South Sudan: Provide accountability and protect human rights defenders


In a statement made at the 32nd session of the UN Human Rights Council, ISHR called on the newly formed Commission for Human Rights in South Sudan to immediately investigate reported acts of intimidation and reprisal against civil society organisations and defenders who engage with it. 

States and civil society organisations have expressed deep concern during the interactive dialogue at the 32nd session of the Human Rights Council at the ongoing threats, harassment and killings of human rights defenders in South Sudan.

Despite the formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity, the human rights situation in South Sudan remains grave. Widespread killings, violence, rape, mass internal displacement and food security issues continue to engulf the population.

Civil society, media and human rights defenders remain at risk. As the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kate Gilmore, said in her opening comments during the interactive dialogue:

‘Civil society activists, human rights defenders, humanitarian actors, journalists and print media have been subjected to threats, intimidation, harassment, arbitrary detention, and in some instances – death. In 2015, at least 7 journalists were killed. Human rights defenders and activists seeking to co-operate with this Council have also been subjected to threats and reprisals.’

In a written statement, ISHR’s Head of Human Rights Council Advocacy, Mr Michael Ineichen underscored the risks faced by human rights defenders, setting out the immediate need for concrete institutional steps to provide remedy and full accountability for victims in South Sudan, and to provide justice for victims of reported crimes and atrocities. 

‘The status of human rights defenders in South Sudan remains unchanged, especially in areas such as Greater Equatoria where violence continues to prevail.’

ISHR welcomed Human Rights Council President Choi’s announcement last week as to the appointment of three members to serve on the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan.

‘We specifically call on the Chairperson of the Commission to ensure that their fact-finding mission adequately investigates the situation of civil society organisations, in general, and human rights defenders in particular. The work of defenders is crucial to peace, security, sustainable development and a democratic future for South Sudan… It is imperative that the Commission take all such steps as are necessary to protect those who engage with it and prevent and promote accountability for acts of intimidation and reprisal’ said Mr Ineichen.

A number of States including the European Union, the United Kingdom, Germany, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Australia, Ireland, and France made reference to the hostile environment for journalists, UN humanitarian and aid workers, human rights defenders and civil society organisations in South Sudan.

‘Freedom of expression is penalised, and there is an environment of intimidation towards journalists and civil society actors. The United States believes there is a pressing need for justice and accountability in South Sudan,’ said a represenatative of the United States. 

Norway followed by stating: ‘Restrictions on access, as well as intimidation and harassment of humanitarian and civil society organisations impede humanitarian operations. Norway urges the Transitional Government to ensure full, safe and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance.’

Read ISHR’s statement to the Human Rights Council here or watch a video of the verbal statement here.

Contact: Clement Voulé, ISHR African Advocacy Director and Programme Manager, at


  • Africa
  • Freedom of expression, association and assembly
  • Human rights defenders
  • Reprisals and intimidation
  • United Nations
  • UN Human Rights Council
  • South Sudan