Amnesty International Urges South Sudan to Address National Security Service Violations and Crimes

AI Index: AFR 65/0011/2019 12 March 2019

Speaking at the UN Human Rights Council today, Amnesty International said they shared the concerns of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan over the continued impunity for crimes committed during the conflict and the illegal conduct of the National Security Service (NSS) that, as noted in the Commission’s report, risks turning “South Sudan into a police state built on fear and corruption.”

Amnesty International’s research has found that the National Security Service and Military Intelligence have arbitrarily arrested, detained, tortured and ill-treated hundreds of people since the start of the conflict in December 2013, some to the point of death. People have been forcibly disappeared and continue to be harassed, arrested and detained without charge, and kept in holding facilities with no access to their families, medical treatment, or legal representation. Amnesty International urges the Government to amend the 2014 National Security Service Act to make it compliant with international human rights law.

Amnesty International is extremely concerned about the use of the death penalty in South Sudan. In February 2019 alone, the authorities executed at least seven people. This is as many as were executed in the whole of 2018. Amnesty International calls on the Government to establish an official moratorium on executions, with a view towards abolishing the death penalty.

The Commission’s report makes clear the need for independent investigations and prosecutions into alleged violations of international humanitarian law, including killing of civilians and sexual violence. The Commission’s mandate is unique and crucial in this regard, and Amnesty International called on all States at the Human Rights Council, including South Sudan, to support its full renewal under Item 4 during its current session.

Public Document Amnesty International, Office for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, 3rd Flr Parkfield Place, Kanjata Road, off Waiyaki Way Westlands, Nairobi, Kenya ****************************************

Amnesty International calls for justice to end cycles of violence and broken promises in South Sudan


AI Index: AFR 65/9082/2018
17 September 2018

Statement delivered during the Interactive Dialogue with the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan at the 39th Session of the Human Rights Council 

Amnesty International remains gravely concerned about the dire human rights and humanitarian situation in South Sudan which has deteriorated considerably since the outbreak of the conflict nearly five years ago on 15 December 2013. Parties to the conflict continue to perpetrate crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations with complete impunity, brutality and total disregard for human life. This is in spite of the December 2017 ‘Cessation of Hostilities (COH) Agreement and the June 2018 ‘Khartoum Declaration of Agreement Between Parties to the Conflict of South Sudan’.

The Government of South Sudan has consistently failed to address past violations and provide any form of accountability for atrocities. The August 2015 Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS) provided for the establishment of a Hybrid Court for South Sudan (HCSS). However, the South Sudan government has long delayed its establishment by failing to sign the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and Statute. Although the MOU and Statute were approved by the South Sudan Cabinet of Ministers in December 2017, their signing is still pending. 

Throughout 2018, Amnesty International has continued to document grave human rights and humanitarian law violations. On our most recent mission to South Sudan in July 2018, we documented deliberate killings of civilians, sexual violence and abduction, grave violations against children,  systemic looting and destruction and the use of food as a weapon of war by government forces and their allied militias during a military offensive on Leer and Mayendit Counties in southern Unity State between April and June 2018. Since the start of 2018, Amnesty International has also continued to document the use of prolonged and arbitrary detention without charge by the military and the National Security Services (NSS). This has continued to occur despite repeated promises by the government to release all political detainees.   


In April 2018, just under a month after the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) extended the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, the government and their allied militias launched offensive operations in southern Unity State, specifically in Leer and Mayendit Counties. Amnesty International visited South Sudan in July 2018 where researchers interviewed some 100-displaced people from Leer and Mayendit.

Witnesses and victims described how during attacks on villages, civilians, including women, children, the elderly and persons with disabilities were deliberately killed by gunfire, burnt alive in their homes, hung from trees and rafters and ran over with armoured vehicles. Civilians were hunted down while fleeing into nearby wetlands, or rivers, as soldiers shot indiscriminately into areas where people were hiding and carried out attacks on islands where civilians had sought refuge. During offensive operations, scores of people, particularly women and girls were abducted and subjected to brutal acts of sexual violence. Some women sustained serious injuries as a result of being gang raped by multiple perpetrators. Abductees were forced to work for their captors and held as slaves and sex slaves.

