GENEVA (9 May 2014) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Friday that a detailed new UN report describing gross violations of human rights in South Sudan “on a massive scale,” including possible war crimes and crimes against humanity, “underscores the extreme urgency of bringing the conflict to an end.”
Pillay, who warned of the gravity of the situation after visiting South Sudan two weeks ago in the company of the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, said “the UNMISS* report’s detailed accounts of ethnic-based mass killings and revenge attacks, including direct and deliberate murder of civilians, and a litany of other serious violations such as summary executions, rape and other forms of sexual violence are further proof of how extraordinarily dangerous the situation in South Sudan has become over the past five months.”
“This report, based on interviews with more than 900 victims, witnesses and others, illustrates just how quickly a political struggle within the ruling party was allowed – or even encouraged – to metamorphose into an ethnic-based conflict of the most lethal sort,” Pillay said. “In the process, it revealed many of the structural weaknesses and leadership flaws that have been undermining democracy and rule of law in the world’s youngest State. As former President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, I recognize in this account many of the precursors of genocide: hate media including calls to rape women of a particular ethnic group; attacks on civilians in hospitals, churches and mosques; even attacks on people sheltering in UN compounds – all on the basis of the victims’ ethnicity.”
The High Commissioner noted that her own visit, and more recent ones by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, other senior UN officials and top politicians, have helped draw attention to the urgency of the situation and put pressure on the leaders of both sides to enter serious peace negotiations as well as to stop their followers committing more serious violations.
“There are some indications that they are starting to realize the outside world has finally really woken up to what is going on in South Sudan,” she said. “But they need to take immediate concrete actions to halt this conflict, and stop the killing, before the fire they have ignited makes the entire country go down in flames.”
“In the light of what this report reveals, there can no longer be any excuse for either President Salva Kiir or his chief opponent Dr Riek Machar continuing to avoid identifying and arresting their force commanders and other individuals implicated in the commission of serious violations, including war crimes and crimes against humanity,” Pillay said. “It is simply not credible that the Government is unaware who, among their commanders, was responsible for organizing the slaughter of more than 300 Nuer men herded into a government building in the Gudele neighbourhood of Juba on 16 December.”
“Similarly, it is not credible that Dr. Machar does not know which of his commanders instigated and led the mass killing of several hundred civilians in the mosque, hospital, market and other locations in Bentiu on 15 April. And unfortunately these are only two of the many examples of the killing of civilians and other grave violations described in this report.”
“I have urged, and continue to urge, both President Kiir and Dr. Machar to publicly, loudly and unequivocally denounce such acts by their fighters and other followers, and to make it clear that anyone committing such crimes will be arrested and prosecuted. As leaders, they have a clear obligation to prevent any further violations being committed by fighters under their command. Thankfully, there have been no reports of further mass killings since my visit, for example during the continuing fighting for control of Bentiu or the capture by Government forces of Dr. Machar’s base in Nasir, shortly after I visited him there on 29 April. But clearly there remains a real danger that further events of this nature may take place, and tragically many thousands more people have been displaced in the past week, especially from Nasir.”
“The report notes how even members of the Fire Brigade and Wildlife Services have taken part in fighting and violations, which indicates just how pervasive the sense of total impunity is, and how urgently it needs to be addressed,” Pillay said, adding that “the South Sudanese need a credible and transparent accountability process to restore their confidence in the State and government.”
While welcoming the increased attention given to South Sudan in recent weeks, including by the Security Council, which she briefed two days after leaving Juba, the High Commissioner called on the international community – especially regional powers and processes such as the African Union, African Commission of Inquiry and IGAD -- to focus even more attention on the dire human rights situation in South Sudan as part of their efforts to stop the country from collapsing into catastrophe.
“Both leaders are due to meet in Addis Ababa for peace talks later today. It is essential they make a concerted and genuine effort to bring these talks to a speedy and successful conclusion. In the meantime, they should call an immediate halt to the fighting,” Pillay said.