Human rights groups decry deteriorating situation as peace agreement remains unimplemented

Peace deal remains unimplemented

Efforts to ensure justice for victims of widespread atrocities committed during South Sudan’s civil war hit a low point on 27th April 2019 after the government hired US-based lobbyists with the purpose of stopping the creation of the Hybrid Court of South Sudan meant to investigate crimes against humanity committed during the civil war. The hybrid courts, which were included in both the 2015 and 2018 peace deals, were expected to be useful mechanisms in holding perpetrators to account, considering that the local courts are ill equipped to handle such complex and sensitive matters. However, since the first peace deal was signed in 2015, the African Union (AU) Commission has been trying to secure approval from the South Sudanese authorities for the initial steps required for the hybrid court’s creation, but South Sudan’s government has consistently delayed this process.

Advocating for the implementation of the 2018 peace agreement, in April 2019, a group of South Sudanese women launched a petition calling for inclusivity in the upcoming three-year transitional government to implement the outcome of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS) that was signed on 12th September 2018. "We, South Sudanese women and girls, who are 65% of the population, are the ones who bear the brunt of wars and violence the most; rape, sexual violence, physical and health vulnerability, and poverty in general." said the group of women.The peace pact allocates 35 percent of the ministerial portfolios’ posts to female representatives in the transitional unity government.

In a briefing to the Security Council in October 2018 on the joint visit of United Nations and African Union officials to South Sudan from 7th to 9th October 2018, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations stressed that women’s representation is vital to realising the revitalised South Sudan agreement and said:

"It is imperative that women be represented in the ceasefire and transitional…mechanisms, as stipulated in the agreement.”

Decrying continued human rights violations despite the peace agreements, on 30th May, UN Security Council members received an open letter from regional and international CSOs calling for the renewal of sanctions and the arms embargo on the country. The CSOs noted that while the parties to the conflict have had ample time to demonstrate a commitment to honour agreements, put a stop to crimes of atrocity and cooperate with investigations and accountability mechanisms, they have instead continued to commit abuses and block attempts to end violations. They called for sustained international pressure to demonstrate that this impunity would not be allowed. As previously reported, sanctions and the arms embargo were removed by the US in December 2018.

On 30th July, Troika countries (United States, United Kingdom and Norway) called for South Sudanese state authorities to prioritise the implementation of the September 2018 peace agreement signed by Riek Machar and President Silva Kiir. Since the deal was signed over 100 civilians have been killed and over 100 rapes have been committed by rebel forces. A lack of funds for military integration is still a significant barrier to the deal, in addition to reports that Kiir and Machar do not meet regularly to engage in unified decision making. However, the deal has led to increased security in the Greater Upper Nile and Bahr al Ghazal regions with reports indicating the return of half a million displaced people. The Governor of Wau State, Angelo Teban has requested Internally Displaced People living in Protection of Civilian sites (PoC) to return to their homes. Prior to the signing of the peace agreement PoC’s have sheltered thousands of IDPs in the country since the most recent outbreak of violence in 2016. The peace agreement signed in September 2018 has been effective in resolving conflict between rebel factions, making it safe enough for families to return home. However, in a report released in early July 2019, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) reported that civilians are being targeted by armed groups in the central equatorial region. 30 attacks are known to have taken place in the region, killing a total of 104 individuals, with a similar number of women and girls reporting rape and sexual abuse. In addition to this, 187 individuals are missing and reported to have been abducted by rebel groups.

The implementation of the peace agreement however also faces logistical challenges. On 6th August, Chairperson of Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring Verification Mechanism (CTSAMVM) Abiche Ageno, claimed during a committee meeting that only three cantonment camps had received food and that seasonal rains have left many buildings meant for training unusable for the time being. The CTSAMVM, which oversees the logistical progress of the peace agreement, has reported that a lack of funds is leading to unforeseen delays in the integration of the armed forces.

In a positive development, on 24th July 32 children, all boys ranging from 13 to 17 years old, were formally released from opposition rebel groups in Leer country, marking the first formal release in the Unity state. Some of the children have been used by the armed groups since the conflict flared up in 2016 and have not seen their parents since. In order to aid with the reintegration process UNICEF has created a three-year programme involving counselling and vocational training in addition to providing basic necessities such as food, water and hygiene materials. A social worker is designated to each child and will follow them throughout the programme, providing support. Since the conflict erupted in 2013, UNICEF has supported the release of 3,143 children from armed forces and armed groups in South Sudan. UNICEF estimates that 19,000 children are used by armed forces and armed groups in South Sudan. 