Government forces and their allied youth militias engaged in a widespread campaign of looting and destruction which appears to have been carried out with the purpose of forcibly displacing civilians and making villages uninhabitable in the future. Many villages were attacked multiple times in what appears to be an effort to ensure that civilians were permanently displaced from their homes. Attacks on food sources, including the deliberate destruction of food stocks, likewise seem to have been carried out with the intention of making the civilian population living in opposition-controlled areas of Leer and Mayendit Counties food insecure. These attacks occurred just as the area had been recovering from the famine declared there in February 2017.


This is not the first time that civilians have experienced offensive military operations by government forces in southern Unity State. In January and February 2016, Amnesty International visited Leer County where researchers documented violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Information gathered by Amnesty International indicated that government forces and their allied militias conducted military operations in villages in Leer between late August 2015 and December 2015 in which they unlawfully killed civilians, including children, pregnant women and nursing mothers, the elderly, and persons with disabilities. Scores of women and girls were abducted, subjected to sexual violence, and forced to work for government and pro-government forces, violations which amount to slavery and sexual slavery.

The repeated attacks against civilians in southern Unity underscores the problem of chronic impunity in the country.  Since the start of the conflict in December 2013, South Sudan’s peace process has been characterized by a series of broken promises and breaches of ceasefire agreements. The ARCSS collapsed in July 2016, when fighting again broke out in Juba between government and opposition forces.  Efforts to revive the agreement have continued since then. In June 2017, regional leaders met in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa to endorse a new peace initiative, known as the High-Level Revitalization Forum (HLRF), intended to “revitalize” the August 2015 agreement, ARCSS. The latest ceasefire was declared on 27 June 2018, as part of the “Khartoum Declaration of Agreement Between Parties of the Conflict of South Sudan” brokered by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.  Notwithstanding this step towards ending the violent conflict, Amnesty International collected testimonies in July 2018 indicating that serious human rights violations continued after 30 June 2018, when the agreement came into effect. It is high time that the cycle of atrocities, civilian suffering and impunity is in South Sudan is ended.



Since the start of South Sudan’s internal armed conflict in December 2013, hundreds of people, mostly men, have been detained under the authority of the National Security Service (NSS) and Military Intelligence Directorate in various detention facilities across the capital city, Juba and elsewhere in the country. Many of those who have been detained have been held under the category of “political detainees” on allegations that they have communicated with or supported the opposition. The detainees have been subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment, are denied regular access to their families, a lawyer and adequate medical healthcare.

Since the start of 2018, Amnesty International has continued to document the use of prolonged and arbitrary detentions and ill-treatment by NSS in Juba.    For instance, Peter Biar Ajak, a prominent South Sudanese academic and activist, was arrested by the NSS at Juba International Airport on Saturday 28 July.  Over a month later, he remains in detention at NSS Headquarters in Jebel Neighborhood in Juba. The government recommitted to releasing political detainees when they signed the “Khartoum Declaration of Agreement Between Parties of the Conflict of South Sudan” signed at the end of June 2018 but instead of releases we are seeing more arbitrary arrests.

Others have been subjected to enforced disappearance. It has been almost two years since Dong Samuel Luak, prominent South Sudanese lawyer and human rights activist, and Aggrey Idrey, a government critic and member of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in Opposition (SPLM-IO), went missing in Nairobi, Kenya. Credible sources indicated that they were detained by Kenyan authorities and unlawfully deported to NSS headquarters in Juba. Amnesty International received credible information that they were removed from this facility on the night of 27 January 2017. Since then, their fate and whereabouts remain unknown.



  • Put pressure on parties to the conflict to immediately cease all violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, specifically, by refraining from unlawful killings of civilians, acts of sexual violence, arbitrary detention, forced displacement, looting and destruction of civilian homes and property, and obstructing humanitarian access;
  • Put pressure on the Government of South Sudan to cooperate with the African Union (AU) to adopt the statute establishing the Hybrid Court for South Sudan (HCSS), and ensure that the court rapidly becomes operational;
  • Support, through financial and technical assistance, human rights investigators from UNMISS, OHCHR-Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan and the UN Panel of Experts so that they have the capacity and resources necessary to collect, preserve and analyse testimonial and physical evidence – including resources for victim and witness protection;
  • Call on the Government of South Sudan to release all those arbitrarily detained or charge them with a recognizable offence and present them in court;
  • Call on the Government of South Sudan to ensure that detainees are not subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment while in detention and urge the Government to grant the detainees access to adequate medical care, access to lawyers of their own choosing, and also allow visits from their families;
  • Call on the Government of South Sudan to initiate prompt, effective and impartial investigations into NSS detention practices, including enforced disappearances, deaths in custody, torture and other forms of ill-treatment, and to publicly disclose the findings, and hold perpetrators accountable in fair trials without recourse to the death penalty.

