Civil Society Coalitions call for renewal of the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan

To: All Human Rights Council Member States

South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir Mayardit wipes his face with a pink handkerchief | Photo : File/Thessherald

Press Statement | SSCSF

Dear Members of the Human Rights Council, Your Excellences,

Press Release —We, the Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG) and the South Sudan Civil Society Forum (SSCSF), two coalitions of more than 250 South Sudanese civil society organisations combined who work to advance transitional justice and the broader implementation of the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS), extend our voice on the importance of renewing, in full, the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan (CoHRSS) and calls on the Human Rights Council to do so by consensus.

The CoHRSS fills a critical gap in the collection and preservation of evidence with a view to accountability and is the only independent mechanism doing this work in South Sudan.

We are therefore concerned to learn that the Africa Group, lead by Cameroon, is presenting an alternative resolution that would mandate the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to provide technical assistance and capacity building to South Sudan. Such an approach would signify a misunderstanding of the realities in South Sudan by the Human Rights Council (HRC), only serve to embolden perpetrators of gross human rights violations and abuses, war crimes and crimes against humanity, and let down countless of South Sudanese citizens and survivors of the conflict. Moreover, the current CoHRSS’s mandate already contains a technical assistance component.

We note with appreciation the HRC’s agreement in HRC resolution 43/27 that “demonstrable progress in key human rights issues of concern” should be critical in determining “any future change to the mandate of the CoHRSS.”

Through the recent years and since the outbreak of the conflict in December 2013, South Sudan as a county has not shown any significant progress in improving the human rights of its citizens to warrant such a serious change in the CoHRSS’s mandate.

On the contrary, analysis by the Stimson Center shows a 400% increase in violence against civilians in 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. This violence comprised of fighting among government and opposition forces characterized by gross human rights violations, including sexual violence, as well as between ethnic groups and communities. The latter demonstrates a failure of the government to protect people from killings, abductions and sexual violence. The latest report by the CoHRSS, presents a harrowing and consistent account of the nature of human rights violations in the country which cannot be ignored.

The increasing incidents of human rights violations are exacerbated by the government’s failure to establish the transitional justice mechanisms foreseen in Chapter V of the 2018 Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (RARCSS) and to significantly reform the security and justice sectors as guarantees of nonrecurrence.

The R-ARCSS provides for the establishment of three transitional justice mechanisms including a Hybrid Court for South Sudan (HCSS). Almost two and half years since the signing of the 2018 peace agreement, the parties have not shown any progress towards ending impunity and securing meaningful accountability. Without concrete steps to operationalize the recent cabinet approval of a plan to establish the transitional justice mechanisms, including the HCSS by signing the MoU and statute for the court, impunity is bound to continue to escalate violence.

The CoHRSS plays an important role in providing technical assistance to the authorities to ensure that the Ministry of Justice’s plan is operationalized and remains the only viable and independent mechanism to collect and preserve the evidence necessary to support future justice including through the HCSS. We therefore urge the Council to renew, in full, the mandate of the CoHRSS until the HCSS is fully established and operational.

South Sudan’s judicial institutions lack independence and are too weak to adequately provide redress for victims of crimes committed in relation to the conflict, so the HCSS and the CoHRSS’s work is critical. In addition to holding those most responsible for crimes to account, the HCSS would also be tasked to leave a much-needed legacy on South Sudan’s domestic system which is also to be strengthened through judicial reforms and which the authorities have failed to embark on despite their obligations under the peace agreement.

Your Excellences, human rights are a foundation for stability in South Sudan and human rights violations need to be addressed. The CoHRSS reports have offered a critical channel for survivors to have their voices heard.

We invite you for a call with us and with leaders of the victim groups we work with to hear directly from them to further understand the importance of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan.

Yours Sincerely,
The Transitional Justice Working Group and the South Sudan Civil Society Forum

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