“We fear the worst” : Breaking the cycle of violence and impunity in South Sudan to prevent chaos

13/11/2014
Press release
ar en es fr

Following its recent mission conducted in South Sudan, FIDH raises serious concerns over the risks of a further deterioration of the human rights and humanitarian situation in the country if no effective measures are taken to break the cycle of violence and impunity which currently prevails.

Almost a year after the outbreak of the conflict between the forces loyal to the President Salva Kiir and those supporting the former Vice President Riek Machar, the parties have not yet concluded any effective political agreement. Meanwhile, sporadic armed clashes have continued in the north of the country and several testimonies have reported a worrying proliferation of armed groups and continuous resupplying of weapons and recruitment of combatants, including among children. Against this backdrop, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees remain unsafe, concerns are raising over the increasing hindrances to fundamental rights and freedoms and those responsible for serious crimes remain at large.

Tensions are palpable in South Sudan, where most of our interlocutors have expressed fear over the possible escalation of fighting in the coming weeks and over the serious risks for the safety of civilians ” declared the lawyer Arnold Tsunga, who headed the FIDH mission in South Sudan. “ Breaking the cycle of violence is vital to end the plight of those who have already suffered the most heinous crimes he added.

Civilians in South Sudan continue to live in a situation of extreme insecurity caused by the clashes between opposing forces and the deterioration of the security within IDP camps and United Nations protection of civilians camps (PoC). Civilians haven’t been spared in the recent fightings in Bentiu and Rubkona. The deaths of at least 3 persons have been reported while there has been allegations of recent graves. Within the IDP camps and UN PoC, in particular in Upper Nile and Unity States, serious concerns have also been raised over the proliferation of small arms, the intensification of inter-communal clashes and the continuing cases of sexual and gender-based violence against women. Over 1.4 million persons are still internally displaced and approximately 450,000 refugees remain in neighboring countries. Humanitarian workers met by the FIDH delegation have described an overwhelming situation where thousands of IDPs are still in urgent need of food and medication while the government seems to have given priority to military expenses.

Civilians are also the targets of increasing hindrances to their fundamental rights and freedoms. In early October this year, the National Legislative Assembly has reportedly passed the National Security Services (NSS) Bill, 2014, which, in its current format, provides NSS with extensive powers, including the powers to investigate, arrest and detain those suspected of posing a threat to national security without however guaranteeing legal and procedural safeguards to detainees. FIDH calls upon President Salvar Kiir to refrain from assenting such a repressive bill which would contradict provisions of the Transitional Constitution. Concerns have also been raised over the increasing threats to the freedom of expression and the right to information with cases of arbitrary arrests and detention of journalists, confiscation of newspapers and closure of radio stations increasingly reported.

Civilians in South Sudan continue to pay the huge price of what can be considered as the result of an entrenched culture of impunity, a militarized environment, a weak institutional and legal framework as well as a polarization of society around ethnic and community lines for political purposes. In order to prevent the country from re-sinking into chaos, those responsible for human rights abuses must be held accountable, trust among citizens and confidence in state institutions must be established added Arnold Tsunga.

At the end of the November 6th and 7th Extraordinary Summit of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) – the regional organization leading the mediation – both the SPLM and SPLM-IO committed to respect an “unconditional, complete and immediate end to all hostilities [...] to bring the war to an end [and] to the immediate cessation of the recruitment and mobilization of civilians”. Both sides have however failed to agree on the structure and composition of a transitional government and were given 15 more days by IGAD to pursue internal consultations. IGAD also threatened to impose sanctions – including the enactment of asset freezes, travel bans and denial of the supply of arms and ammunition – against those who would be responsible for the non-respect of this new commitment. In a context where similar agreements have been previously violated by both parties, FIDH calls upon IGAD to strengthen its mediation efforts and ensure that it does implement those targeted sanctions in the event of resumption of fighting. FIDH further insists on the need for such measures to be accompanied by accountability mechanisms aimed at providing justice and redress to victims and at preventing further serious crimes, and calls upon IGAD to refuse any agreement which would provide immunity and amnesties to those responsible for such crimes, in violation of international law.

Years of impunity in South Sudan have been recognized as one of the key factors of the serious crimes committed since the outbreak of the conflict in December 2013. A number of governmental Committees have been established (including by the police and by the army) to shed light on the circumstances which led to the outbreak of the conflict and investigate the human rights violations perpetrated in its aftermath. In February 2014, President Salva Kiir also established an investigative committee which reportedly collected evidence gathered by the police and by the army with a view to release a consolidated report. The release of this report is said to have been scheduled for mid November. While those initiatives must be welcomed, some of the interlocutors met by FIDH have pointed out the weaknesses of the process, including the lack of independence and impartiality of the Committee and the lack of any adequate protection mechanism for victims and witnesses. In such a context, high expectations have been placed into the publication of the conclusions and recommendations issued by the African Union Commission of Inquiry.

The report of the AU Commission of Inquiry is highly awaited in South Sudan and is foreseen by many actors as having the potential to deter further violence. We expect this report will propose effective accountability mechanisms and constitute the basis of a roadmap towards justice and long lasting peace and security in South Sudan added Arnold Tsunga.

Background

FIDH carried out a fact-finding mission in South Sudan from 5 to 11 November 2014. Almost a year after the outbreak, in December 2013, of the conflict which opposed troops loyal to Salva Kiir and those supporting Riek Machar, it assessed the human rights situation in the country. The mission was composed of the lawyer Arnold Tsunga, Africa Director at the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and former FIDH Vice President, Mr. Mohamed Badawi, Researcher at the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS), Mr. David Cote, Coordinator of the Litigation programme at Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR – South Africa) and Ms. Tchérina Jerolon, Deputy Director at FIDH Africa Desk. A more detailed explanatory note of the mission, containing specific recommendations will be released soon.

Read more
communique