Progress needed in South Sudan on key human rights, says Pillay

12 May 2012

Progress needed in South Sudan on key human rights, says Pillay

11 May 2012 - While welcoming South Sudan's commitment to human rights, the UN's top rights official stressed today in the capital Juba that work was needed to improve areas like the security services, cultural practices against women and press freedom.

Speaking to the media at UNMISS headquarters, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said people were being arbitrarily detained by security personnel and kept for long periods without being charged or put on trial.

"I am also very concerned about the incarceration of mentally ill persons and of children," said Ms. Pillay, who was concluding a five day visit to the country.

The high commissioner emphasized the need to combat impunity, especially among members of the security forces, who violated people's rights through torture, beatings or other criminal behavior. But she also noted progress on this front, especially during ongoing civilian disarmament in Jonglei State.

"Several soldiers reported to have committed crimes have been promptly arrested and in some cases charged," said Ms. Pillay. "This is how it should be, and I believe it has helped considerably to reduce the number of violations that might otherwise have taken place during the disarmament operation."

During her visit, Ms. Pillay met with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, National Assembly Speaker James Wani Igga, Minister of Justice John Luk Jok, senior government officials, the South Sudan Human Rights Commission and civil society.

She also spoke with Special Representative of the Secretary-General Hilde F. Johnson, diplomats, UN agency officials and the UNMISS Human Rights Division.

On discrimination against women, the high commissioner said she had met with civil society organizations the previous day in the Jonglei capital Bor about the extremelack of rights for women in rural areas.

"They described the tyranny of a dowry system that fuels the practice of early and forced marriage, in which neither the daughters nor the mothers usually have any say," said Ms. Pillay. "They painted a very disturbing picture of domestic violence, and suggested rape was fairly commonplace, but rarely investigated."

The women described cases to her of young girls who had rejected forced marriage and were ill treated or even beaten to death by their male relatives.

"Such terrible forms of discrimination should not be explained away as cultural practices that cannot be challenged or changed," the high commissioner said. "I believe in cultural rights, but not in the cultural repression of half the population."

She commended the over 25 per cent of women in South Sudanese parliament -- higher than in some European countries -- and strongly support the stated commitment of senior government officials and the South Sudan Human Rights Commission to support girls education and empowerment.

Ms. Pillay also met in Bor with Jonglei Governor Kuol Manyang Juuk to discuss recent large-scale cattle raids, mass killings and abductions of children that had bedeviled relations between the Murle, Lou Nuer and Dinka communities

"I was pleased to learn that the Jonglei State Communities Conference appears to have made some progress in its efforts to promote peace and reconciliation," she said.

During her visit, Ms. Pillay also addressed the situation of minorities and foreigners, the need for a moratorium on the death penalty and the importance of a truly free media.

"Journalists and human rights defenders should not be detained, obstructed, threatened, have their organizations closed down or be otherwise impeded from doing their legitimate work," she said.

On protection of civilians, she condemned the indiscriminate use of aerial bombardment by the Sudan Armed Forces inside South Sudan. "Deliberate or reckless attacks on civilian areas can, depending on the circumstances, amount to an international crime."

On human rights in general, the high commission noted that South Sudan was to some extent starting with a clean slate, which could be a major advantage in passing good laws and establishing effective institutions. "I have therefore urged the Government to ratify all the main international human rights treaties as soon as possible."

These treaties set the legal standards which national laws should reflect and South Sudan's Constitutional Bill of Rights provided a good foundation, she said.

"I was heartened to hear from the president that the government is committed to ratifying all the core human rights treaties," Ms. Pillay said. These included treaties on I the rights of children, persons with disabilities, migrant workers, refugees and stateless people; the conventions against torture, disappearances, discrimination against women, and racism.