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South Sudan's leaders must end attacks on civilians and prioritise peaceful and just transition, say United Nations (UN) experts

After nearly five years of delays in the implementation of the 2018 Revitalised Peace Agreement, South Sudan's political leaders must seize the opportunity to reset the country toward peace, democratic transformation, and prosperity, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan said today.

Members of the Commissionare concluding an 11th country visit, from 14 to 18 February.

"We always appreciate the opportunity to visit South Sudan, and to have meaningful discussions with a range of people, to learn more about the human rights situation and prospects for the credible conclusion of this transition period," said CommissionerBarney Afako.

"The suffering across the country remains immense. South Sudanese women and girls continue to face unspeakable sexual violence. Political leaders must reorient their priorities and work together to put an end to this needless violence and protect the human rights of South Sudanese. Without a change of approach, the transition will falter," he added.

"Our Commission has documented human rights violations in South Sudan for many years, but we were still shocked by the sexual violence and continuing attacks against civilians," remarked CommissionerAndrew Clapham. "The accounts from survivors are horrific. Many people the Commission has met have experienced attacks over and over again. At the same time, people responsible for crimes walk free."

The Commissioners visited the capital Juba, and Upper Nile State where the UN runs a protection of civilians (POC) site that is struggling to accommodate tens of thousands of new arrivals fleeing violence. Organisations and agencies providing humanitarian support in the areas recounted their struggle to provide required assistance to the large number of people seeking shelter. Limited funding and unsafe supply routes have complicated humanitarian efforts.

The visit included meetings with survivors of human rights violations, members of civil society, senior Government ministers and officials, civilian judges, military judges, diplomats, UN agencies and the UN Mission in South Sudan. Victims and survivors of violence in Upper Nile told the Commissioners horrific stories of vicious attacks. Frightened families hid in the bushes for days and had to walk miles to reach safety.

In the past year, the Commission has documented widespread attacks against civilians in several states, including southern Unity State where Government officials led the attacks. Conflicts in Upper Nile State and northern parts of Jonglei State have involved multiple armed groups, with minimal response from the State, despite months of widespread attacks against civilian population. Extrajudicial killings also continued, implicating senior State officials, who have enjoyed impunity even where the crimes have been caught on camera. Civil society leaders and other observers told the Commissioners that political and civic space in the country has continued to shrink.

"The Commission continues to identify individuals responsible for serious crimes under both South Sudanese and international law. We keep a confidential list of names and collect and preserve evidence against them which could be used for future prosecutions by the Hybrid Court or other suitable accountability mechanisms. We will be identifying some individuals who bear responsibility for certain events covered in our report in this next report for the UN, we would hope that the Government would take steps to hold them accountable," said Clapham.

In August 2022, parties to the 2018 Revitalized Agreement agreed to a two-year extension of its transitional governance arrangements, thereby postponing planned elections to late 2024. During the Ecumenical visit to South Sudan led by Pope Francis earlier this month, President Salva Kiir committed to resume the "Rome peace talks" with armed groups not party to the 2018 agreement.

There is limited time to make the political transition work. Outstanding key tasks include: the establishment of a unified national army, which started in 2022; the drafting of a constitution to be completed before elections; and establishing three transitional justice mechanisms, none of which are in place despite preparatory work. International interest has waned and needs to be reinvigorated to support these processes.

"On a visit to South Sudan one year ago, we warned that the country was at a tipping point, given the limited time left to implement critical parts of the peace agreement. Although the transition period has now been extended, there is still an enormous amount of work to do to advance the peace process. South Sudanese are desperate to see greater energy and determination among their leaders to address human rights," Afako added.

The Commissioners held a press conference on Friday 17 February 2023 at the UNMISS Headquarters in Tomping, Juba. The Commission will present its reporting on the human rights situation in South Sudan to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2023, in Geneva.


Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
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