Association

On 20th April 2019, South Sudan denied claims that its security services abducted and murdered two prominent critics exiled in Kenya, as previously featured in the Monitor. Information Minister Michael Makuei said that any investigation of the execution of Dong Samuel Luak and Agrey Izbon Idri should start in Kenya where they were kidnapped. Two weeks later however, on 6th May, sources indicated that the men’s bodies were dumped in Achwa River in Nimule, after being killed in Juba on orders of Lt. General Akol Koor Kuc, director of the service’s Internal Security Bureau. According to a report by the UN Panel of Experts on South Sudan, the two were killed on 30th January 2017, a week after they were abducted from Nairobi, Kenya. Civil society organisations urged regional organs like the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights to conduct a thorough investigation to ensure a safe environment for HRDs to continue their work.

A few months later, on 6th August, it was reported that Hope for Humanity Africa and the Pan African Lawyers Union had filed a case against the governments of South Sudan and Kenya at the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) for the abduction and possible murder of the two men. The complainants are seeking explanations on the circumstances that led to their disappearance and killing.

In a positive development, the ratification by South Sudan’s legislative assembly of two international covenants requiring states to protect and respect the human rights was welcomed by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan. In the first week of June 2019, 165 members of the South Sudan Transitional National Legislative Assembly (TNLA) voted unanimously to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as well as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and their respective First Optional Protocols without reservations.

7th June 2019 marked the official launch of the South Sudan Human Rights Defenders Network (SSHRDN) in Juba. HRDs in South Sudan continue to face threats, intimidation, kidnappings and torture, combined with an extremely volatile political situation. The SSHRDN connects HRDs across the country and works closely with regional organisations to help them mitigate these risks, as well as provide a platform for civil society activists to share information and best practices.

Despite the above positive developments however, on 21st July 2019, representatives at the 6th human rights forum in Juba expressed concerns over the deteriorating human rights situation in the country. The shrinking civic space for civil society organisations to operate was noted as being the result of suppressive measures taken by the state to silence criticism. Additionally, a report released by Amnesty International on 18th July 2019 stated that a government crackdown involving crimes against humanity was being waged on the population in order the stifle potential civil unrest influenced by neighbouring Sudan. Minister for Information Michael Makuei made a statement directed at civilians, stating “If they don't like the way Juba is governed, there are enough trees in the country for them to hang themselves.” These hostile and inflammatory remarks came as the human rights forum was being held and were largely in response to accusations of human rights violations by state security forces. 

Expression

On 11th July 2019, the community empowerment for progress organisation (CEPO) released a statement calling on the government to respect media freedoms in the country and lift bans on platforms such as Radio Tamazuj, Alwatan Arabic newspaper and Paris-based Sudan Tribune whose access was blocked by the South Sudan government in July 2017 over its “hostile” news coverage. After war broke out in 2013, the ensuing political and security crisis has resulted in hostility towards the media and freedom of expression in general. News outlets have been suspended, newspaper issues have been seized and journalists have been detained arbitrarily, tortured, harassed, forced to censor themselves or forced to flee abroad.

On 23rd July 2019 Minister of Information Michael Makuei announced that President Kiir would no longer allow the national anthem to be sung in his absence. Makuei claimed that institutions had been using the anthem recklessly and that the appropriate context was for it to be sung for or in the presence of President Kiir. With the exception of South Sudan's embassies, which represent the president, and schools where children are taught the anthem, no one is allowed to sing it in the president’s absence. Kiir's order was passed during a cabinet meeting

On 15th July 2019, Editor in Chief of the Al Watan newspaper, Michael Christopher was arrested at Juba airport by national security agents, forcing him off a flight and confiscating his passport as he was leaving the country. Christopher is reported to have been targeted because of an article he wrote and published in Al Watan in support of the political protests taking place in the country. Earlier in January, both South Sudan’s Media Authority and the NSS had warned Christopher after he published an opinion piece supporting the political protests in Sudan. The authorities suspended the publication of Al Watan in March on grounds of noncompliance and operating without a license.

Jehanne Henry, associate Africa director at Human Rights Watch said:

“The arbitrary detention of Michael Christopher is the latest brazen attack against freedom of the press in South Sudan… The authorities should immediately release him or charge him with a recognised criminal offence.”

On 4th August 2019, John Agok, the former manager of Yirol Community Radio was released after spending nearly three weeks in detention. Agok was arrested from the airport on 10th July for allegedly making defamatory remarks against the governor of Eastern Lakes state on social media. Speaking to Radio Tamazuj Friday, the Minister of Local Government and Law Enforcement Agency, Simon Tueny Mabor indicated that Agok’s arrest was related to his writing on social media about the governor.