Experts urge leaders to redouble peace efforts ahead of February 22 deadline
Millions of South Sudanese civilians have been deliberately deprived of access to basic services and many deliberately starved, while national revenues have been diverted by the country's politicians, says the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan.
In its fourth report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, published just ahead of the February 22 deadline for the formation of a national unity government in South Sudan, the Commission says corruption and political competition have fuelled human rights abuses and are major drivers of ethnic conflict.
"South Sudan is at a critical juncture at which its leaders need to make firm choices to move forward the stalled political process of implementing the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan," noted Commission member Barney Afako. "We urge all the parties to redouble their efforts to resolve the key outstanding issues."
Welcoming the recent decision by the Government of South Sudan and President Salva Kiir to reduce the number of States in the country to ten, a major sticking point in the peace process, the Commissioners noted that the proposed creation of three administrative areas remains controversial. Another remaining challenge is the question of security arrangements, including the formation of unified forces and protection for senior opposition leaders.
Millions of dollars have been diverted from the National Revenue Authority, depleting resources that could have been used to protect, fulfil and promote the vital economic, social and cultural rights of South Sudanese civilians, the report said. Extreme levels of poverty and lack of access to essential services such as healthcare and education were exacerbated by acts that amount to economic crimes perpetrated by members of the State apparatus.
"Officials in the Government of South Sudan are implicated in the pillaging of public funds as well as money laundering, bribery and tax evasion," said Commission Chair Yasmin Sooka. "High ranking officials have used their official positions to influence decisions on the allocation of State resources and official procurement, diverting public funds for personal gain and advantage."
The plundering of the public purse by officials is having a catastrophic impact on the humanitarian situation in South Sudan, leaving ordinary people food insecure. More than 55 per cent of the population, mainly women and children, face acute food insecurity due to the deliberate policy of preventing humanitarian aid from reaching civilians by different parties to the conflict. This is exacerbated by climate-induced factors and large-scale displacement because of the conflict.
"Deliberate starvation is clearly occurring along ethnic and political lines, in an effort to marginalize dissident communities as well as those too disenfranchised to challenge the status quo because their day-to-day lives revolve around basic survival", said Commissioner Andrew Clapham, noting that deliberate starvation can constitute a war crime or a crime against humanity.
The revitalized peace process has led to a fragile peace at the national level in South Sudan, the conflict having shifted to an intensification of ethnic violence at a localized level. Of grave concern, the report noted, is the number brutal attacks involving cattle raiding by members of both the State apparatus and the opposition, resulting in alarming rates of displacement along ethnic lines, particularly in Western Bahr el Ghazal, Unity and Jonglei States.
The Commission also received credible information that members of government forces armed local militias with light and heavy weapons, including AK-47 assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, so they could carry out brutal attacks against neighbouring communities, often during periods of cattle migration.
Although localized conflict is often characterized as traditional ethnic clashes over cattle or criminality involving private citizens, the Commission found that local militias aligned to the warring parties, including the government, benefited from personnel and weaponry, including military grade weapons, supplied by parties to the conflict.
Both government forces and the opposition continue to forcibly recruit men and boys in violation of International Humanitarian Law. The Commission documented incidents implicating eight separate units of both armed forces and armed groups recruiting, training and using children as young as 12 years old. The recruitment of children is contrary to South Sudanese domestic law and treaty law, including the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, to which South Sudan acceded in September 2018.
Sexual and gender-based violence, including conflict-related sexual violence, continued to be widespread and pervasive, characterized by a recognizable pattern of terror and subjugation used as a tactic of war. Stigmatization of survivors, compounded by the lack of accountability for sexual and gender-based violations, remained a grave challenge.
Transitional justice is a critical response for achieving sustainable peace, national reconciliation and healing, and rebuilding the rule of law after decades of violent conflict. The Commission called on the African Union and the Government of South Sudan to establish a timeline to set up the Hybrid Court of South Sudan and the other Transitional Justice instruments outlined in the Revitalized Peace Agreement without delay.
The Commission has continued to build dossiers on perpetrators and to collect and preserve evidence for future accountability processes, including the Hybrid Court for South Sudan and other transitional justice mechanisms. During this last year, it has identified additional alleged perpetrators whose names, and accompanying materials, will be presented in a confidential dossier to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva. This information will be made available to support future prosecutions before regional or national courts and tribunals upon request, and if certain conditions are fulfilled.
"Entrenched impunity and a lack of accountability characterized by the persistent failure to address past and ongoing violations has been a key driver of violence in South Sudan" said Yasmin Sooka. "Time and again we have been told by ordinary South Sudanese that accountability is essential for perpetrators to truly understand that what they are doing is wrong. Everybody understands that continued impunity will perpetuate violence."
The Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan was established by the Human Rights Council in March 2016 and extended in March 2017 and for further years in March 2018 and March 2019, with a mandate to determine and report the facts and circumstances of, collect and preserve evidence of, and clarify responsibility for alleged gross violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes, including sexual and gender-based violence and ethnic violence, with a view to ending impunity and providing accountability.
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