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Rising Violence, Human Rights Violations Threaten Peace in South Sudan

Friday 01,March, 2024 {HMC} U.N. investigators warn an alarming rise in violence and human rights violations threatens prospects for a durable peace in South Sudan and risks impeding free and fair elections in December, the first since the country gained its independence from Sudan on July 9, 2011.

Members of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, which submitted its latest report Friday to the U.N. Human Rights Council, expressed hope that the government would live up to the commitments of the 2020 revitalized peace agreement.

The outlook is not promising. Commission members agree that much remains to be done before elections can go ahead later this year. While South Sudan is coming to the end of a political process, the commission notes that the drafting of a new, permanent constitution has not yet started.

Commission member Barney Afako told the council that entrenched impunity in South Sudan was fueling armed conflict, repression, corruption and human rights violations, including sexual violence. That, he noted, was hardly an environment in which free and fair elections could take place.

“Last April, we named senior officials responsible for serious crimes, including extrajudicial killings, torture, rape and sexual violence,” he said. All of them retain their positions, including the governor of Unity State (Joseph Monytuil) and the Koch County commissioner (Gordon Koang). These two individuals enjoy impunity and have continued to instigate serious violence and violations.”

The commission report paints a stark picture of a society where killings, sexual and gender-based crimes, and gross human rights violations against the civilian population go unpunished.

FILE – South Sudanese who fled from Sudan sit outside a nutrition clinic at a transit center in Renk, South Sudan, on May 16, 2023.

It says children are recruited into the army, and militias and armed cattle keepers encroach upon and grab the land of farmers, inflicting sexual violence and mass abductions on women and children.

The commission has documented cases of young girls and women who have been abducted and held as sexual slaves. Afako said many of the victims have testified to being regularly beaten, continuously raped and threatened with death.

“The scale, severity and violence associated with abductions is worsening. These attacks are well-planned,” he said. “Although authorities were often well aware of them, they claimed to be powerless to stop them. Instead, authorities have negotiated ransoms and encouraged families to pay off abductors. We believe this can only incentivize further abductions.”

He said impunity and lack of justice, accountability and protection institutions are root causes of violations, “including targeted killings, repression, torture and sexual violence against women and girls.”

The commission calls on South Sudan’s government to urgently establish transitional justice institutions and allow the country’s political process to operate meaningfully and legitimately.

Ruben Madol Arol, the South Sudanese minister of justice and constitutional affairs, called the commission report deplorable. He said the report does not consider the actions the government has taken to implement the renewable agreement and improve security in the country.

He bristled at the report’s description of widespread sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls in South Sudan, saying it “is misleading and meant to tarnish the image of the country.”

Christian Salazar Volkmann, the director of the field operations and technical cooperation division of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the council that the government has made some “concrete progress on institutional electoral preparations.”

While some signs of openness with civil society were emerging, he said, they were insufficient to “create the necessary conducive environment” for the South Sudanese to fully exercise their democratic right to vote.

“Currently, the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, peaceful assembly, and association all remain severely restricted,” he said.

“Censorship, harassment, arbitrary arrests, and detention of journalists and dissenting voices continue in South Sudan. This impedes genuine public engagement in the electoral process,” he said.

Justice Minister Arol did not take all that criticism lightly. He threatened to end the mandate of the U.N. Human Rights Commission in South Sudan unless it accepts new conditions.

He said the commission must “share evidence and names of the individuals and entities accused of human rights violations” to the government.

He said the commission also must agree “to monitor and report human rights situations” and let the government handle all investigations.

“If these positions are accepted, the government will accept the extension of [the] mandate of the commission for a period of one year only,” he said.

Ninety-five nongovernmental and human rights organizations sent a letter early last week to council members and observer states urging the council to renew the commission’s mandate. They expressed concern about South Sudan’s human rights situation in view of the upcoming elections.

They noted that the commission’s critical role in that it “is the only mechanism tasked with collecting and preserving evidence of violations on international humanitarian and human rights law with a view to ensuring accountability.

SOURCE VOA

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