Statement by Ms. Yasmin Sooka, Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan at 39th Human Rights Council session


17 September 2018

Mr. President, Excellences, Distinguished delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am delivering this oral update on behalf of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, mandated by the Council to monitor and report on human rights violations, establish the facts and circumstances of the violations and related crimes, identify perpetrators and collect and preserve evidence of these violations.

My colleagues Andrew Clapham and Barney Afako, members of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, and I, recently returned from a mission to South Sudan where we met with senior Government officials, UNMISS, humanitarian workers, civil society, the religious communities, as well as internally displaced persons. The Commission also visited refugee camps in Eastern Darfur in Sudan, Arua in Uganda and Kakuma in Kenya, and spoke with refugees from South Sudan as well as representatives of the opposition parties.

The Commission in the course of its mission, once again heard testimonies of wanton killings and numerous accounts of brutal sexual violence. Victims spoke of their fears and great insecurity as arbitrary detentions and torture have increased in the country at the hands of National Security. There is also the desperate food insecurity inside the country and in refugee camps. 

Despite the stated commitment of the Government of South Sudan to address sexual violence, little has been done. According to a 2017 study by the Global Women’s Institute and the International Rescue Committee more than 65 per cent of women and girls in South Sudan have reportedly experienced sexual violence at least once in their lives.

In Yei county, the Commission was told by women leaders in the community that many women had been abducted by government soldiers and raped. Many of the women giving birth to babies born out of the rape unable to deal with the stigma in their communities and abandoned these babies.

Commission investigators visited the Emanuel Christian College in Goli in Yei Country which had been attacked by government soldiers in May this year, resulting in the deaths of five school children, three staff members, and two IDPs. In addition, young women were raped while others were detained and tortured.  

Women in South Sudan have been treated by government soldiers and armed actors to the conflict including local militias as spoils of the conflict. They also experience sexual violence during inter-communal violence between rival ethnic groups clashing over land and cattle and live with the threat of sexual violence on a daily basis which is fuelled by the lack of accountability and justice for these crimes.

And yet Mr. President, the Government of South Sudan has shown that it can be done, as is evidenced by the recent judgment in the Terrain Case, in which a Military Tribunal handed down jail sentences to ten soldiers for murder, rape, sexual harassment, theft and armed robbery. Under pressure by the international community, the Government of South Sudan, was  able to muster the political will to combat impunity. While the victims in the Terrain case have welcomed the verdict, they have expressed their disappointment that only foot soldiers were prosecuted while those with command responsibility have gone unpunished. They have requested the Commission to assist them with ensuring that the Commanders of these crimes are identified and prosecuted.   

Mr. President while the Terrain Trial is significant for accountability for sexual violence, we should remember that UNMISS in 2017 investigated and documented that more than 217 South Sudanese women were gang raped by government security forces including at SPLA checkpoints in Juba in the same cycle of violence of July 2016. To date, none of the perpetrators have been have been held accountable and neither have any of these women received any compensation from the government. 

Mr. President, Excellencies, the plight and suffering of South Sudanese women and girls can no longer be ignored; they urgently deserve justice and compensation as well as access to medical and trauma support services The Terrain trial verdict should not be the exception, but the rule in South Sudan from now on. 

While the Commission welcomes that the parties to the conflict including the Government of South Sudan have concluded, and signed on 12 September, the “Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan”  At the same time, the Commission is concerned as to whether peace will sustain.

Sadly, less than 24 hours after the signing of the revitalized peace agreement, government forces were alleged to have attacked SPLM-IO forces at Kendiri and Mangalatore in Kajo-Keji County of Yei River State, in which 17 SPLA troops were killed. 

UNMISS and the Peacekeeping troops have also been attacked and two days ago on 15 September, a UN Peacekeeper in Yei was shot in the leg by an SPLA soldier, approximately 1.4 km from the UNMISS base. He was part of an UNMISS water fetching patrol. While the patrol was able to return safely to the base, fighting and heavy shooting continued in  Yei town in Yei River state throughout the night resulting in UNMISS putting  Yei on a Security Alert with the situation remaining extremely tense.

