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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HOLDS INTERACTIVE DIALOGUE WITH THE COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS IN SOUTH SUDAN

17 September 2018

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an interactive dialogue with the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan. 

Yasmin Sooka, Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, said that the Commission during its mission to South Sudan had heard testimonies of wanton killings and numerous accounts of brutal sexual violence.  Arbitrary detentions and torture had also increased in the country.  Despite the stated commitment of the authorities to address sexual violence, little had been done. 

Women in South Sudan had been treated by Government soldiers and armed actors to the conflict, including local militias, as spoils of the conflict.  They had also experienced sexual violence during inter-communal violence between rival ethnic groups clashing over land and cattle, and lived with the threat of sexual violence on a daily basis which was fuelled by the lack of accountability and justice for these crimes.  In a recent judgment in the Terrain Case, a Military Tribunal had handed down jail sentences to 10 soldiers.  Still, those with command responsibility had gone unpunished so the Commission was asked to assist in ensuring that they were prosecuted.  The Commission was concerned about whether peace would sustain.  Food insecurity was a challenge and South Sudan was one of the most dangerous places in the world for humanitarian workers.  Sustainable peace required justice and accountability.

South Sudan, speaking as the concerned country, informed the Council about the improved security situation in the country.  With the signing of the Revitalized Peace Agreement on 27 June 2018, the Government of National Unity was more confident that the improvement would continue.  The Government had also formed a ministerial committee to discuss the establishment of a hybrid court, however, due to the marathon negotiations leading to the Revitalized Peace Agreement, the committee had had to postpone its discussions, but would resume them soon.  Authorities had also carried out sensitization and consultations with stakeholders regarding the establishment of a commission for truth, reconciliation and healing.  There were discussions to set up a compensation and reparation authority.  It was true that the Government of South Sudan had faced many challenges during the last four years of the conflict, but it had also succeeded in handling positively most of those challenges.  To fully continue to maintain the security situation and implement the Peace Agreement, the Government sought technical assistance and capacity building from the international community.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers welcomed the signing of the Agreement on Outstanding Issues of Governance and Power Sharing by the South Sudanese parties, as well as the prosecution of some crimes.  Despite those positive signals, however, they remained deeply concerned about the increasing number of human rights violations in South Sudan, some of which could constitute genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.  Speakers encouraged the rapid setting up of an independent hybrid court, which was key for addressing impunity.  They reminded that more than seven million people were in need of humanitarian assistance, and they called on all parties to allow unhindered humanitarian access.

Speaking in the discussion were Tunisia on behalf of the Arab Group, European Union, France, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Russian Federation, Netherlands, Djibouti, China, Australia, Sudan, Albania, Belgium, United Kingdom, Ireland, Norway, Botswana, New Zealand, Algeria, Egypt, and Iceland.

The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, Amnesty International, International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and Health and Environment Program.

Spain, Iran and Lebanon spoke in right of reply.


The Council will resume its work at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, 18 September, when it will hold an interactive dialogue with the Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, followed by a general debate on human rights situations requiring the Council’s attention.  It will then hold an interactive dialogue with the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee.   


Presentation by the Chair of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan

YASMIN SOOKA, Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, delivered an oral update after returning from a mission to South Sudan where the Commission members met with senior Government officials, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, humanitarian workers, civil society, religious communities, as well as internally displaced persons.  The Commission had visited refugee camps in East Darfur in Sudan, Arua in Uganda and Kakuma in Kenya, and had heard testimonies of wanton killings and numerous accounts of brutal sexual violence.  Arbitrary detentions and torture had increased at the hands of National Security.  Despite the stated commitment of the authorities to address sexual violence, little had been done. 

According to a 2017 study by the Global Women’s Institute and the International Rescue Committee, over 65 per cent of women and girls in South Sudan had reportedly experienced sexual violence at least once in their lives.  In Yei county, many women had been abducted by Government soldiers and raped.  Many women giving birth to babies born out of rape had been unable to deal with the stigma in their communities and had abandoned those babies.  Women in South Sudan had been treated by Government soldiers and armed actors to the conflict, including local militias, as spoils of the conflict.  They had also experienced sexual violence during inter-communal violence between rival ethnic groups clashing over land and cattle, and lived with the threat of sexual violence on a daily basis which was fuelled by the lack of accountability and justice for these crimes.  In a recent judgment in the Terrain Case, a Military Tribunal had handed down jail sentences to 10 soldiers.  Still, those with command responsibility had gone unpunished so the Commission was asked to assist in ensuring that they were prosecuted.  The United Nations Mission in South Sudan in 2017 had investigated more than 217 South Sudanese women, who were gang raped by Government security forces.  To date, no one had been held accountable nor had compensation been paid to the women by the Government.
 