South Sudan’s Children and Youth Deserve the Chance for a Better Future

By Alicia Luedke, South Sudan Researcher, Amnesty International
24 August 2018, 00:00 UTC


“The life now is very difficult to us, I did up to primary school…I want to go to secondary school, but it is hard to go to secondary school because of the fighting…I want to be a doctor. I want to help my people.”

This is 19-year old Michael.* Michael fled his village in Leer County in late April this year when it was attacked by government soldiers and their allied forces. We met Michael on a small island in the swamplands near Nyal in Panyijar County. Panyijar is a remote area in the southern part of the Unity State region and is one of the last remaining strongholds of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition. Many people have fled there during successive waves of fighting due to its relative safety.

Despite being 19, Michael has only completed primary school. Because of the conflict that started in December 2013 he has not been able to go to secondary school. Left with few options, Michael is now a member of the locally organized armed group, or community defense forces, known as the Gojam, or sometimes the ‘White Army.’ But, he sees another future for himself. He wants to be a doctor so he can help his people.

Future devastated

Michael is among many children and youth whose lives have been devastated by the ongoing conflict. UNICEF estimates that three quarters of all children born after South Sudan’s independence in 2011 have only known war and that at least half of all children have been affected by the ongoing conflict. Over the past nearly five years, thousands of children have also been forcibly recruited into armed groups and while hundreds of child soldiers have been released this year alone, according to UNICEF, 19,000 children are still being held.

More than 2,300 children have also been killed, or maimed, with many children deliberately targeted by both government and armed opposition groups. On our most recent visit to South Sudan in July, civilians who escaped the offensive on Leer and Meyendit Counties in Unity State between April and May told us about some of the grave violations against children that occurred.  

Twenty year-old Rebecca* was in Leer when her village was attacked in late April. Her father was shot and killed and her younger sister was abducted and held at a military base in Leer.

“…When they found small boys they would tell them to go into the house and they would burn the house…the other small boys… they would throw them against the tree…There were seven men who collected children and put them into a tukle [hut] and they set the tukle on fire. I could hear the screaming. They were four boys. One boy tried to come out and the soldiers closed the door on him. There were also five boys who they hit against the tree, swinging them. They were like 2-3 years old….”

Not surprisingly, the mental health impact of the conflict on children and youth has been severe. According to UNICEF, 900,000 children are said to be in need of psycho-social support and 26%  of adolescent girls in South Sudan are reported to have considered ending their own lives in the last year.

Another ‘Lost Generation’

The situation as a whole is producing another ‘lost generation.’ We found Joseph*, 11 and David*, 9 doing their English homework in Nyal. Brothers, they both started school for the first time in 2017. But, being able to go to school in South Sudan is a right that the majority of children do not get to enjoy. Schools have been razed in successive waves of fighting, or occupied by armed groups and more than 70% of school age children – the highest proportion in the world – are not able to access education.

Joseph and David doing their English homework in Nyal, July 2018 ©Amnesty International

This is especially true for youth and adolescents. As a result of years of underdevelopment and conflict, there are few secondary schools in South Sudan. Consequently, for adolescents and youth like Michael who have completed primary school, there are not many opportunities to finish their studies, which can be a driving force behind them joining armed groups. As Samuel,* 18, another member of the local community defense force told us, “…for me, I want to go to school, but there is no way out…” Male youth like Michael and Samuel also face immense pressures to participate in fighting and are valued by society primarily for the role they play in community defense, especially in times of crisis.

The situation for South Sudan’s girls and young women is even worse. In addition to being subject to brutal acts of conflict-related sexual violence, girls and young women face other gender inequalities on account of socio-cultural norms and practices that make them more likely to experience food insecurity and lower levels of schooling. Adolescent girls especially are often forced to take on the responsibility of providing for their families in times of conflict, making it hard for them to access education. Indeed, access to education for girls is often hindered by discriminatory norms and practices that are only worsened in times of war. With the deepening economic crisis in the country, families are also increasingly reliant on the income generated from practices, such as “bride-wealth” – resources exchanged between two families for a girl, or woman’s hand in marriage – leading to additional pressures for families to marry off their daughters at younger and younger ages.

