The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) should appoint a special rapporteur to monitor and document human rights violations and promote justice in South Sudan.
“The situation in South Sudan calls for urgent action,” said John Fisher, Geneva director at Human Rights Watch. “A UN special rapporteur is needed not just to monitor the ongoing abuses, but also to contribute to justice and accountability.”
Although warring parties signed a peace deal in August 2015, conflict and abuses against civilians have continued and spread. On February 17, 2016, government forces attacked civilians living in a UN camp in Malakal. At least 25 people were killed, more than 100 were injured, and much of the camp was destroyed.
In regions such as Western Equatoria, previously unaffected by the fighting, government soldiers have fought rebels, attacked civilians, burned homes, displaced communities, and targeted people for arbitrary detention and other abuses.
The UNHRC had the opportunity to create a special rapporteur on South Sudan in June 2015, but instead mandated a report about the situation there by the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The report, published on March 11, adds to the mounting evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity. It documents abuses in 2015 in Unity, Upper Nile, Western and Central Equatoria states, including killings, illegal detention, widespread sexual violence, use of child soldiers, forced displacement, and the destruction and looting of civilian property.
Noting that ‘failure to address the deeply engrained disregard for human life will only lead to such violations re-occurring’, the UN High Commissioner recommended creating a mechanism to monitor the abuses and promote accountability. It also said that the UN Security Council should consider expanding sanctions and impose a comprehensive arms embargo, among other steps. Human Rights Watch and others have long called for an arms embargo to stem abuses against civilians.
The August peace agreement envisions a range of steps to hold violators accountable, including a hybrid court to be established by the African Union Commission to try the most serious crimes. Hybrid courts, which include both international and domestic judges and other staff, have been used in other countries to deliver justice where national courts lack the expertise or the will to try these crimes.
There has been limited progress toward creating such a court, however, and a UN special rapporteur could engage with relevant international and regional entities to support the process, Human Rights Watch said.
South Sudan’s conflict began in December 2013, in Juba, and has been marked by gruesome massacres, targeted killings often based on ethnicity, attacks on aid workers, unlawful detention, rape, use and recruitment of child soldiers, and massive forced displacement.
“Seven months after the peace agreement, civilians are still being targeted for killings, rape, and other crimes,” Fisher said. “The Human Rights Council should not turn its back on South Sudan.”