UN experts tell Human Rights Council that violence against civilians persists in South Sudan, fuelled by pervasive impunity


ReliefWeb News and Press Release 


GENEVA (7 March 2023) – Impunity is a major driver of the human rights and humanitarian crises in South Sudan, which continue to cause immense trauma and suffering for civilians in the country, the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan has found in its latest report. Commission members Andrew Clapham and Barney Afako presented the report today to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.*

“Senior public officials and military officers should be held accountable for serious crimes, or we will never see an end to the gross human rights violations,” said Clapham. “Attacks against civilians persist precisely because perpetrators are confident they will enjoy impunity.”

Based on investigations undertaken in South Sudan and the neighbouring region throughout 2022, the report identifies widespread attacks against civilians, systematic sexual violence against women and girls, the ongoing presence of children in fighting forces, and State-sponsored extrajudicial killings. The Commission’s findings describe multiple situations where State actors are the primary perpetrators of serious crimes under South Sudan’s laws, as well as under international law. Members of non-State armed groups are also identified as the perpetrators of violent crimes carried out in various areas of conflict.

“We have documented human rights violations in South Sudan for many years, and we continue to be shocked by the ongoing violence, including horrific sexual violence, targeting civilians, and perpetrated by members of the armed forces, different militia, and armed groups,” said Clapham. “Last month we again visited the country, where we met in Juba and Malakal with brave survivors who shared their experiences of trauma, loss, and hunger. Faced with persistent cycles of violence and insecurity, many told us they are disillusioned and losing hope.”

The Commission documented a devastating operation in Leer County, where Government officials directed militias to carry out widespread killings, systematic rape, and forced displacement against civilians in an area considered to be loyal to the opposition.

In Tonj North County, the Commission found that security forces launched a campaign of violence against civilians when the heads of the Government’s three main security organs deployed to the area.

The report also details extrajudicial killings in Mayom County, during a military operation overseen by senior government and military officials. Videos of the killings were shared widely on social media, causing outrage in a country that is not unfamiliar with brazen acts of brutal violence.

“It is hard to imagine peace while State actors continue to be involved in gross human rights violations,” said Afako. “A true demonstration of the Government’s stated commitments to peace and human rights would involve dismissing the responsible officials and initiating prosecutions.”

The report raises alarm about the escalation of violence in Upper Nile State, where the UN’s protection of civilians site in Malakal has been overwhelmed by tens of thousands of new arrivals. Survivors of attacks recounted moving from village to village, pursued by armed men engaged in killings, rapes and destruction. In two separate events, civilians sheltering in makeshift displacement camps were attacked again, and vital humanitarian aid looted. No responsible institution took timely measures required to protect them, despite the risks of attacks being well known.

The Commissioners told the Council that South Sudan can be different, and that the 2018 Revitalized Peace Agreement remains the framework to address the conflict, repression and corruption that cause immense suffering and undermine the prospects of peace. The Agreement also charts a pathway for South Sudanese to make a permanent Constitution that should strengthen rule of law and respect for human rights, thus laying foundations for the country’s stability.

“The challenge of advancing peace and human rights in South Sudan is very heavy, and international attention and support must not flag,” said Afako. “Long-delayed constitution-making and elections are planned in the next 18 months, but the civic space needed to make these meaningful has virtually disappeared. Activists and journalists operate under threat of death and detention. We demand that the authorities immediately end the harassment of civil society, and protect political space.”

Clapham said that although the Government has announced special investigation committees on several situations examined by the Commission, only one such body appears to have carried out inquiries, no reports have been published, and no related criminal trials have taken place. He added that the Commission continued to preserve evidence to enable future prosecutions and other accountability measures.

Additional recommendations to improve the human rights situation are included in the report presented today to the Council. It will be accompanied by an additional paper later this month with further detailed findings.


*Yasmin Sooka is a third member of the Commission, and its Chairperson.
Read the full report here.

Background on the Commission

The Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan is an independent body mandated by the UN Human Rights Council. First established in March 2016, it has been renewed annually since. Its three Commissioners are not UN staff, they are not renumerated for their work as Commissioners, and they serve independently in their capacity as experts.

They are supported by a Secretariat based in Juba, South Sudan. The Commission is mandated to investigate the situation of human rights in South Sudan, and to determine and report the facts and circumstances of human rights violations and abuses, including by clarifying responsibility for violations and abuses that are crimes under national and or international law. To assist in addressing impunity in South Sudan, the Commission is also mandated to collect and preserve evidence, and to make this available to transitional justice mechanisms.

For more information about the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, see its webpage, and follow @UNCHRSS on Twitter.

For media queries, please contact:
JUBA: Rajeev PS rajeev.puthenpurackalsunilkumar@un.org or +211912174078.
GENEVA: Rolando Gomez, rolando.gomez@un.org or +41794774411; or Todd Pitman, todd.pitman@un.org or +41 76 691 176