We met Nyboth,* a 19-year old young woman on an island an hour and a half outside of Nyal by boat. She was forced to marry when she was 14 and had her first child in her first year of marriage. She dropped out of school after the first grade when she was taken to the cattle camp – remote areas where pastoralist communities keep their cattle.

“I tried to go to school. I dropped out and I never went back. I only finished class 1 because my father took me to the cattle camp…I wish I could go back to school. I want to be a teacher….”


Act now

South Sudan’s children and youth deserve better

The children and youth of South Sudan not only deserve a chance for a better future, they are the future. The South Sudan government should immediately end all human rights violations against children and youth and put in place measures to protect them from grave abuses. Parties to the conflict should also abstain from acts that disrupt schooling and respect their obligation to fulfil children’s right to education.

* Names changed to protect identity


Open Letter Sudan




Dear Chair and Special Rapporteur,

As you may be aware, the prominent Sudanese human rights defender (HRD), Dr Mudawi Ibrahim Adam, and his colleague, Hafiz Idris Eldoma, were arrested on 24 November 2016 and 7 December 2016 respectively in Khartoum, Sudan.

Dr Mudawi Ibrahim Adam is a HRD known for bringing attention to human rights violations in Sudan. A professor of engineering at the University of Khartoum, he is also a founder and former director of the Sudan Social Development Organization (SUDO). Dr Mudawi has been arrested several times in relation to his human rights work. He was most recently arrested on 7 December 2016 by the Sudanese National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) and has been detained without charge till 11 May 2016.

Dr Mudawi suffers from chronic respiratory and heart complications. He went on hunger strike on 21 January 2017 to protest against his prolonged detention without charge. Around mid-February 2017, after agreeing to stop the hunger strike, he was transferred to the office of the Sudanese State Security Prosecutor. He was allowed to meet his family only in late January 2017 and spoke to his lawyer for the first time on 22 February 2017.

Hafiz Edris Eldoma, a HRD from North Darfur, was arrested by the NISS from Dr Mudawi’s home in Khartoum on 24 November 2016. He was subjected to severe beatings and electric shocks by the NISS in detention and was forced to make a confession about his work on human rights monitoring.

The government considers any reporting on human rights by an independent human rights organization (especially national NGOs) as a criminal offence. In previous cases (TRACKs, the Pastors case), Amnesty International has documented charges under a number of provisions of the 1991 Penal Code, including Article 50 ‘Undermining the Constitutional System’ and Article 51 ‘Waging War against the State,’ with punishment for both charges being the death penalty or life imprisonment. In addition, Article 53 ‘Espionage’; Article 64 ‘Inciting hatred against the State’; Article 65 ‘Being members of criminal and terrorist organizations’; and Article 66 ‘Dissemination of false information’ have also been used. The latter four carry penalties ranging from six months to ten years in prison.

On 11 May 2017, the Attorney General charged Dr Mudawi Ibrahim Adam and Hafiz Edris Eldoma with a number of crimes under the 1991 Criminal Act.

We believe the detentions of Dr Mudawi Ibrahim Adam and Hafiz Edris Eldoma are connected to their peaceful exercise of their rights to the freedoms of expression, assembly and association. Amnesty International also considers Dr Mudawi Ibrahim Adam’s arrest as a significant escalation in the crackdown on Sudanese HRDs and is concerned the authorities may continue to carry out further arrests of HRDs. A full list of other human rights defenders connected to the case of Dr Mudawi and the circumstances of their arrests is attached as an annex.

The cases referred to in this letter are just a few examples of a pattern in which the Government of Sudan targets HRDs, especially those from the region of Darfur.

Amnesty International urges you to call on the Sudanese authorities to drop all the charges against Dr Mudawi Ibrahim Adam and Hafiz Edris Eldoma, and to stop any further harassment of HRDs in Sudan.


Yours sincerely,

Jane Connors
Director, International Advocacy Program
Amnesty International

South Sudan: Release all people arbitrarily detained amid the conflict

South Sudanese authorities must release all people detained without charge by the security agencies, including 28 men currently held at the headquarters of the national intelligence agency in the capital Juba, said Amnesty International’s Secretary General today in an open letter to President Salva Kiir.
The call comes after the president publicly pledged to release all political detainees.
“Hundreds of people, mostly men, have been arrested without charge by security agents and held in torturous conditions for long periods of time, since the conflict began more than three years ago. Others have disappeared without a trace at the hands of National Security Service and Military Intelligence agents,” said Salil Shetty.
“While President Kiir’s pledge was welcome, we call on him to go a step further and order a full investigation into arbitrary detention practices of government security agencies, enforced disappearances, deaths in custody, torture and other ill-treatment.”
At least 20 men have died in detention at three separate detention centres in Juba between February 2014 and December 2016.

