Statement by Yasmin Sooka Chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan to the Human Rights Council


9 March 2020

Link to the Report:


Good morning, Mr. President, Members of the Council. I have the pleasure of presenting the fourth report of the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, with my colleagues Andrew Clapham and Barney Afako.

Mr President, since the Commission last reported to the Council more than half of South Sudan’s population has been deliberately starved of food while their leaders brazenly looted and plundered the country’s wealth. These are economic crimes with the most dire humanitarian consequences – especially for women and children. Corruption has made several officials extremely wealthy at the expense of millions of their starving citizens. It affects every sector of the economy and every State institution. These are some of the same officials who fought for independence to improve the lot of their people, and who have rapidly turned the dream of liberation into a nightmare.

The international community is compelled to support humanitarian services and aid delivery to the civilian population, while some South Sudanese leaders have stolen tens of millions of US dollars from the government reserves that could and should have been used to feed their people. This has to be one of the most compelling arguments for international and regional support for criminal accountability for South Sudan.

Since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005, the economy of the South has depended primarily on oil, accounting for 73 per cent of all government revenues. Theft of public funds is made easier by the predominantly cash economy of South Sudan, coupled with nepotism in appointments to senior government positions. Money is spent mainly on the military and the governing elite with very little transparency. The National Revenue Commissioner was dismissed in August 2019 because he was too transparent – he published for the first-time quarterly reports on the oil and non-oil revenues coming into South Sudan.

The Commission has uncovered numerous instances of bribery within the contract to print currency, the theft of funds allocated for healthcare, and trade based money laundering involving contracts assigned to companies who in some instances have since been designated under financial sanctions by the US Department of the Treasury.

To give an example, 98% of non-oil revenue is supposed to be remitted by the National Revenue Authority to the government’s bank account but the Commission has in its possession, credible evidence indicating that, for September 2019, only 42 per cent was remitted to the government’s account. This was even worse for October and November 2019 – with only 20% of the non-petroleum revenue funds being sent to the government account. The Commissioner- General and the Board of Directors of the National Revenue Authority then announced it would no longer be necessary to publish statistics making accounting impossible. We are talking about tens of millions of US dollars of public revenue vanishing.

Based on information in its possession, the Commission has reasonable grounds to believe that senior members of the Government of South Sudan have engaged in acts that amount to economic crimes, including tax evasion, money laundering, bribery, using one’s position to influence decisions in the allocation of State resources, and using public funds for personal gain and advantage.

The plunder of resources has turned this potentially rich young country into the third worst place in the world in which to live. Greed and the struggle for power by predatory political elites have exacerbated extreme levels of poverty, leaving more than 5 million people hungry in South Sudan. And this plunder has also driven the intense political and ethnic competition that has fuelled conflict in South Sudan, and the continuing suppression of free speech, especially the harassment of investigative journalists.


Delays in the implementation of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict have allowed the continued forcible recruitment of children into the armed forces during the last year by all parties – government and opposition - as they have sought to boost their numbers.

I will tell you the story of a teenage boy – a child whose only crime is his desire to go to school. His father was given a stark choice – supply your son to fight or give us seven cows. The boy initially evaded forced recruitment by the South Sudan People’s Defence Force (SSPDA) but one-night soldiers caught him and took him to a training camp. After a few days he asked to be allowed to go to school. Instead, he was beaten and punished with solitary confinement. He eventually managed to escape by, wrestling a soldier and dodging bullets, before he ran all night barefoot to reach his home.  When interviewed by our investigators, this brave 15-year old, said his ambition was to be a doctor to serve his people in South Sudan.

Another boy we interviewed had been kidnapped from his home at the age of 12 by opposition forces, who beat his grandmother when she tried to protect him. A couple of months later, he managed to escape. When he turned 15, he was kidnapped again, this time along with his two brothers. When his brothers resisted, they were both killed in front of him. “I felt psychologically tortured and hopeless,” he told us. He was trained to use an AK47.  “We were told to use them to rob people and kill those who resisted or who ran away,” he said.

