Impunity driving violence in South Sudan, UN rights commission says
UNOCHA/Sarah Waiswa Children stand by a dike at a camp for people displaced by conflict in South Sudan.
The report by the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan details how perpetrators of the most serious crimes – including widespread attacks against civilians and extrajudicial killings – go unpunished, with senior Government officials and military implicated in serious violations.
“Over several years, our findings have consistently shown that impunity for serious crimes is a central driver of violence and misery faced by civilians in South Sudan,” said Yasmin Sooka, Chair of the independent expert group.
“So, we have taken the step of naming more of the individuals who warrant criminal investigation and prosecution for their role in gross human rights violations,” she added.
No accountability at all
South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, has been mired in unrest for nearly a decade, although a 2018 Peace Agreement sought to end the violence.
The UN Commission has been monitoring the human rights situation there since March 2016. Its latest report is based on investigations in six states, and in the neighbouring region, over the past 12 months.
Members had presented the main findings to the Council last month, but the full report provides greater detail on “emblematic situations and sites of human rights violations” during this period, such as widespread attacks against civilians, including killings, rape, sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence, as well as mass displacement.
The Commission found that although the Government of South Sudan has announced special investigation committees into several situations, not one has led to any form of accountability. Furthermore, Government and military personnel implicated in these serious crimes remain in office.
Failure to protect civilians
“Once again, hundreds of South Sudanese shared with our Commission their experiences of being subjected to a range of human rights violations. Their suffering is immense. The State continues to fail in its duty to protect civilians, and to ensure accountability for violations,” Commissioner Andrew Clapham said.
“We call upon the authorities to properly investigate alleged perpetrators of serious crimes, no matter their rank or office, and to establish and strengthen the justice mechanisms for holding them accountable.”
Senior officials implicated
The report identifies Unity State Governor Joseph Monytuil, and Lieutenant General Thoi Chany Reat of the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces, as among the individuals warranting criminal investigation in relation to State-sanctioned extrajudicial killings carried out in Mayom in August 2022.
The Commissioner in Koch County, Gordon Koang, is among persons identified as being responsible for leading widespread attacks against civilians in Leer in February and April 2022.
The Commission’s findings also identify other individuals warranting further scrutiny or investigation in relation to human rights violations in Warrap State, Upper Nile State, northern parts of Jonglei State, and the Equatoria states.
Recommit to peace deal
Commissioner Barney Afako said “breaking the grip of impunity” can only be realized if the authorities recommit and adhere to the values and promises in the peace agreement.
“Political leaders are accountable to the people of South Sudan, and must therefore ensure that civic space for discussion is protected if the country’s first electoral and constitution-making processes are to be credible and positively impactful,” he said.
The report also assesses justice systems and initiatives in South Sudan, including the recent use of military courts and ad hoc inquiries.
It also addresses thematic human rights issues, including the use of children in the armed forces and in armed groups, conflict-related sexual violence, and the virtual disappearance of civic space in the country.
The Commission is an independent body and receives its mandate from the UN Human Rights Council, which is based in Geneva.
The three Commissioners serve independently and are not UN staff, neither are they paid for their work.
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