28 March 2017

South Sudan: UN peacekeepers must now step up to protect civilians

Spokespeople available
UN peacekeepers must redress serious failings and improve the protection of civilians in South Sudan from killing and rape by armed forces and other groups, said Amnesty International, following the sacking of the UN force commander in South Sudan. The organization is calling on the UN to release the full findings of the independent special investigation into abuses.
Field research conducted by Amnesty International in July, August and September 2016 revealed serious failings in the conduct of UN peacekeeping forces and exposed evidence that UN forces put civilians at risk by their actions as well as their inaction.
“Change at the top of the peacekeeping mission in South Sudan has to be matched by fast and drastic change amongst its 16,000 peacekeepers – it’s time they implemented their mandate to protect civilians from killing and rape,” said Joanne Mariner, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Adviser.
“The UN mission must ensure the effective protection of civilians, particularly those who have sought refuge in UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) protection of civilian sites. It should expand the frequency of foot and motorised patrols and provide escorts to people who need to leave the sites, especially for essential purposes such as going to the market to buy food.”
UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has asked for the replacement of the force commander, Lt Gen Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki, following the UN’s independent special investigation. It found that peacekeepers failed to respond when government soldiers attacked a compound housing international humanitarian workers in Juba in July.
Amnesty International’s research, published last month, shows that the UN’s response to the July attack on the Terrain camp was part of a dangerous pattern of inaction. In just one of the attacks documented by Amnesty International, a 24-year-old Nuer woman who was raped by five government soldiers just in front of the UN base in the Jebel neighbourhood in Juba said that UN peacekeepers and private security guards could see the attack but did not come to her aid.
In another incident, UN police shot tear gas canisters into a crowd of frightened Nuer civilians at the UN base in the same neighbourhood.

Open Letter: Hybrid Court

To: Hon. Chairperson, Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) of the Agreement for Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan.

 Cc: The Secretariat of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)

 17 June 2016

Your Excellency,

We, the undersigned non-governmental organisations working in and outside of South Sudan, urge you to be un-deterred by an opinion article in the New York Times on 7 June attributed to the President and First Vice-President of South Sudan to forgo establishment of a Hybrid Court. We call on you to utilize all the means at your disposal to ensure that the Transitional Government of National Unity commit themselves to the court’s establishment, and to urge the African Union to press ahead with the court’s development as a matter of urgency.

In your statement to the AU Peace and Security Council on 29 January 2016, you implored the AU Commission to establish the Hybrid Court, stating, “If the legacy of conflict and impunity is to be finally broken in our continent’s newest state, we must also act and not disappoint a new generation of South Sudanese.” This view precisely articulates why the Hybrid Court is necessary not just for holding those suspected of criminal responsibility to account for their crimes under international law, but for rebuilding the nation of South Sudan.

The demand for justice, truth and reparation from the people of South Sudan is growing. For years, the country’s political and military elite have wielded violence for the attainment of their own objectives, against the interests of their people and with full impunity. Yet now, people across the country are expressing strong support for using criminal justice to hold them to account.

The Hybrid Court is just one element of the transitional justice mechanisms that the President and First Vice-President committed to in the peace agreement. But it is a crucially important element. Without the Hybrid Court, the culture of impunity will continue unabated, and the path to peace will be jeopardised. Based on widespread consultations it had with South Sudanese organisations, the AU’s own Commission of Inquiry came to this conclusion itself, stating that a sustainable peace is not possible without holding to account those suspected of criminal responsibility for crimes under international law and human rights abuses committed during the conflict.

The recent conviction of Hissène Habré to life in prison for crimes against humanity that he committed during his eight-year rule in Chad gives us hope that an AU-backed court can also bring justice for South Sudan. The future of South Sudan cannot be one in which those who have committed horrific acts of violence and abuses towards its citizens go unpunished.