As at late July 2019, UNICEF reported there were still around 19,000 such children in the ranks of the national army and armed opposition groups. Nevertheless, the Commission welcomes the Government of South Sudan’s recent signing of a comprehensive Action Plan covering the six grave violations against children—Opposition forces namely, the SPLA-IO (Riek Machar) and the South Sudan Opposition Alliance, have also committed their forces to honor this agreement once in the Unity government.

However, despite the Revitalized Agreement, forced recruitment continues. Last month the Commission visited the cantonment site in Bentiu to confirm the whereabouts of 65 boys forcibly recruited by SPLA-IO forces. Unfortunately, the boys had been removed prior to the visit.

Sexual Violence

Sexual and gender-based violence continue to be systematically used by the armed parties in the conflict to terrorise and subjugate civilian populations. In particular, South Sudanese women and girls have continued to face rape and gang rape, sexual mutilation, forced marriage, abduction and sexualized torture. A woman gang raped in front of her family; told us she feels constantly fearful.

“I want the men who raped me to go to jail,” she insisted, “Otherwise they can just do it again.”

Unfortunately, I have to tell you she’s unlikely ever to get justice. She lives in a country where the perpetrators of sexual violence behave with absolute impunity, secure in the knowledge that they are unlikely to be held accountable.

The Commission continued to document a range of sexual and gender-based crimes targeting women and girls implicating both government forces and the opposition. Violations documented included ongoing abductions, forced marriage, gang rapes and sexualized torture in Jonglei state (Akobo and Bor), and Central Equatoria (Yei).

In November 2018, in Bentiu in Northern Unity State, more than 170 women were gang raped multiple times while going to fetch their monthly food distributions from humanitarian agencies. Among the victims were children younger than 12 years old.  The rapes were so violent and brutal that aid workers caring for the victims were deeply traumatised by the injuries they saw, including vaginal damage and prolapsed uteruses. Sadly, the Government of South Sudan did not respond to these incidents of conflict related sexual violence appropriately. Instead, high ranking officials from the Government of South Sudan focussed on discrediting the humanitarian group who had reported the rapes intimidating them to prevent them from speaking out.

In Yambio in Western Equatoria, the Commission learnt that a group of more than women and girls were being unlawfully detained at an SPLA (In Opposition) military base. The Commission documented allegations of sexual slavery, forced marriage, forced labour including the rape of women and girls. While the intervention of the political leadership of the SPLA(IORM) facilitated the release of several women, the Commission remains concerned that a large number of women and girls continue to be held against their will. The Commission also raised the issue of accountability and command responsibility for these violations with the political leadership of the IO.

Civil Society Attacks

South Sudan has become an environment in which civic space is shrinking and where fundamental rights are trampled upon and eroded. The National Security Services have an ever-expanding security footprint with hardly any civil society organisation able to hold a workshop without specific permission from National Security Services. Activists are not safe as is evidenced by the unlawful detention and subsequent killing of Dong Samuel and Aggrey Idris. Torture, including rape and sexual violence, intimidation, unlawful and arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances have become the norm. Journalists doing their jobs are expelled.

In November 2019, the Commission documented how two women journalists attending an event at the military headquarters in Juba were physically attacked and beaten in public by the army’s Director of Information and Public Relations. He ‘hit the two female reporters on the back using a camera tripod while pushing them towards the back of the meeting hall. Their equipment was also taken away from them’.

Over the past six years several journalists have been killed including Musa Mohammed Dahiyah, Butrus Martin Khamis, Dalia Marko, Randa George Adam, and Adam Juma Adam. Others, including foreign journalists working for the Associated Press and France 24, have been denied accreditation or expelled. These violations have led to increasing self-censorship.

The case of  Christopher Allen who was killed in August 2017 when covering conflict in the town of Kaya illustrates the dangers that journalists in South Sudan face when going about their work, and the complete absence of accountability for violations against them.

Cattle raiding

The Commission is concerned that the international community may be lulled into believing that the conflict is fully over, now that a unity government has been formed in South Sudan. The reality on the ground is much more complex and while the revitalized peace process has led to a fragile peace at national level in South Sudan, the conflict has morphed into localized conflicts in which ethnic divisions are being mobilised, resulting in a 200% increase in the number of civilian casualties in 2019 over the previous year.