The Commission was concerned about whether peace would sustain.  Twenty-four hours after signing the revitalized peace agreement on 12 September, Government forces had attacked Sudan People's Liberation Movement-in-Opposition forces at Kendiri and Mangalatore in Kajo-Keji County of Yei River State.  The United Nations Mission in South Sudan and peacekeeping troops had been attacked on 15 September.  Food insecurity was a challenge.  Over 6 million people faced emergency levels of acute food insecurity, representing a 20 per cent increase in the number from last year.  South Sudan was one of the most dangerous places in the world for humanitarian workers, as more than 13 aid workers had been killed this year alone.  The conflict had displaced more than 1.7 million people inside South Sudan, with a further 2.5 million South Sudanese having fled the country.  Over 2.2 million children in South Sudan did not go to school and were not receiving any education. 

In March this year, the Commission had called upon the African Union and the Government of South Sudan to fast track the establishment of the Hybrid Court set out in Chapter V of the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan.  Six months later, the Court was still not established.  Complementary mechanisms set out in Chapter V - the Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing and the Compensation and Reparation Authority - had to be established as part of a holistic transitional justice process.   The African Union, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and the international community had to ensure the establishment of transitional justice mechanisms.  In conclusion, Ms. Sooka said that South Sudan, a country that came into being in 2011, was at war with its citizens and was laying at the crossroads between hope and peace, on the one hand, and more missed opportunities on the other hand.  Sustainable peace required justice and accountability.

Statement by South Sudan

PAULINO WANAWILLA UNANGO, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs of South Sudan, speaking as the concerned country, informed the Council about the improved security situation in South Sudan, despite sporadic skirmishes of a criminal nature.  With the signing of the Revitalized Peace Agreement, the Government of National Unity was more confident that the improvement would continue.  The core of the Revitalized Peace Agreement was the permanent ceasefire concluded by the parties on 27 June 2018.  The Government had gone an extra mile and accepted an additional three vice presidents, 15 ministers, five deputies, 218 members of Parliament, and 14 governors from opposition groups, which showed its commitment to cement the existing peace and security.  The Government had formed a ministerial committee to discuss the establishment of a hybrid court.  However, due to the marathon negotiations leading to the Revitalized Peace Agreement, the committee had had to postpone its discussions and would resume them as soon as possible.  The authorities had also carried out sensitization and consultations with stakeholders regarding the establishment of a commission for truth, reconciliation and healing.  They were also discussing the setting up of a compensation and reparation authority. 

Since 2013, the Military Courts had tried 204 cases.  Since the last update to the Council in March 2018, 607 children had been released from non-State actors.   The delegation clarified that the amnesty issued by the President was restricted only to offences against the State as provided by the Penal Law.  The Ministry of the Interior had set up 17 special protection units to provide counselling, protection and treatment to victims of gender-based violence, whereas the Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare had launched a national strategy to end child marriage.  In addition, senior army officers had been trained on child rights, including on recruitment of children, rape and sexual violence against children, abduction of children, and killing and maiming of children. 

In conclusion, said it was true that the Government of South Sudan had faced many challenges during the last four years of the conflict, but it had also succeeded in handling positively most of those challenges.  To fully continue to maintain the security situation and implement the Government sought technical assistance and capacity building from the international community.

Interactive Dialogue

Tunisia, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, regretted the human and material losses resulting from the conflict in South Sudan and reiterated the need to find a resolution to the conflict.  The Arab Group commended Sudan on its efforts in promoting peace in South Sudan, efforts which had helped pen an initial peace agreement, which they hoped would become permanent.  European Union was appalled by the nature of violence in South Sudan, in particular against women and girls.  They said that efforts needed to be made to hear the needs of victims and their demands for justice, and to provide them with adequate protection and support.  France was concerned that violations, particularly against women and children, were being used as tools of war.  They asked that crimes not go unpunished, then congratulated South Sudan on its signing of a peace agreement, which would hopefully open a new chapter of sustained peace in the region. 

