UN human rights experts warn of increased political violence and polarisation in South Sudan, at conclusion of visit to the country

Members of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan* are concluding their ninth visit to the country, which is taking place from 7 to 12 February.
“The Commission is pleased to be back in Juba, and to have meaningful discussions with a range of individuals and institutions, in order to obtain first-hand information on the human rights situation in South Sudan,” said Yasmin Sooka, Chair of the Commission.
In Juba and Yei, the Commissioners met with senior Government ministers and officials, members of civil society, survivors of human rights violations and abuses including sexual violence, religious leaders, entities monitoring the 2018 Revitalised Peace Agreement, members of the diplomatic community including from the Troika and the African Union, and representatives of UN Agencies and the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
“There is consensus amongst key stakeholders that while some progress has been made in implementing the Revitalised Agreement, critical elements involving security sector reform, constitutional and electoral reform, and transitional justice have yet to be addressed. All of these outstanding issues impact on the human rights situation in the country,” added Sooka. “Most South Sudanese the Commission spoke to expressed their desire for political leadership to secure peace and justice, for which the Agreement provides a roadmap.”
In its meeting with the Ministry of Justice, the Commission reaffirmed its readiness to support the Government to fully implement Chapter V of the Peace Agreement, building on the recommendations of the joint workshop the Commission convened in Nairobi, Kenya, in December 2021.
The lack of progress in implementing key provisions of the Revitalised Agreement, including the unification, graduation and deployment of the armed forces, as well as agreement on command structures, contributes to the persistent insecurity and impunity in which human rights violations occur. Violence at subnational level remains pervasive, and is characterised by displacement, and gross human rights violations including sexual violence. Yei is a case in point, where soldiers waiting to be part of a unified national force are poorly resourced and then prey on the population.
Members of South Sudanese civil society who met with the Commission said they are scared to discuss the human rights situation, for fear of retaliation by State security services with a track record of violently repressing the expression of political views.
“South Sudan is at a tipping point. The pursuit of elections run the serious risk of fuelling violence and polarisation if the requisite institutions, constitutional and electoral laws as well as logistic arrangements are not first in place,” highlighted Commissioner Barney Afako.
“It is also important to look beyond the electoral moment and ask what political system people would be voting for, particularly given the delays to develop a constitution on which elections would be based.”
One key task would be the mapping of electoral constituencies.
A bigger question looms regarding the system that people will be voting for, given the absence of a permanent constitution, and the present lack of clarity on how the sequencing of elections and constitution-making are to intersect.
Chapter 6 of the Revitalised Agreement provides for the development of a permanent constitution, upon which the future political system will be based.
Done well, the constitution-making process offers a tool to address root causes of persistent conflict and insecurity in South Sudan. Handled poorly, it may embed existing grievances and sow seeds of future conflict.
Although a Bill has been drafted that lays out a consultative process, it has not yet passed, and so constitution-making has not yet started.
Timetables remain unclear despite the transitional period being scheduled to end next February 2023.
“It will be critical for South Sudan’s regional partners and guarantors of the peace process to pay heightened attention to the situation in the country and work to help the realisation of the peace aspirations held by its people,” concluded Sooka.
The Commissioners held a press conference on Friday 11 February 2022 at the UNMISS Headquarters in Tomping, Juba. The Commission will present its report on the human rights situation in South Sudan to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2022, in Geneva.
Background on the Commission
The UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan is an independent body mandated by the UN Human Rights Council. It was first established in March 2016.
The Commission is mandated to investigate the situation of human rights in South Sudan, and to determine and report the facts and circumstances of human rights violations and abuses, including by clarifying responsibility for violations and abuses that are crimes under national and or international law.
To assist in addressing impunity in South Sudan, the Commission is also mandated to collect and preserve evidence, and to make this available to transitional justice mechanisms, including the hybrid court for South Sudan that is to be established under Chapter 5 of the Revitalised Peace Agreement of 2018.
*The third Commissioner is Andrew Clapham.

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