The Commission has documented how senior government officials and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (Dr Riek Machar), have been involved through their proxies in cattle raiding, particularly in Western Bahr el Ghazal, Unity and Jonglei States. High ranking government officials are implicated in the proliferation and supply of light and heavy military grade weapons including AK-47 assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and PK machine guns to local militias organised and affiliated to them, so that these local militias can carry out attacks against neighbouring communities. These militias are responsible for the rise in killings and casualties from localised conflicts in greater Upper Nile, Bahr el Ghazal, and parts of Equatoria states.

Our report is explicit that cattle raiding no longer can be characterized as traditional clashes over cattle or criminality involving private citizens. Cattle raiding has become a deliberate strategy and weapon to strengthen local governors and politicians at both state and country level, where local militias are aligned to the warring parties. Arms and personnel are supplied to these militias by parties to the conflict with the ultimate goal of displacing civilians perceived to be aligned to ‘the enemy’.

Cattle raiding is being used exploited local rivalries, to manipulate historical divisions between communities and to instrumentalize ethnic identities for political ends.  It has been employed to marginalize and achieve the displacement of specific populations, to create ethnic enclaves, as part of the strategies for the creation of new states and the determination of administrative boundaries.

The Commission has been able to link cattle camps to government officials as well as non-state armed groups. There can be no doubt that the local militias are well organized, and are operating under the command and control of parties to the conflict with the deliberate intention of displacing civilians of a particular ethnic group. The Commission has made detailed findings related to the Jur River area (in Western Bahr el Ghazal), Twic (in Warrap), Mayom (in Unity) and in Jonglei, in which scores of civilians have been killed and injured and cattle critical to their livelihoods have been killed and stolen. The gendered impact of the conflict has seen many women and girls subjected to rape, sexual torture, abductions, forced marriage and forced labour in the Western Bahr el Ghazal (Wau/ Jur River).

Transitional Justice and Accountability

The Commission believes that there can be no further justification for delaying the establishment of the Hybrid Court now that the new government is in place. We reiterate our call for the African Union and the Government of South Sudan to establish a timeline to set up the Hybrid Court for South Sudan. We call upon the unity government to establish the other Transitional Justice institutions without delay.

The Commission again calls upon the new unity government in South Sudan to establish a clear timeline to establish the three Transitional Justice mechanisms: the Hybrid Court, the Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing, and the Compensation and Reparation Authority. These mechanisms should be developed in consultation with the population of South Sudan, and should be inclusive, securing the participation of all South Sudanese. They must be complemented by measures to strengthen formal and other national systems to play their part in providing accountability and promoting reconciliation and healing.

Mr President, we should not forget that the idea of the Hybrid Court originated with the African Union (AU). Should the timelines not be met, the AU should therefore be encouraged to take steps to establish the Court using its powers under the Constitutive Act of the African Union. At the very least it should set up the Office of the Prosecutor so that the investigative tasks can begin.


Mr. President, last year we compiled a list 23 names of individuals we believed should be investigated, these were in addition to the 43 we identified in in 2018.  Investigations over the past year have identified a further 26 individuals with command or superior responsibility linked to specific violations and to patterns of violations that meet the threshold to warrant further investigations and/or prosecutions.

The Commission has compiled a number of dossiers for these persons, which it will hand over to the High Commissioner for Human Rights for the purpose of future prosecutions. The names remain confidential and access to the information by prosecutorial authorities will be in conformity with the appropriate protocols and procedures.

Mr. President, as in previous years, the Commission’s legal framework supports the possibility that future prosecutions can be instituted in jurisdictions outside of South Sudan that allow for the prosecution of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The Commission calls upon Member States to take up the responsibility of ensuring prosecutions under universal jurisdiction over war crimes or crimes against humanity, and in those states’ who are parties to the relevant treaties on torture, enforced disappearance, and attacks on UN personnel to prevent complete impunity.

Mr. President, the 15-year-old boy who wanted to go to school - is symbolic of the aspirations of the people of South Sudan - who want to live their lives with dignity and who just need their political leaders to use the opportunity they have been given to bring sustainable peace to South Sudan.

The millions of victims in South Sudan deserve no less.