Condemn Rights Violations, Support the Commission of Inquiry and Help Build A Culture of Human Rights in South Sudan
6 March 2014
Dear Sir or Madam,
March 6, 2014 (SSNA) — We, the undersigned South Sudanese civil society organizations, with support from organizations operating in Africa, write to request that the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) issue a resolution condemning the serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law that have taken place in South Sudan since the outbreak of violence on 15 December 2013. We also urge the ACHPR to advocate for the immediate establishment of the Commission of Inquiry called for in the 30 December 2013 communiqué from the African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC). In order to secure the sustained commitment of the government of South Sudan to protection of human rights in accordance with the African Charter, we call on the ACHPR to visit South Sudan under its promotional mandate and to call for the ratification of regional and international human rights instruments.
Issue a Resolution Condemning Violations of International Law
Since 15 December 2013, an armed conflict between forces loyal to President Kiir and opposition forces under the leadership of former Vice-President Riek Machar has engulfed South Sudan in violence. International and domestic organizations have documented killings of civilians, sexual violence, torture and the use of child soldiers. Entire towns and villages have been razed to the ground, civilian property has been looted or destroyed, and parties to the conflict have deliberately targeted places of refuge, such as churches and hospitals.
Government security sector personnel and non-state armed groups have stolen humanitarian relief supplies and equipment and killed humanitarian personnel. According to the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, there is also evidence of the use of cluster bombs. The humanitarian impact, particularly on women, children and the elderly, has been devastating. Approximately 900,000 people have been displaced from their homes.
The ACHPR—the main body mandated with promoting human and peoples’ rights on the continent—has so far been silent on the rights violations that have occurred and the importance of accountability for these crimes.
We call upon the ACHPR to adopt a resolution on the situation in South Sudan during its 15th Extraordinary Session to be held from 7 to 14 March 2014 in Banjul, The Gambia. The ACHPR should condemn violations of international law in the context of the current violence and call on both parties to respect the cessation of hostilities agreement signed in Addis Ababa on 23 January. It should publicly call on the government of South Sudan to take all necessary measures in accordance with international human rights and humanitarian law to ensure protection of civilians, and to guarantee that adequate humanitarian support is provided to the populations affected by the conflict. The ACHPR should also call for and support the establishment of justice and accountability mechanisms, and emphasize that the victims of the heinous crimes that have occurred have a right to a remedy and that perpetrators must be held to account.
Advocate for the Immediate Establishment of the Commission of Inquiry
In its 30 December 2013 communiqué, the AUPSC requested the Chairperson of the AU Commission, in consultation with the Chairperson of the ACHPR and other relevant AU structures, to urgently establish a Commission of Inquiry to “investigate the human rights violations and other abuses committed during the armed conflict in South Sudan and make recommendations on the best ways and means to ensure accountability, reconciliation and healing among all South Sudanese communities.” The Council requested that the Commission of Inquiry submit a report of its findings within three months.
Now, two months after this communiqué was issued, the members of the Commission of Inquiry have still not been named and terms of reference have not been published. This leaves South Sudanese citizens and civil society organizations in doubt as to when and if the critically needed investigations will actually take place.
Time is of the essence as evidence of atrocities is rapidly disappearing. Human remains have already been buried, burned, or dumped in waterways. Important witnesses have been harassed, intimidated or become casualties of the conflict, while others have been displaced or taken refuge in neighboring countries. The continued delay risks the destruction or loss of evidence that may be critical to piecing together an account of the violence.
The speedy initiation of the investigation could also help to deter those who incite and engage in atrocities. The lack of accountability for crimes committed during violence in South Sudan for decades has fostered a sense that there are no consequences for violence.
Investigations can demonstrate that the days of impunity are gone, and that this time the perpetrators will be made to face justice. If affected communities trust that a process for holding wrongdoers accountable is underway, it will also discourage revenge killings and help break the cycle of violence that is spiraling beyond control.
Survivors need hope. For many communities, the current violence is yet another tragedy over which they have no control. We must avoid a situation in which the politicians shake hands, grant each other amnesty, and expect communities to resume their lives as though nothing happened. Documentation is necessary to ensure that people’s experiences are recorded and that their pain will not be forgotten.
