated the ceasefire agreement, she supported the IGAD-led mediation and called on the parties to return to the negotiating table. Mr. Kiir and Mr. Machar had grave responsibilities to publicly reject all attacks against civilians. Those responsible for grave human rights violations must be brought to justice. She said it was essential that the Council refer human rights atrocities committed in South Sudan to the International Criminal Court. The Council must also use every tool at its disposal, including sanctions, to end the violence and to prevent an already dire situation from escalating into one of incalculable consequences.

OH JOON ( Republic of Korea) said the Council had shared the urgent call for the attention and action needed to stop the unacceptable violence ravaging South Sudan. The use of radio broadcasts to incite violence seemed to be "a prelude to a catastrophe", he said, calling on leaders to reject all attacks on civilians. Ahead of the rainy season, he was concerned of the large displacement of people and a strategy for civilian protection was needed. The United Nations and IGAD needed to swiftly finalize monitoring and verification mechanisms of the cessation of hostilities agreement. The Security Council must also stand ready to take additional measures, as needed.

FRANCIS MADING DENG ( South Sudan) emphasized that placing a democratically elected Government on the same moral, political and legal footing as a rebel group using violence to overthrow that Government could not be justified. It was also well known that the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) had ended the recruitment or deployment of child soldiers since 2003. Recent recruitments had not involved children at all entailed, he said, stressing that the rebel army, by contrast, was known for recruiting and deploying child soldiers.

It was also unfortunate that the attack on the United Nations compound in Bor was being equated with the atrocities committed by the rebel army in Bentiu and Malakal, he continued. The incident had been provoked when young people in Bor had heard internally displaced persons in the United Nations compound celebrating the capture of Bentiu by the rebels, who had only recently destroyed Bor and massacred its inhabitants. The youth had intended to submit a protest letter requesting the removal of the internally displaced from Bor, but when peacekeepers had fired in the air, they had forced their way in, construing the gunfire as an attack against them.

He said the Government of South Sudan understood why the United Nations must reconsider its priorities on the ground, taking into account the urgent need to protect civilians, deliver humanitarian assistance and promote respect for human rights. However, South Sudan now needed support for capacity-building more than ever before. Withdrawing that support, whether for lack of resources or as a punitive measure, could only compound the crisis, he cautioned, urging the United Nations to consider maintaining strong support for capacity-building, even if it was not through UNMISS.

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