Human Rights and Democracy Report 2014: South Sudan - in-year update July 2015

Published 15 July 2015


The human rights situation in South Sudan continues to deteriorate, and the first six months of 2015 were dominated by conflict. Throughout April and May we saw the highest levels of violence since August 2014. The government and the opposition continued to breach the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA) of January 2014, despite their repeated commitments to implement it fully. Targeting of civilians, the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, and recruitment of child soldiers have all continued. The government has restricted political debate by intimidating media and civil society, as well as members of political parties. The fragile security situation and the pressures caused by the ongoing conflict have created an environment where human rights abuses and violations, particularly against women and children, are widespread. The Minister for Africa, James Duddridge, made clear in his statement of 13 May the UK’s deep concern at the scale and increased severity of the conflict, and the appalling effects it continues to inflict on the civilian population.

After 18 months of conflict, the parties are yet to secure peace for the people of South Sudan. Over 2 million people are displaced, with 4.5 million in need of emergency humanitarian assistance. On 7 March Mr Duddridge criticised the parties for yet again failing to reach an agreement and called on them to respect the CoHA. The Ethiopian Prime Minister, as Chair of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD - the regional body mediating the peace process), called for the process to be “reinvigorated and reformed” based on a “common approach” between the region, the rest of Africa, and the wider international community. The African Union (AU) appointed former Malian President Konare as AU High Representative for South Sudan and also elected South Africa, Rwanda, Algeria, Nigeria and Chad to support the peace process. The UK supports the “IGAD+” approach but continues to urge the region to make this a reality.

There have been credible reports of serious violations of international humanitarian law and serious violations and abuses of human rights law in Unity State, hallmarked by the specific targeting of civilians. The alleged atrocities in the UN Mission in South Sudan’s (UNMISS) human rights report of 30 June highlights a new level of brutality on the part of government forces and associated militias, including burning people alive in their houses, and sexual violence, including gang rape. The UNICEF report of 18 June highlights the disturbing nature and scale of the abuses, including reported castration, killing or gang rape of children. The UK has raised these reports publicly and bilaterally with the government, but has yet to receive a full response.

The use of child soldiers continues. In mid-February, militia aligned to the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) abducted children from Wau Shilluk in Upper Nile Sate. The UK immediately called for the safe release of the children and continues to urge the government to recommit to its action plan to end the recruitment of child soldiers. The government conducted its own investigation and summoned the militia commander, Johnson Olony, to Juba to answer the charges. However, he has subsequently defected with his forces and there is evidence that he continued to recruit children in May and June. We continue to raise this issue with the government and opposition.

The UK remains deeply concerned by the lack of accountability. Both parties to the conflict have failed to deliver on their public commitments to hold the perpetrators of human rights abuses and violations to account. The government is yet to report on atrocities committed so far, but did announce on 26 June that it plans to introduce a hybrid court for human rights after any peace deal is reached. Despite this announcement, a culture of impunity prevails and human rights violations continue unabated. The international community and NGOs have raised this concern publicly and directly with the government. The UK has also raised our concerns with the Opposition.

In this period, the UK expressed disappointment at the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council’s decision to defer publishing and considering the AU Commission of Inquiry (AUCOI) report on human rights in South Sudan. It is now understood the AU will reconsider the report in July. The UK continues to call for the report’s publication.

The 28th session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) took place during March. Despite South Sudan not being due for full discussion until June, the UK used the session to highlight the dire human rights situation and underlined the need for urgent action. At the 29th session of the HRC in June the UK pressed for a strong resolution with enhanced monitoring and reporting on human rights, and worked with likeminded delegations and the African Group to secure a strong resolution establishing a mandate for the UN to make a comprehensive assessment of the situation in South Sudan. Such action will support and strengthen the findings and recommendations of the AUCOI report and UNMISS’s continued work.

South Sudan remains a priority country for the UK’s Prevention of Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative, and the UK has urged the government to deliver on its commitment to end sexual violence in conflict. In March, the government set up a Joint Technical Working group which will enable it to deliver the commitments in the UN/South Sudan Joint Communiqué on the Prevention of Conflict-related Sexual Violence. We welcome this working group; however, progress has been slow to date, and strategies and plans must be implemented and urgent action taken to protect individuals who continue to be targeted. We urge the government to take action.

Fundamental questions remain over the content and status of the National Security Services Law. Sections of the law contravene South Sudan’s own constitution and international human rights law. The UK and our international partners have raised this with the government. We also raised concerns at the highest level concerning the implementation of the NGO Bill, which was sent to the President for signature. The British Embassy has now been told that it has been returned to Parliament for further discussion.

During this reporting period, there have been several instances of harassment, threats and intimidation of journalists and media outlets, including arrests, beatings and assaults. The Nation Mirror newspaper was shut down by security agents in early February and remains closed. The former UK Ambassador visited the newspaper’s offices and subsequently raised freedom of expression concerns with the government. Self-censorship by the media is reported to remain widespread as a result of hostile rhetoric and actions from the government. There have also been several instances of intimidation of individuals working for advocacy organisations. Inflammatory statements by key government figures have put journalists at risk of harassment and intimidation.

Detentions also continue. On 1 April, an opposition leader was arrested and detained for 10 days by security services because he called on the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) to tackle corruption. Later in April saw the house arrest of another opposition leader. Such detentions form a worrying trend of restrictive measures.

On 27 March, the National Legislative Assembly extended the mandate of the President and the National Legislative Assembly for three years to July 2018. The UK, as part of the Troika, has continued to make clear the need for South Sudan’s leaders urgently to make peace and focus on forming a transitional government of national unity.