Crisis sets back human rights in South Sudan, UNMISS official says

26 Feb 2014

Crisis sets back human rights in South Sudan, UNMISS official says

26 February 2014 - Human rights must be at the centre of all future steps taken to resolve conflict and rebuild society in South Sudan, UNMISS Human Rights Director Ibrahim Wani said in Juba today.

“Respect for human rights is absolutely critical for peace and security,” said Mr. Wani. “When you go through a conflict period of this nature, the consequences for human rights are extremely dire … In a sense you get yourself in a circular situation where you’ve got further deterioration of the political and security situation.”

Mr. Wani, who is also country head for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the crisis had set back positive strides in human rights the country had made since independence, such as ratifying treaties and cooperation with international human rights mechanisms.

“This is something we will get a better sense of in the course of time – that the momentum you engage in building institutions and dialogue would have been broken,” said Mr. Wani. “Obviously that becomes less of a priority in a crisis of this nature and restarting it may not be that easy.”

Mr. Wani’s remarks followed UNMISS’ recent presentation of an interim report on human rights during the crisis to the UN Security Council, covering the period between mid-December 2013 and 31 January 2014.

The product of over 500 interviews of victims, witnesses and other sources, the interim report provides a quick snapshot of alleged violations in the four states (Central Equatoria, Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei) where fighting took place, he said. A more comprehensive report is expected in April.

Numerous witnesses reported the deliberate targeting of both national and foreign civilians in extrajudicial and other unlawful acts, including mass killings, enforced disappearances, gender-based violence like rapes and gang rapes as well as ill treatment and torture by forces from both sides of the conflict.

Commenting on reactions describing the report as biased, Mr. Wani said they were “… almost to be expected when you issue a report of this nature”.

“The most important response to such allegations is obviously the credibility of the report itself, the thoroughness of our work,” he said. “That is why we are being methodical about it and ensuring that we don’t rush to any conclusions without further verification.”

Mr. Wani said investigators had dealt with a highly polarized environment with sharp divergence in accounts, in addition to challenges like insecurity and the need for protection for witnesses. He noted, however, that human rights officers would continue to speak to a wide range of sources and corroborate information with site visits.

“In many of these instances, there is no question about the event actually taking place,” he said, adding that the ultimate goal of monitoring, verification and reporting was to achieve justice and accountability.

In an UNMISS press release issued alongside the report last week, UNMISS Chief Hilde F. Johnson also emphasized the importance of accountability.

“Without bringing to justice the perpetrators of these horrendous crimes, revenge and impunity is likely to lead to a perpetual cycle of violence,” she said. “Accountability is crucial for a national reconciliation process to take root and succeed.”