Briefing Paper on South Sudan for Member States – Twenty-ninth session of the Human Rights Council

23 June 2015

A resolution that aims to establish a special rapporteur mandate on South Sudan is currently being deliberated at the Human Rights Council’s 29th session. The Council needs to address the serious lack of accountability for ongoing and widespread violations and abuses against the civilian population. We encourage members of the Council to bear the following in mind while negotiating the resolution.

Both parties to South Sudan’s conflict have committed violations of international humanitarian law and violations and abuses of human rights, including extrajudicial killings, the abduction of women and girls, rape and other forms of sexual violence, recruitment and use of children, looting and destruction of property. The parties have also attacked the UN protection of civilian sites (POCs) and sometimes fight in close proximity to the PoCs. Mortar shells have landed in these sites and caused civilian casualties. Some of these violations and abuses may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. The conflict has displaced over 2 million persons, including 135,000 who are living in UN bases across the country and over 500,000 in neighbouring countries. There are ongoing incidents of fighting within Unity and Upper Nile states with parties to the conflict clashing in close proximity to the POCs.

The 23 January 2014 Cessation of Hostilities agreement brokered by the Inter- Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) has been violated several times by both parties. On 5 March, a final deadline imposed by IGAD to achieve a peace agreement failed due to lack of consensus on the transitional government structure and power sharing. Early this month, IGAD unveiled a proposal with key provisions for an agreement on the resolution of the conflict. This included parameters for power-sharing and the structure of a transitional government, a permanent ceasefire and transitional security arrangements, a permanent constitution-making process and on transitional justice and national healing. Both the government and the opposition have rejected the proposal.

Notwithstanding the efforts of IGAD, the parties to the conflict currently seem to be aiming to achieve a military solution to the conflict. Both have made strategic military gains ahead of the start of the rainy season. Civilians continue to bear the brunt of the conflict. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported in the week of 15 June that at least 129 children were killed in Bentiu in May with boys being castrated and left to bleed to death and girls as young as eight years raped or killed.

Escalating violence

Amnesty International researchers were recently in South Sudan where they spoke to civilians fleeing conflict in Upper Nile, Jonglei and Unity states. The situation in Unity and Upper Nile states has not subsided, with both parties to the conflict carrying out targeted attacks against the civilian population and civilian property and infrastructure.  

In Bentiu, Unity state, Amnesty International researchers recently interviewed individuals who fled violence in Rubkona, Guit, Koch and Leer counties since 20 April. They consistently described men in Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) uniform or civilian clothing, mostly from the Bul Nuer ethnic group, attacking their villages, armed with axes, machetes and guns.  They gave chilling accounts of government forces setting entire villages on fire, killing and beating residents, looting livestock and other property, committing acts of sexual violence, and abducting women and children.

A woman from Chat Chara, in Rubkona County, described groups of young men allied with the government attacking her village, burning tukuls (thatch roofed mud structures) and beating residents.

They came and said, ‘bring your property out,’ and then they burnt our tukul. They beat us with sticks and metal rods, saying ‘where are the boys and young men?’ They took our property, our maize and clothes, and forced us to carry them towards Mayom. We were many women from the village. One woman got tired and was killed. They also shot her two-year old daughter.”

She was eventually let go and made her way to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) POC site.

Nyanaath (not hear real name), a mother of three, said that government forces attacked her village in Guit County on 10 May at noon. The attackers, some of whom were in uniform and others in civilian clothes, stole cows, looted property from tukuls and set all the tukuls on fire. The attackers then raped women, including her. Nyanaath told Amnesty International that soldiers took her, pushed her on her back and pulled down her underwear. One started raping her while another pointed his gun at her. She also saw 10 boys and girls between 10 and13 years old being abducted by soldiers.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported that between 29 April and 12 May, at least 28 towns and villages in Unity state were attacked, with civilians and their property targeted and looted. This has led to the displacement of over 15,000 people.

Abuses have also been reportedly committed by the opposition forces. Members of an armed group previously aligned with the government clashed with SPLA government forces on 21 April in Malakal town and are reported to have subsequently directed attacks against civilians. The armed group and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM/IO) forces took over control of Malakal from the government on 15 May. The government forces retook the town 10 days later.

A man from Atar in Piji county now in Malakal POC described how on 25 April, forces of the armed group attacked his r village:

“[The leader said they are] changing to the rebels’ side.  He told us that now they are killing civilians and we should run to Malakal as they will burn the [cattle] camp. He came to the village on 25 April around 2pm with 2 buses and one small bus and they attacked the people. Anyone they saw they shot, they had machine guns, big guns and RPGs and they burnt all the tukuls.  We ran away and it took us three days to get here [UNMISS Malakal].  We crossed the river at night, there is a shallow part where you can cross but some people were drowned when they fell into deep water stepping in holes.  We slept after crossing the river and then ran in the daytime.”

Conflict-related sexual violence

Persistent reports of sexual violence perpetrated by both government and opposition forces since the beginning of the conflict strongly indicate that conflict-related sexual violence is a consistent characteristic in all affected states. The current armed conflict environment places women and girls at a heightened risk of sexual violence.

Amnesty International has spoken to several witnesses and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence since the beginning of the conflict.

A 42 year old woman in Malakal POC narrated to Amnesty International how the Shilluk armed group killed 7 men and raped 18 women in February 2015 in Lul, Upper Nile State.

