Geneva — South Sudan, the world’s newest country, faces a critical moment in its transition from civil war , with a faltering peace agreement and predatory government officials who pillage aid meant to feed the beleaguered population, the chair of a UN commission said Friday.
South African human rights lawyer Yasmin Sooka delivered the sixth report of the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan with her colleagues Andrew Clapham of Britain and Barney Afako of Uganda.
Reporting to the current session of the UN Human Rights Council here, Sooka and her fellow commissioners called for the full implementation of a peace agreement and a unified army in South Sudan.
“My colleagues and I are deeply aware that international attention is focussed on the war in Europe and the three million refugees who have fled Ukraine, a tragedy of epic proportions now unfolding before our eyes,” said Sooka.
However, she said, “South Sudan is at a critical moment in its transition, where crucial provisions of the Revitalized Peace Agreement have still not been implemented and planned elections could plunge the country into massive violence….
Do Not Forget South Sudan
“It is critical therefore that we do not forget South Sudan and the ongoing conflict which has been the main cause of two million people being displaced, the 34,000 people living in the one remaining United Nations protection of civilians site, and 2.3 million refugees, making it the biggest refugee crisis in the African region.”
The Human Rights Council, which is sitting until April 1, will decide whether to resume the commission’s mandate for another year.
Sooka said that the conflict that arose about 10 years after South Sudan’s 2011 independence had left 8.9 million people in need – with more than 1.4 million children and 483,000 women suffering malnutrition.
In addition, at l east 809,000 people have been affected by heavy rainfall and floods in 2021. Following the floods, renewed violence, including in Northern Bahr el Ghazal and Warrap states, has left people once again on the brink of famine.
Sooka cited the International Rescue Committee’s estimated 1.7 million people in South Sudan who are battling emergency hunger levels across 35 counties.
“While the international community made ten million US dollars available to South Sudan to address the humanitarian crisis, and 80,000 bags of rice for distribution to those affected by the floods, sadly the money and the rice intended for those most at risk were looted by predatory political elites, ” she told the council.
Sooka said that in late August, the authorities shut down the internet and deployed large numbers of security forces on the streets to prevent planned public gatherings.
Civil society leaders involved in the government-endorsed transitional justice process were forced to flee the country following death threats.
“All of their banking accounts have been frozen, their offices forced to close down, and their families and colleagues harassed and intimidated by the National Security Services.
“In this climate of fear and terror, how can we talk about constitution-making, elections and transitional justice? Are national consultations even possible?”
Sooka said that “targeted rape and sexual violence against women and girls” which was perpetrated along ethnic lines was illustrated by the testimony of a Balanda resident in Tambura Town.
The woman described to the commission how she was violently raped and then abandoned by her Azande husband of five years, who said he was “doing my part” to avenge the death of his relatives.
“It is therefore not surprising that South Sudan was rated as one of worst countries in the world for freedom, alongside Syria, in the latest global survey by Freedom House,” Sooka added.
A critical point in the timetable of South Sudan’s Revitalised Agreement was reached in September 2018, “yet key areas of the agreement remain unimplemented,” said the commission.
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Sooka added: “Unless the Revitalised Agreement is fully implemented with the support and accompaniment of the African Union, the United Nations, regional and international partners and guarantors of the peace process, the aspirations of South Sudan’s people for sustainable peace will remain unfulfilled.”
Earlier this week, UN Security Council extended the 19,000-strong South Sudan peacekeeping mission for a year.
UNMISS, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, is said to be one of the most expensive UN operations with an annual budget of over $1 billion.
The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, said Friday it is appealing for $1.2 billion for much-needed assistance and protection to 2.3 million South Sudanese refugees and local communities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda.
Read the text of Commissioner Sooka’s statement
Read the full Commission report