The call for justice and accountability from South Sudanese is overwhelming, and comes from direct victims, from civil society, as well as from the parties to the current conflict themselves. The government also has acknowledged that serious rights violations have occurred and has initiated multiple investigations. The opposition forces on their part have also made public statements on the need for justice. A thorough, independent and impartial inquiry into serious crimes committed in violation of international law during this conflict is a necessary first step to setting the stage for integrated transitional justice process including national reconciliation, truth-telling, prosecutions, and vetting.
We therefore request that the ACHPR support and advocate for the immediate establishment of the Commission of Inquiry. The ACHPR should help ensure that the Commission of Inquiry’s terms of reference, membership, and human and financial resources enable it to conduct adequate investigations. Towards this end, we ask the ACHPR to fully support the detailed recommendations that we made previously in our 25 January statement enclosed herein, particularly our call for the Commission of Inquiry to consult with civil society organizations in the implementation of its mandate and for it to issue a public report.
Promote A Culture of Respect for Human Rights and the Rule of Law in South Sudan
Even prior to the outbreak of the current armed conflict, the government of South Sudan was failing to guarantee basic human rights to people in its territory. Particular human rights concerns include arbitrary arrests and detentions, the failure to guarantee the right to a fair trial, discrimination against women, and violations of the right to freedom of expression.
Human rights organizations have also documented unlawful killings by security forces in the context of civilian disarmament and counter insurgency campaigns as well as in response to peaceful protests. If South Sudan emerges from the current crisis, significant effort will be needed to foster a culture of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. The ACHPR should play a decisive role by beginning to call for broad human rights reforms in South Sudan.
Though South Sudan gained independence in July 2011, the country has still failed to ratify major human rights treaties. Some progress had been made prior to the outbreak of violence. In May 2013, the Council of Ministers adopted a resolution approving seven regional and international instruments namely the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms Of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and the Torture Convention (CAT). The Legislative Assembly subsequently passed bills for ratification of the African Charter and the CRC in October and November respectively. Yet the President has failed to sign these bills, and instruments of ratification have not been transmitted to the relevant bodies.
The ACHPR should call upon South Sudanese authorities to strengthen the national human rights normative framework, by ratifying and implementing regional and international human rights instruments. They should specifically call on President Kiir to immediately assent to the ratification of the African Charter and the CRC.
To our knowledge, no Commissioner of the ACHPR has ever visited South Sudan for a promotional mission. The ACHPR should carry out, without further delay, a mission to South Sudan aimed at sensitizing relevant stakeholders on the African human rights system and at disseminating the African human rights instruments. Such a mission should particularly involve the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of women in Africa, and the Special Rapporteur on refugees, asylum seekers, migrants and internally displaced persons. It should also involve the Chairpersons of the Working Group on the Death Penalty and Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Killings in Africa, the Working Group on Extractive Industries, Environment and Human Rights Violations, and the Working Group on the Prevention of Torture in Africa.
The Commission should further provide support to and organize trainings on human rights for relevant government officials in South Sudan.
South Sudan must commit to numerous long-term improvements in order to better protect and promote human rights. Comprehensive judicial reforms are necessary if the judiciary is to meet minimum standards of professionalism and independence, particularly if it is to play a role in holding the perpetrators of the recent violence to account. The ACHPR should call for and support such comprehensive reforms and call on the government of South Sudan to devote adequate human and financial resources to the judicial sector. The ACHPR should also ensure that its Guidelines on the Right to Fair Trial and Legal Assistance in Africa are adequately disseminated in South Sudan and integrated into national law.
Weaknesses in the South Sudan Human Rights Commission, including insufficient human and financial resources and its susceptibility to political pressure have left it unable to adequately respond to the current crisis. The ACHPR should call upon the government of South Sudan to ensure that the Human Rights Commission is fully independent and that it benefits from adequate resources to carry out its mandate, in accordance with provisions of the Paris Principles.
With support from: