The U.N. Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan warned that the country is suffering a human rights crisis of epic proportions, enmeshing its population in a cycle of violence, abuse and poverty. The report was submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council on Thursday.
According to the report, nine of the 10 states in South Sudan are engulfed in what the U.N. Commission calls alarming levels of conflict 10 years after independence was declared and despite multiple peace treaties signed to end the civil war that erupted in 2013.
In December 2013, following a political struggle between Kiir and Machar that led to Machar’s removal as vice president, violence erupted between presidential guard soldiers from the two largest ethnic groups in South Sudan.
Soldiers from the Dinka ethnic group aligned with Kiir and those from the Nuer ethnic group supported Machar. In the midst of chaos, Kiir announced that Machar had attempted a coup and violence spread quickly to Jonglei, Upper Nile, and Unity states.
From the outbreak of conflict, armed groups targeted civilians along ethnic lines, committed rape and sexual violence, destroyed property and looted villages, and recruited children into their ranks.
Under the threat of international sanctions and following several rounds of negotiations supported by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), Kiir signed a peace agreement with Machar in August 2015.
As the first step toward ending the civil war, Machar returned to Juba in April 2016 and was once again sworn in as vice president, after spending more than two years outside of the country. Soon after his return, violence broke out between government forces and opposition factions, once more displacing tens of thousands of people.
Machar fled the country and was eventually detained in South Africa. In 2017 and 2018, a series of cease-fires were negotiated and subsequently violated between the two sides and other factions.
After almost five years of civil war, Kiir and Machar participated in negotiations mediated by Uganda and Sudan in June 2018. Later that month, Kiir and Machar signed the Khartoum Declaration of Agreement that included a cease-fire and a pledge to negotiate a power-sharing agreement to end the war.
Despite sporadic violations over the ensuing weeks, Kiir and Machar signed a final cease-fire and power-sharing agreement in August 2018.
Commission Chair Yasmin Sooka said violence in Warran and Lakes states is of particular concern. In March and July, the governors of Warran state and Lakes state ordered the summary execution of more than 56 individuals including minors.
Sooka said, these extrajudicial killings orchestrated by governors from the ruling party are sufficiently similar, widespread and systematic and may constitute crimes against humanity.
The report documents the prevalence of enforced disappearances, torture, rape, and conflict-related sexual violence and the forced recruitment of child soldiers throughout the country.
It finds widespread lawlessness and violence have intensified, resulting in many deaths and the forcible displacement of millions of people.
A separate commission report dealing with economic crimes accuses South Sudanese political elites of illicitly diverting millions of dollars from public coffers into private bank accounts.
Commission member Andrew Clapham said these practices are undermining human rights, endangering security, and keeping 80% of the population living in extreme poverty.
Clapham said that the government of South Sudan has responsibility for violations of the right to health and the right to education, and the failure to provide adequate resources to fulfill these rights is related to the misappropriation of the revenue, which ought to be deposited in bank accounts of the state and then used to provide for education and health.
The South Sudanese minister of justice and constitutional affairs, R.M.A. Kachuoli, rebutted the report, saying he does not agree with the commission’s view of his country.
Kachuoli said the security situation across South Sudan is relatively calm and peaceful. He said the government is dealing with ethnic conflict through dialogue and the use of traditional courts. He calls a peace agreement reached in 2018 a significant milestone toward achieving peace in his country.
He said his government deems the report on economic crimes and corruption exaggerated, and questions whether the three-member panel even has a mandate to look at this issue.