The Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan notes with grave concern a sustained lack of political will in the signatories to implement in good faith the key provisions of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan, which would allow the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity to be formed. Political elites remained oblivious to the intense suffering of millions of civilians for whom they were ostensibly fighting. As facilitators and guarantors of the Agreement, neither the Intergovernmental Authority on Development nor the African Union have been able to exert decisive influence on the parties. Even though regional efforts yielded an extension of the pre-transitional period, States often pursued divergent goals in relation to South Sudan. Having missed two deadlines in May and November 2019, and with a third now looming, unresolved issues remain: the training and deployment of the Necessary Unified Forces, establishing the number of states and boundaries, the restructuring of the Council of States and the enactment of the Constitutional Amendment Bill.
Government forces moreover continued to forcibly recruit men and boys into their ranks through extensive campaigns in Warrap, Western Bahr el-Ghazal and Unity States, while opposition forces forcibly recruited men and boys in Unity and Central Equatoria States. Hostilities involving the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces, local militias and the National Salvation Front– a non-signatory to the Revitalized Agreement– also continued in flashpoint areas, including Yei and Lobonok (Central Equatoria) and Maiwut (Upper Nile). Incidents of armed conflict confirmed an ongoing threat to peace and security, and the urgent need to address comprehensively issues relating to accountability, entrenched impunity and the arming of local militias and holdout groups.
Beyond the fragile peace at the national level, localized and often ethnically-based tensions intensified, leading to an increase of nearly 200 per cent in the number of civilian casualties over 2018. Between late February and May 2019, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan recorded some 531 deaths and 317 injuries in 152 incidents of localized violence. Of grave concern, brutal attacks, often premised on cattle raiding, involved members of the State apparatus or the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (pro-Riek Machar) (SPLA-IO (RM)) and drove displacement at alarming rates, including in Western Bahr el Ghazal, Unity and Jonglei States.
Sexual and gender-based violence, including conflict-related sexual violence, continued to be widespread and pervasive, characterized by a recognizable pattern of terror and subjugation used as a tactic of war. The environment remained insecure and deadly for South Sudanese women and girls, as bodily integrity was not guaranteed. Denial and stigmatization, compounded by the lack of accountability for sexual and gender-based violations, remained a grave challenge.
Meanwhile, more than 55 per cent of civilians countrywide, mainly women and children, faced acute food insecurity due to wilful impediments of humanitarian aid by different parties, climate-induced factors and large-scale conflict-induced displacement.
Millions of dollars were diverted from the National Revenue Authority, depleting resources that could have been used to protect, fulfil and promote the vital economic, social and cultural rights of millions of vulnerable civilians. Such a diversion of State funds may amount to economic crimes.
Acute food insecurity, coupled with lack of access to basic services, including water and education, rendered substantial segments of the population utterly disenfranchised, too concerned with day-to-day survival to participate effectively in public life.
The systematic denial of fundamental rights and freedoms, including overt threats by government forces against journalists, activists, human rights defenders and political dissidents, further significantly undermined participation in the public sphere, violating the freedoms of expression, opinion and assembly. The National Security Service continued to play a pivotal role in such censorship through surveillance, suppression and arbitrary arrests.
More than 1.4 million civilians remained displaced internally, languishing in camps unfit to meet their basic needs and subsisting on diminished humanitarian aid. In addition, the conflict has made approximately 2.2 million people refugees and asylum seekers. In more than six years, the State has done little to ameliorate the suffering of displaced persons. The Commission acknowledges, however, that the cessation of major hostilities did lead to the voluntary return of tens of thousands of internally displaced persons and refugees to their homes.
Corruption, embezzlement, the delayed formation of the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity and the lack of service provision for vulnerable populations countrywide coincided with the strengthening by the Government of President Salva Kiir of its military forces and the entrenchment of political and military control. Fragile State control was also maintained through the instrumentalization of localized conflicts and the suppression of fundamental rights and freedoms, factionalizing further ethnic communities perceived as dissident, and highlighting the imperative need for the State to promote a shared national identity.
Today in South Sudan, civilians are deliberately starved, systematically surveilled and silenced, arbitrarily arrested and detained and denied meaningful access to justice. Redress for these violations and related crimes is a precondition for sustainable peace and security, and will remain elusive unless all the parties to the conflict, with the support of the international community, prioritize the needs of civilians, honour their international obligations, and implement, without further delay, the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan, in particular with regard to transitional justice mechanisms and the hybrid court for South Sudan.