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UN experts wrap visit with call for peaceful transition

By William Madouk


United Nations Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan wrapped up its visit to Juba with a call for the leaders to carefully navigate the conclusion of the country’s transition to achieve durable peace.

According to UN rights experts, this would prevent violence and gross human rights violations.

The visiting human rights experts were in the country between February 12 and 17, 2024.

Yasmin Sooka, Chairperson of the Commission, urged the government to speed up the unification of the forces to deter spillover conflicts.

“Establishing a unified national army and transitional justice processes to deal with the past and the root causes of the conflict is indispensable,” said Sooka.

She stated that investigations have found that the violence and gross human rights violations continue with impunity, with women and children being the main targets of these crimes.

“Critical security arrangements and an independent justice system supported by constitutional processes provided under the Revitalized Agreement are essential to avoid a return to conflict following elections,” she added.

According to the UN, these processes under the 2018 Revitalized Agreement lay the foundations for sustainable peace and human rights protection.

But the experts warn that none is even close to completion, even though the transitional arrangements conclude following the elections planned for December 2024.

Besides, Barney Afako, one of the commissioners, said, “South Sudan’s leaders must end the political and local conflicts and contestations that have brought so much pain and suffering to the people.”

“And invest in state and nation-building grounded in respect for diversity and the protection of human rights,” he added.

While the human rights experts were in Juba, they met with the president, the first vice president, cabinet ministers and legislators, Troika countries, the EU, R-JMEC, AU civil societies, and UNMISS to explain the nature of their work.

They also met with victims and survivors, human rights defenders, and journalists.

The commissioners travelled to the Greater Pibor Administrative Area and Jonglei State.

“There, women and children continue to be abducted in violent attacks along ethnic lines, carried out by heavily armed militias. Many abductees are held hostage, subjected to forced marriage, and suffer brutal abuse, rape, and sexual slavery,” Commissioner Afako highlighted.

He noted that last year, some of the abducted women and children were put on display like goods in a market and sold.

“The Commission interviewed women who had been in captivity for more than four years, separated from their families and their children,” he added.

According to Commissioner Carlos Castresana Fernández, a dysfunctional criminal justice system enables perpetrators to operate with impunity.

He underlined that ransoms negotiated by authorities and paid to abductors do not deter these crimes; rather, they act as an incentive for further abductions.

“Victims and their family members told us they are traumatized by the abductions and disillusioned at the lack of support to return their loved ones who are missing or held hostage,” said Commissioner Fernández.

“Their situation reflects the Commission’s broader findings from investigations across the country: that the population is defenseless against human rights abusers and lacks protection, as the institutions needed to prevent and punish crimes are deprioritized and under-resourced by the state,” he continued.

He emphasized that addressing the lack of functioning rule-of-law institutions is urgent, as is the need for an independent referee who can peacefully resolve possible electoral disputes.

In a welcome development, on February 5, 2024, South Sudan completed the process of becoming a state party to several core United Nations international human rights treaties.

“South Sudan’s ratification of human rights treaties is an important step. Implementing the obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights would open civic and political space and orient state institutions towards protecting civil society actors and journalists rather than repressing them,” observed Commissioner Sooka.


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