We, the undersigned, urge Your Excellency to:

  1. Reaffirm the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Committee’s commitment to justice, truth and reparations for crimes under international law committed during the course of the conflict in South Sudan;
  2. Strongly remind the President and First Vice-President that they are obliged to establish the Hybrid Court, and meet all the other terms they signed onto in the peace agreement of August 2015;
  3. Urge the AU Commission to quickly press ahead with the development of the Hybrid Court, and to start a public consultation process in South Sudan to ensure South Sudanese citizens and civil society actively participate in the establishment of the Hybrid Court.
  4. Encourage AU member states to pledge their commitment to the formation of the Hybrid Court – as it is the first of its kind to be established by the AU Commission – through their public statements, the provision of experts on transitional justice and via financial support.

We stand in solidarity to support Your Excellency and JMEC’s efforts towards the realization of a sustainable and lasting peace in South Sudan.

Please accept, Your Excellency, the assurances of our highest consideration.


  1. Africa Peace Forum
  2. Amnesty International
  3. Assistance Mission for Africa (AMA)
  4. Centre for Citizens’ Participation on the African Union
  5. Center for Conflict Resolution (CECORE)
  6. Center for Livelihood, Research and Poverty Reduction (CLIP)
  7. Center for Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR)
  8. Community Empowerment Progress Organization (CEPO)
  9. Dialogue and Research Initiative
  10. East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP)
  11. Enough Project
  12. Foundation for Democracy and Accountable Governance (FODAG)
  13. Foundation for Youth Initiative
  14. Global Justice Center
  15. Human Rights Development Organization (HURIDO)
  16. Human Rights Watch
  17. Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART)
  18. International Center for Policy and Conflict (ICPC)
  19. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  20. International Refugee Rights Initiative
  21. Southern African Development Community – Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (SADC-CNGO)
  22. South Sudan Action Network on Small Arms (SSANSA)
  23. South Sudan Law Society (SSLS)
  24. South Sudan Women’s Empowerment Network (SSWEN)
  25. The Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria
  26. Transitional Justice Working Group
  27. Voice for Change
  28. Waging Peace
  29. Women’s Monthly Forum

South Sudan unity government a chance to ensure justice for possible war crimes

By Ken Scott,

On Wednesday, South Sudan’s rebel leader, Riek Machar was sworn in as first vice president. Yesterday, the new cabinet, which includes former rebels and members of the opposition, was sworn in. The formation of a transitional government of national unity is a big step forward for a nation ravaged by more than two years of armed conflict. But if a lasting peace is to be found, it will need to be built on the foundation of justice, truth and reparation.

As shown by numerous reports, including those of the recent United Nations Office of the High Commission for Human Rights (UN OHCHR) assessment mission to South Sudan and the African Union Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan (AU CISS), released in October 2015, parties to the two-year conflict committed shocking crimes under international law, such as acts of killings, torture, mutilations, rape and even forced cannibalism. These crimes must be urgently and impartially investigated and all those suspected of criminal responsibility held to account in fair trials without recourse to the death penalty. 

It is imperative that a systematic framework is quickly set up to investigate these crimes as a first step towards accountability. As evidence degrades and memories fade, each passing day takes South Sudan’s victims further away from justice.

The peace agreement signed in August last year, is a positive contribution towards ending impunity for abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law. It provide for power-sharing, demilitarization and security sector reform, while also setting out important transitional justice mechanisms. These include a reparation authority, a truth and reconciliation commission and a hybrid criminal court, to be established by the AU Commission (AUC).

Pleasantly surprising and encouraging is that the criminal accountability mechanism was readily accepted by both sides of the conflict. Indeed, when President Kiir signed the agreement, he listed 16 major reservations, but the establishment of a criminal court that might someday hold senior South Sudanese political and military leaders to account was not one of them.

The complete lack of accountability for previous cycles of violence in the region that is now South Sudan is one of the root causes of the recent conflict.  A failure to deal with deep grievances and ensure real justice only nurtured the next round of political violence. With few exceptions, most of community leaders Amnesty International has spoken with during this round of political violence believe that sustained peace can only be assured by real accountability for crimes committed by both parties to the conflict.

Taking immediate steps to set-up investigations on the ground will send a clear message that the demand for justice is being heard
Ken Scott

The peace accord requires the transitional government, “upon inception,” to initiate legislation to establish the hybrid court which, according to the agreement, will be put in place by the AUC. As illustrated by a joint letter sent in September last year by numerous South Sudanese and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to the Chair of the AUC, there is a genuine need to operationalize the hybrid court as soon as possible. 

Establishing a fully-operational hybrid court, with the necessary personnel, infrastructure and funding, will take some time, but collection and preservation of evidence must start now.

Physical evidence degrades quickly in a tropical environment and may also be intentionally destroyed, altered or concealed. Witness memories fade and their whereabouts become unknown. Vital evidence can be lost forever. This is why it is important that, alongside prompt steps to establish the hybrid court, the AU and the rest of the international community must urgently establish an interim investigative mechanism with a robust mandate to investigate possible war crimes and collect and preserve evidence. Taking immediate steps to set-up investigations on the ground will send a clear message that the demand for justice is being heard.

There is plenty of authority and clear precedent for such actions.  Commissions of experts were conducting investigations before the Yugoslavia and Rwanda tribunals were fully set up and functioning.

Likewise in Sudan, the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur was set up as a precursor to the UN Security Council referring the situation to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.

The AUCISS report – and numerous other reports by organizations including Amnesty International – leave no doubt that crimes under international law have been committed in South Sudan by both parties to the conflict.

It is now time now for all those suspected of criminal responsibility to be brought to justice in fair trials.

Ken Scott was a consultant with Amnesty International and former senior prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and a special prosecutor at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

58th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Agenda Item 4: Human Rights Situation in Africa

Index: AFR 01/3794/2016

Chairperson, Honourable Commissioners

Amnesty International welcomes this opportunity to address the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on this occasion of its 58th ordinary session.

In the past year, the system of international protection of human rights, in Africa and beyond, faced hard knocks and challenges. There were several threats to mechanisms for human rights protection. In this region, the independence and autonomy of the African Commission was severely tested. As the continent rolls out activities in celebration of this year’s African Union theme, “human rights with particular focus on the rights of women”, Amnesty International calls for a renewed commitment to the protection of the regional human rights system. To make the African human rights system adequate for its task, states must protect the system itself. We call on states to refrain from actions that undermine the system, including attacks against or withdrawal of support from the system.

Rwanda’s withdrawal of its “Article 34(6) Declaration” in February 2016 is the most recent example of state action aimed at weakening the African human rights system, and in this particular case, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. In this regard, we call upon Rwanda to reconsider its decision.

The capacity of international institutions to respond to crisis or conflict situations was also severe tested in 2015. In Africa, recent and ongoing situations in Burundi, Central African Republic, Nigeria, Cameroon, Libya, Mali, and South Sudan and Sudan have exposed significant gaps in the African Union and the United Nation’s institutional response to crisis and conflict. There has been a persistent lack of a coherent approach to the conflict or crisis situations in these countries. More importantly, measures for addressing human rights violations and impunity have been weak and inadequate.

In South Sudan, the signing of a peace agreement in August 2015 has not deterred both parties to the conflict from committing gross violations of human rights, including mass killings of civilians. Amnesty International has documented and gathered evidence of one particular incident of mass killing that happened in Leer Town, Unity State, in October 2015. Between 20 and 23 October 2015, South Sudanese government forces detained dozens of men and boys in an air-tight shipping container causing the death of at least 62 of them. Government forces then loaded their bodies into a truck and dumped them in two open pits approximately 1km northeast of Leer town. The South Sudanese government has not acknowledged that dozens of men and boys were killed in the custody of its forces. It has also not publicly announced any investigation into the deaths of the detainees. Furthermore, no steps have been taken to hold perpetrators to account or to provide reparations aggrieved relatives of the deceased.

The large-scale violations of human rights in South Sudan and Burundi are the most palpable recent examples of the failure of multilateral or international initiatives to prevent or adequately respond to human rights violations in conflict or crisis situations. In this context, the adoption by the African Commission of Resolution 332 on Human Rights in Conflict Situations during its 19th extra-ordinary session in February 2016 is timely and commendable. We welcome the initiative to conduct a study on human rights in conflict situations in Africa. We pledge to offer technical and other support to the commissioner assigned to implement this resolution. We also wish to bring to the attention of the Commission of the existence of a civil society special interest group on peace and security which has been reflecting on strategies for enhancing the role of the African Commission in responding to conflict or crisis situation. Finally, as a first step towards the implementation of Resolution 332, we wish to propose that the Commission at its 59th ordinary session convenes an open and interactive discussion session on ‘human rights in conflict situations’ in order to open space for wider discussion on the subject.

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.