South Sudanese individuals can be prosecuted for war crimes and crimes against humanity even in other countries, say UN human rights experts
“Impunity cannot be allowed to continue.”
Geneva,12 March 2019; The Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan has identified 23 individuals over the past year who bear command or superior responsibility under international criminal law for serious crimes related to the conflict in South Sudan. Members of the Commission, mandated by the Human Rights Council to investigate human rights in South Sudan, told the Council this morning that these individuals, along with previously identified alleged perpetrators, could face justice in courts around the world, not just in South Sudan.
“We have not placed all of our eggs in one basket,” Chair of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, Yasmin Sooka, told the Human Rights Council this morning as she and her colleagues presented their more than 200-page report. “We have framed these crimes in multiple ways to allow future prosecutions to take place in jurisdictions inside and outside South Sudan,” she explained. “This allows for the prosecution of war crimes and crimes against humanity in states that are parties to relevant treaties on torture, enforced disappearance and attacks on UN personnel, for example.
In its third report to the Human Rights Council, the Commission noted that while the signing of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan in September 2018 had seen improvements in the overall situation in terms of security, peace, and economy, the situation in the Equatorias, in the southern part of the country, was extremely volatile with ongoing fighting in the Yei River Area between forces of the government and the National Salvation Front (NAS), which had not signed the Agreement. Thousands of civilians, the Commission told the Council, were still being forcibly displaced.
In this report, the Commission focused on incidents occurring between May and June 2018 in Unity State, Western Bahr el Ghazal, and Central Equatoria State, concluding that such incidents may amount to serious violations of human rights and of humanitarian law.
The Commission documented sexual violence, including brutal rapes including multiple gang rapes, sexual slavery, abductions, forced marriage, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, and mutilation of sexual organs as well as killings, at the hands of both government forces and those belonging to the opposition. The Commission noted UNICEF statements that in more than 25 per cent of all reported cases of conflict-related sexual violence, the victims were children.
“It has become commonplace to say that these crimes take place because impunity has become entrenched,” noted Ms. Sooka, “But that impunity cannot be allowed to continue.”
The Commission also noted increases in arbitrary detentions, torture, executions and enforced disappearances. These generated paranoia and fear in South Sudan, with civil society activists reporting they felt afraid to speak out. The Commission documented cases where prisoners had been held in shipping containers with no fresh air or toilets. Witnesses also described torture, including beating and whipping, pulling out of toenails, cutting, burning and electrocution.
The Commissioners said the signing of the Revitalized Peace Agreement had not delivered immediate improvement in the desperate humanitarian situation for the people of South Sudan. Due in large part to the conflict, 60 per cent of the South Sudanese population is severely food insecure, and there remain 2.2 million refugees and 1.9 million Internally Displaced Persons. The humanitarian situation is exacerbated by the deliberate obstruction of the work of humanitarian actors, the Commission noted, adding that South Sudan has been ranked the most dangerous place in the world for humanitarian workers for the third consecutive year.
The Commission reiterated its continued concern about the lack of progress in establishing the Transitional Justice mechanisms that were adopted in the2015 Peace Agreement and re-confirmed in the Revitalized Agreement of September 2018. “These mechanisms are essential for dealing with the past, preventing fresh violations, ensuring accountability and constructing a cohesive society,” said Commission member Barney Afako. Little or no progress had been made on establishing these mechanisms, said Commission members, calling on the Government of South Sudan to take urgent steps towards establishment of the Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing, and the Compensation and Reparation Authority, and on both the Government of South Sudan and the African Union to establish the Hybrid Court for South Sudan.
“Despite these delays in the establishment of justice mechanisms within South Sudan,” underlined Commission member Andrew Clapham, “Perpetrators of violent crimes in South Sudan should not think they can escape justice, as they could be prosecuted in international courts or domestic courts in other countries.”
The Commission called on the region and the wider international community to invest politically and materially in the Transitional Justice mechanisms in South Sudan. “These are essential for building sustainable peace,” said Ms. Sooka, “As well as supporting the people of South Sudan in rebuilding all aspects of national life, especially the rule of law.”
The Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan was established by the Human Rights Council in March 2016 and extended in March 2017 and for a further year in March 2018, with a mandate to determine and report the facts and circumstances of, collect and preserve evidence of, and clarify responsibility for alleged gross violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes, including sexual and gender-based violence and ethnic violence, with a view to ending impunity and providing accountability.
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