“We need you to ensure that the peace is lasting and reaches all villages,” said one of the many community leaders we met in Kakuma. “When will we stop gathering in funerals and start gathering in celebration?”

In El Duin refugee camp in Eastern Darfur, an old man asked the Commission whether he and his family can safely return home without fear that their sons will be forcibly recruited or their daughters and wives raped.

The Commission is concerned that notwithstanding this commitment to peace, the violence continues to contribute to increased levels of insecurity in South Sudan.

Food insecurity continues to remain a challenge for South Sudan where more than 6 million people face "crisis" or "emergency" levels of acute food insecurity – representing a 20 per cent increase in number from last year. Given the acute levels of food insecurity in the country, one would imagine that the Government of South Sudan would do its utmost to facilitate unimpeded access to UNMISS  and humanitarian organizations.-instead there is constant bureaucratic stalling of access and more alarmingly, targeted attacks against humanitarian convoys which makes it almost impossible to deliver emergency relief. 

It’s not surprising then that South Sudan is considered to be one of the most dangerous places in the world for humanitarian workers, as more than 13 aid workers having been killed this year alone.. In April this year, 10 aid workers were abducted and a UN peacekeeper killed in an ambush targeting a humanitarian convoy. In Wau, between June and late August, access for the delivery of humanitarian assistance was denied “for security reasons”.

The long-running conflict has also witnessed the displacement of more than 1.7 million people inside South Sudan, with a further 2.5 million South Sudanese having fled the country. The refugee population includes a number of unaccompanied minors -- 65,600 of them according to UNHCR -- who crossed the border into neighboring countries since the outbreak of South Sudan’s civil war in 2013. UN agencies and the ICRC are doing a remarkable job trying to reunite children with their families but it is extremely difficult and they just don’t have enough resources to support their work. 

Another shocking statistic is that more than 2.2 million children in South Sudan don’t go to school and are not receiving any education – this according to UNICEF is the highest in the world. They will grow up illiterate at a time when their education should be a priority to all of the warring parties as they represent the future of South Sudan.

Mr. President, in March this year, the Commission 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(ARCSS), so as to address the impunity that exists in South Sudan. We stressed that what was required was one signature, by the President of South Sudan or his foreign Minister.

Sadly Mr. President, 6 months later, we are still waiting for this signature, which is required by the African Union to set up this court. The Commission in its engagement with the African Union Task Force on the Hybrid Court for South Sudan and Ambassador Chergui, the AU Commissioner for Peace and Security  underscored the need for the African Union and the South Sudanese Government to discharge their responsibilities and establish the Court. The Commission also noted that the complementary mechanisms set out in Chapter V, i.e. the Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing and the Compensation and Reparation Authority should be established as part of a holistic transitional justice process.

Excellencies, the failure to punish the perpetrators of serious crimes in South Sudan has led to many believing that they can continue to commit these crimes with total impunity. Accountability is provided for in Chapter V of the Peace Agreement. The African Union, IGAD and the international community must ensure that the Government of South Sudan and the signatories to the revitalized peace agreement set out a  detailed timetable for the establishment of Hybrid Court for South Sudan, the Commission on Truth, Healing and Reconciliation and the Compensation and Reparations Authority.

Mr. President, in conclusion, South Sudan came into being in 2011 with the hopes and aspirations of the world invested in the youngest nation in the world achieving self-determination. South Sudan is at war with its citizens and currently lies at the crossroads between hope and peace, on the one hand, and more missed opportunities, on the other hand.

Sustainable peace requires justice and accountability for serious crimes. Justice and reparations are critical to many victims of the conflict in South Sudan. As a young leader the Commission met said:

“End the tribalism, stop struggling for positions, stop recruiting child soldiers, and bring a big magnet from the sky, collect all the guns, and fly away into the heavens.”

Thank you