“They took the men to the barracks, they told us to stay in the classrooms. At around 7 o’clock in the evening, we heard gunshots and the cries of people, we got alarmed and started screaming as well. We wanted to run, but the soldiers… told us to lie down. They searched our property and took what they wanted. They then took out the women at around 9pm. They took them all out to go rape them. Only two of us were left in the classroom. Me and another woman who had just given birth. They stayed with them until six in the morning. All the women came back. Most of them were crying, some couldn’t talk. One had a swollen face.”In October 2014, President Salva Kiir signed a communiqué with the Special Representative on violence against women committing the government to combating sexual violence. On 4 May 2015, the government acceded to the Convention against Torture and its additional protocol as well as two other key human rights treaties, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination on all Forms of Discrimination against Women.

The government needs to uphold and implement agreements that they have committed to and ensure security sector and law reform to address the gaps in protection and access to justice for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.

Increased Repression

Amnesty International and other organizations have documented several cases of violations by the National Security Service (NSS) and military intelligence (MI) since the country’s independence in 2011. In March 2015, the Justice Minister announced that the National Security Service Bill, passed by Parliament on October 8 2014, had become law. It grants the NSS extensive and broad powers of arrest, detention and seizure without adequate safeguard mechanisms or safeguards against abuse. This is despite domestic and international opposition to its passage, the absence of the President’s signature, and other views rejecting this position.

Cases of enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and prolonged detention have escalated since the conflict began with allegations of torture and ill-treatment while in custody.

A 40 year old man who was arrested by the NSS in February 2015 in Juba recounted his experience in custody to Amnesty International

‘In detention, they used to give us rice and either lentils or beans. Once a week on Wednesday. In National security headquarters in Jebel, they have dug a pool, it is filled with water, they tie your hands and feet and throw you in the water, when they feel you are getting weak or choking, they pull you out and press the water out of your chest and stomach until you vomit the water, they do this over and over again. They will say tell us what you know, you can see the marks here on my hands and feet. They tie with rope, very tightly. They also take electric wire, they connect to socket and beat your back with it…There are no doctors…No lawyers visit. My testimony was only taken once by the national security people. There were many Nuer and people from Equatoria. They were accusing me of supporting the opposition’

He was released in March 2015 through the intervention of a senior military official.

Another man, Simon (not his real name) told Amnesty International researchers that he was captured by NSS and military intelligence personnel at the end of February 2014, when he left the UNMISS POC site to withdraw money from his bank account. He said he was first detained at an NSS office near the Ministry of Justice and then transported to the NSS Headquarters in Jebel.

I found about 70 people in one cell. They didn’t say anything about why they had arrested me. Most of the people are from Nuer. They were just arrested on the streets but they would say they captured them in war, that they are rebels.

He remained in NSS detention for over two months, in poor conditions. He described being beaten and other forms of torture sustained by fellow detainees.

They beat me with pipes. They would say tell us what you have done… Others were pierced with needles. They would strip you naked and pierce your sensitive parts like the penis with the needles.  

Need for accountability

Although the government of South Sudan set up inquiries into conflict-related crimes in the months after fighting erupted, none of these has resulted in independent, impartial and effective investigations or accountability. South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir established an eight-member committee to investigate human rights abuses by government and opposition forces, which his administration touted to the international community as demonstrative of its commitment to accountability. The committee submitted a report to the president in December 2014. It has not been released publicly.

On 30 December 2013 the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) issued a communiqué calling upon the Chairperson of the AU Commission to “urgently establish a Commission to investigate the human rights violations and other abuses committed…and make recommendations on the best ways and means to ensure accountability, reconciliation and healing among all South Sudanese communities.” Members of the African Union Commission of Inquiry (AUCISS) on South Sudan were sworn in in March 2014. The AUCISS committed in its June 2014 interim report to produce a detailed final report containing findings and recommendations on healing, reconciliation, accountability and institutional reforms that would contribute to finding lasting solutions to the crisis in South Sudan

The Commission of Inquiry completed investigations and left South Sudan in August 2014. On 29 January 2015, the PSC decided to defer the consideration of the AUCISS report to a later date based on an understanding that publishing the report would impede the peace process.  On 13 June, the PSC issued a communique stating that a ministerial-level meeting would be convened in mid-July to consider the AUCISS report. It is not clear whether the report will be published then. The release of the AU Commission of Inquiry’s report could not only play an important role in helping to deter further violations and crimes but contribute to the design of a transitional justice process. So long as the report is shelved, justice remains on hold while parties are emboldened to commit further crimes without fear of the legal consequences.

In its June proposal, IGAD proposed ‘a hybrid court for South Sudan‘ (HCSS) to be established through a Memorandum of understanding between the AU, UN and the transitional government to be formed.  Its jurisdiction would include genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and other international crimes. It also proposes the establishment of a national commission for truth, reconciliation and healing.

In light of the above, a Special Rapporteur would be a positive force to meet the international community’s obligations to ensure accountability and justice for abuse of human rights and international humanitarian law in South Sudan. Member states must act quickly to ensure the mandate is established while also calling on the AU to make public the report of the AUCISS. They must demand an end to the ongoing human rights violation and abuses and further urge the South Sudanese authorities to cooperate in the establishment of a hybrid court.