Members of the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan began their seventh field mission to South Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Kenya earlier this week. The mission, currently underway, is taking place from 19 to 26 August 2019.
In Juba, Bentiu, and Yei (South Sudan), the Commissioners met with UN representatives, international organizations, and community members comprising religious leaders and civil society, including women’s groups, recent returnees, and internally displaced persons.
“We are deeply concerned that, despite overall armed conflict having waned considerably since the signing of the Revitalized Peace Agreement, little progress has been made to adhere to the terms of the agreement,” said Commission Chair Yasmin Sooka. “Civilians with whom we spoke still raised numerous concerns that they feel are barriers to sustainable peace,” she added.
Intercommunal violence premised on cattle-raiding has recently spiked in South Sudan, including in Bahr al-Ghazal. During their visit, the Commissioners listened to South Sudanese women, men, and children express numerous concerns including localization of conflict linked to land, resources, and cattle, continued impunity for sexual and gender-based violence, delays and inefficiencies in implementing the Revitalized Peace Agreement of September 2018 , deteriorating living conditions for those internally displaced, the securitization of the state and continued shrinking space for civic engagement, frustration with the functioning of the judiciary, and the absence of accountability mechanisms including establishment of the Hybrid Court, among others.
“Despite the numerous challenges we heard, we were encouraged by the fact that committees composed of military and civil actors have been formed to improve civil-military relations and support local justice and reconciliation in Yei River State, where civilians could raise dispute resolutions,” said Commissioner Andrew Clapham. “Such mechanisms that facilitate communication between armed actors and civilians could be replicated in other locations where violent conflict and violations have been witnessed in the country,” he noted.
Impunity for conflict-related sexual violence and sexual and gender-based crimes in South Sudan also remains at an all-time high, while survivors of sexual violence still have limited access to redress. In Bentiu, the Commission heard testimonies of sexual violence from women who are waiting to share their stories with an accountability mechanism. “The lack of progress in establishing transitional justice mechanisms, including the Hybrid Court, the commission for truth, reconciliation, and healing and the compensation and reparation authority, which are to be complemented by customary and other community-centred mechanisms, is delaying accountability and reparation for these and other crimes,” said Commission member Barney Afako. “So long as the voices of victims and survivors are not empowered, and these mechanisms not put in place, it is highly unlikely that South Sudanese women, men, girls, and boys will be able to witness a lasting peace,” he added.
In closing, the Commission stressed the importance of overcoming delays regarding the Revitalized Peace Agreement, and encouraged the positive work being carried out by the National Constitutional Amendment Committee.
The Commissioners will hold a press conference on Friday, 23 August 2019, at 1100 hrs in the UNMISS Tomping Base in Juba.
From 25 to 29 August 2019, the Commissioners will separately visit Uganda, Ethiopia, and Kenya, where they will engage with refugees who have been recently displaced from South Sudan. In Ethiopia, they will hold meetings with African Union leaders, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), senior UN officials, as well as other members of the international community.
The UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan is an independent body mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to, among other things; 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. The Commission will present an oral update on the human rights situation in South Sudan to the Human Rights Council on 16 September 2019 and a comprehensive written report in March 2020.Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).