Switzerland said the deepening ethnic divisions and extreme seriousness of sexual crimes in South Sudan required an urgent response.  In that context, the recent sentencing of 10 perpetrators of human rights crimes was commendable and Switzerland hoped that it would not be an exception, but a rule going forward.  Germany called for accountability for all human rights violations occurring in South Sudan.  They highlighted the need for the establishment of a Hybrid Court in light of the signing of the revitalised South Sudanese Peace Agreement.  They also underlined the shrinking democratic and civic space in the country.  Denmark called on the Government of South Sudan and all warring parties to stop the violence.  Examples of sexual abuse as presented in the report were devastating and there should be justice for the perpetrators of those acts, which should never have been committed. 

Russia said that the current situation was the consequence of the American geopolitical project to separate South Sudan from Sudan, so the United States shouldered a lot of the responsibility.  The settlement of the conflict in South Sudan was up to the South Sudanese themselves and the efforts of the African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development towards reconciliation were welcomed.  Netherlands urged the Government, the opposition and all parties to ensure that the atrocities ended now and called on the Government to protect all humanitarian and medical personnel as well as to hold all individuals and entities responsible for crimes to account.  Djibouti welcomed the mediation efforts of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development as well as the efforts of the President of Sudan.  The signing of the agreement between the Government and the rebels in Khartoum was welcomed. 

China supported the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and other regional parties who were playing an important role in settling the conflict in South Sudan.  Hope was expressed that peace would prevail in South Sudan and China was ready to work with the international community to find an early settlement.  Australia welcomed the verdict in the Terrain Hotel case, continued to urge the Government to work with the African Union to establish the Hybrid Court, and welcomed the Security Council resolution 2428 urging Member States to impose an arms embargo on South Sudan and continue the asset freeze and travel ban.  Sudan thanked the Government of South Sudan for its cooperation and remained fully committed to improve the human rights situation in the neighbouring country.  Sudan was assisting in finding a peaceful solution, and the efforts of South Sudan to protect international missions and diplomatic teams who were deployed were welcomed.

Albania remained deeply concerned about the increasing number of human rights violations in South Sudan, some of which could constitute genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.  It encouraged the rapid setting up of an independent hybrid court, which was key for addressing impunity.  Belgium welcomed the signing of the Agreement on Outstanding Issues of Governance and Power Sharing by the South Sudanese parties to the five-year conflict.  Despite those positive signals, Belgium remained deeply concerned about the dire human rights and humanitarian situation, and widespread impunity for crimes.  United Kingdom welcomed the progress made in recent months toward a revitalized peace agreement in South Sudan with regional support.  However, men, women and children continued to suffer appalling human rights abuses.  The Government was failing to meet its obligations under international law and its own constitution. 

Ireland condemned the gross human rights violations committed in South Sudan, especially the scale and brutality of sexual violence.  It reminded that more than seven million people were in need of humanitarian assistance, and called on all parties to allow unhindered humanitarian access.  Norway voiced deep concern about extra-judicial killings, abductions, and the recruitment of child soldiers in South Sudan.  It was also concerned about the shrinking space for freedom of expression and attacks on those who criticized the Government.  Botswana remained concerned about the unchanging humanitarian crisis in South Sudan caused by the conflict.  It implored South Sudan to ensure unhindered humanitarian access, reminding that children continued to suffer the brunt of the conflict, including sexual assault and forced marriages. 

New Zealand urged the Government of South Sudan to undertake effective, prompt, independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of serious violations of human rights and hold perpetrators accountable.  They welcomed a political dialogue towards peace, namely the cessation of any further military operations.  Algeria congratulated the Government of Sudan in prosecuting the perpetrators of violations of human rights and crimes against humanity.  They reiterated their appeal for the creation of a Hybrid Court to provide justice for those acts and asked the international community to step-up efforts to meet humanitarian needs in the country.  Egypt welcomed efforts to establish stability in the country and that citizens now had the possibility to exercise their rights.  Egypt also commended the signing of the peace agreement and promoted the ownership of the South Sudanese people over the reconciliation process.  Iceland said that the Commission’s findings that forces in South Sudan had targeted civilians because of their ethnic identity constituted war crimes and the perpetrators of those acts needed to be held accountable.  While Iceland welcomed the peace agreement between the warring parties, it wondered if peace could be upheld if there was no accountability.

