South Sudan: New HRC Commission on Human Rights a step towards accountability

24.03.2016

The establishment by the UN Human Rights Council of a Commission for Human Rights in South Sudan is an important step towards human rights monitoring, reporting and accountability in the country, ISHR said today.

(Geneva) - The establishment by the UN Human Rights Council of a Commission for Human Rights in South Sudan is an important step towards human rights monitoring, reporting and accountability in the country, ISHR said today.

Human Rights Council adopts resolution on South Sudan

In a late-night sitting, the Council adopted a resolution on the human rights situation in South Sudan on 23 March. After contentious negotiations on the most appropriate mechanism to promote and protect human rights in the country, the resolution mandated a Commission for a period of one-year, renewable as authorised by the Council. The resolution was adopted without a vote and received the support of at least forty co-sponsoring States.

The mandate of the Commission will be to:

  • monitor and report on the current human rights situation;
  • assess past reports on human rights abuses in order to establish a factual basis for transitional justice and reconciliation;
  • provide guidance on transitional justice, accountability and reconciliation issues;
  • engage with other international and regional ‎mechanisms to promote accountability for human rights violations and abuses.

The resolution establishing the Commission was put forward by a core group, consisting of the United States, the United Kingdom, Paraguay and Albania. The Core Group and other states stressed that, since Human Rights Council resolution 29/13, it is clear that South Sudan has not met the stipulated six benchmarks of assessment and thus the new resolution was seen as crucial given increasing human rights violations in the country. Evidence of these violations is clearly accounted for in the recent report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

South Sudan accepted the resolution and said the country would cooperate fully with the established mechanism. The delegation of South Sudan extended its thanks to the Africa Group and especially the leadership of South Africa during the discussion of the resolution text.

While Member states such as the United States of America, Algeria and the Netherlands on behalf of the European Union welcomed the resolution, China, Cuba and Venezuela disassociated themselves.

China called for ‘African solutions to African problems,’ while Cuba expressed caution that the initial steps and processes currently underway in South Sudan should have been given more time to materialise. Lastly, Venezuela expressed concern of treatment of the situation in South Sudan under item 4 and added that concerns raised by South Sudan during the informals were not taken on board.

Adoption of resolution and establishment of Commission responds to NGO calls for human rights monitoring, reporting and accountability in South Sudan

The establishment of a Commission is broadly consistent with the calls made by ISHR and others, including in the context of the presentation and discussion of a report of the High Commissioner on the recent mission to South Sudan, for the Human Rights Council to establish a proper and effective monitoring, reporting and accountability mechanism given the urgency of the human rights situation in the country.

‘We call on HRC member States to end the relative inaction and complacency about the human rights situation in South Sudan. The HRC should establish a Special Rapporteur or a hybrid tribunal on South Sudan at the least, as there is a blatant disregard for human rights - and ultimately human life,’ said Ms Rumbidzai Masango ISHR’s Africa Human Rights Advocate and Ambassador Bari Bari Fellow in a statement to the Council.

In presenting the High Commissioner's report, Mr Ivan Simonovic, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights spoke of the gravity, breadth, depth, and long-term patterns of entrenched and horrific human rights violations in South Sudan. He specifically referenced the direct suppression of democratic freedoms and civil society space by the South Sudan government, such as the killing of seven journalists in 2015.

He also recalled meeting with civil society and humanitarian workers, as well as civilian victims and the atrocities and extreme violence they endure. He concluded that ‘it was extremely important to notice the much needed commitment of the Council to get involved in the fundamental rights issues in South Sudan.’

The Assessment Mission Report documents the origins of the crisis all the way through to the present day, and contains the OHCHR’s detailed findings executing its mandate 'to undertake a comprehensive assessment of allegations of violations and abuses of human rights, with a view to ensuring accountability and complementarity with the African Union Commission of Inquiry'.

The delegation of South Sudan strongly disagreed with the report of Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

‘Since the signing of the final peace agreement on the resolution of the conflict in the Republic of South Sudan, the rate of human rights abuses has reduced drastically,’ said Mr Paulino Wanawilla Unango, Minister of Justice of South Sudan.

The government delegate explained that South Sudan has implemented the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC), which is now functional and has also put in place a national constitutional review committee. The Minister highlighted that South Sudan has a hybrid court as well as a truth and reconciliation commission in place that need to be operationalised. To this end, the government of South Sudan appealed to the international community for assistance to make peace possible by supporting the hybrid court as well as the commission in order to reduce human rights abuses and try those responsible of abuses.

By contrast, States and groups such as the European Union said, ‘We are gravely concerned that not only was there no progress, but that gross violations have continued since the last HRC resolution on South Sudan. We therefore condemn all acts of violence'.

The United Kingdom added that the findings were shocking and stressed with grave concern about the lack of action by the South Sudan government to date, and reiterated that they have little confidence the government in South Sudan is in a position to act in the near future.

During the interactive dialogue, eleven member states and groups intervened to call on the Council to establish a special procedures mandate in the form of deploying a Special Rapporteur to provide oversight and support on the establishment of a transitional government, including: European Union, Luxembourg, United Kingdom, Norway, Germany, Spain, Portugal, France, Switzerland, and the United States of America.

ISHR’s statement also reminded South Sudan to adhere to its commitment to protecting and promoting HRDs in South Sudan, especially because it voted in favour of the December 2015 General Assembly Resolution on HRDs.

A video of the ISHR statement is here.

The full text of ISHR's statement to the Human Rights Council is here.

Contact: Mr. Clement Voule, ISHR Africa Advocacy Director on c.voule@ishr.ch