East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project said that the Government had to sign the Memorandum of Understanding to establish the Hybrid Court.  The new peace deal represented hope to end a war that had claimed tens of thousands of lives and dispersed many South Sudanese across East Africa.  Amnesty International said it had documented how Government forces and their allied militias had attacked villages in southern Unity state, deliberately killing civilians and abducting women.  National Security Service continued to arbitrarily arrest Government opponents without charging them.  International Organization for the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (EAFORD) stressed that South Sudan for the third year topped the global list of violence against humanitarian operations.  The release of over 900 child soldiers in 2018 from the ranks of armed groups in South Sudan was welcomed, but many documented incidents of violations went unpunished.  Health and Environment Program (HEP) hoped that the ceasefire would be respected and that the peace agreement would bring lasting peace.  However, it was hard to understand how all crimes committed, including sex crimes, would not be punished, so the South Sudanese Government was called on to establish the Hybrid Court and end impunity.

Concluding Remarks by the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan

BARNEY AFAKO, Member of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, explained that the Revitalized Peace Agreement was a single text signed and that no changes to the transitional justice process had been made, i.e. the Hybrid Court, the Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing, and the Compensation and Reparation Agency.  What it meant was that the Government of South Sudan could proceed to ensure that those mechanisms were set up and that they started working.  Criminal justice needed to be completed by an effort by the South Sudanese themselves to engage each other about the causes of the conflict, such as the ethnic dimension.  As for reparations, the Commission would engage with the Government on how to set up those mechanisms.  They should go beyond payment and acknowledge the suffering of victims and their dignity.  The hard task was to ensure that guns remained silent. 

ANDREW CLAPHAM, Member of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, thanked the South Sudanese Government for its cooperation with the Commission.  The so-called “Terrain trial” had prosecuted perpetrators of sexual violence.  There were multiple other cases where there should be prosecution, notably the prosecution of war crimes.  In addition, the Commission had been careful to describe crimes, such as multiple rapes, as acts of torture which meant that they could be also prosecuted in all States that had ratified the Convention against Torture.  The Hybrid Court had become emblematic and symbolic for the people of South Sudan.  It was seen as a sign of the Government’s good faith.  It was reassuring that the amnesty would not cover human rights violations.  It would be a serious message to break the cycle of violence, Mr. Clapham noted.

YASMIN SOOKA, Chair of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, reminded that it had always been envisaged that the setting up of transitional justice mechanisms was one way for South Sudan to achieve peace.  The Commission was concerned about the manner in which arbitrary detentions were taking place, and about the increased number of executions since South Sudan had not abolished the death penalty.  The international community needed to ensure that violations perpetrated against women and girls received attention.  Nothing had been done so far to hold the perpetrators accountable.  The Commission would soon hold a workshop on sexual violence.  In the last few decades, everyone had learned that sustainable peace could not be achieved without justice and accountability.  What could be done more was to increase pressure on the Government to do what was right and just, and to provide technical assistance in that respect.
 
Right of Reply

Spain, speaking in a right of reply in response to a statement made by a non-governmental organization in the general debate on the promotion and protection of all human rights, reiterated that Spain was a fully democratic State in which the independence of the judiciary was fully respected in line with the national legal framework, including the Statute of Autonomous Communities.  Spain also reiterated that the principle of peaceful coexistence underpinned its democracy.

Iran, speaking in a right of reply in response to a statement made by Israel during the dialogue with the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria, rejected the hypocritical and absurd Israeli allegations issued by a regime responsible for grave violations of human rights, including the denial of the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people.  Iran acted against terrorist groups which had long been supported by the regime, because Iran could not allow the Israeli-supported puppet Daesh to control the region.

Lebanon, speaking in a right of reply in response to a statement made by Israel during the dialogue with the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria, said that the world had had enough of the accusations by Israel, which dared to call everyone and anyone who opposed its illegal occupation, a terrorist.  Neutral reports had confirmed that Israel helped support terrorist groups active in Syria, Lebanon said, and stressed that Hezbollah was a basic political component in the country, and that Lebanon refused to call it a terrorist organization.


For use of the information media; not an official record

HRC/18/135E