In South Sudan, senior UN official says ‘no doubt’ rights violations are ongoing

Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights speaks to the press during a visit to South Sudan. Photo: UNMISS

Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights speaks to the press during a visit to South Sudan. Photo: UNMISS

South Sudan, 5 February 2015 – Warring parties in the South Sudan conflict say they are close to signing a peace deal, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonović, told reporters in Juba today as he confirmed that while fighting has decreased, rights violations continue in the world’s youngest country.

“I have met victims of recent violations – victims who are survivors of killings – so violations are ongoing…It is appalling to hear that in certain areas of the country, I think it was the month of August, a ‘month of rape’ was proclaimed. This is absolutely intolerable,” he said.

Mr. Šimonović, who is the country until 6 February assessing the human rights situation, met with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and his former Vice-President, Riek Machar. Earlier this week, the two leaders concluded a round of talks with a deal on a cease-fire, but without a broader agreement on running the country, which has been engulfed by war for more than a year.

“They have been assuring me that they are close, but it is not enough to be close. Peace has to be signed,” Mr. Šimonović said, reiterating the Secretary-General’s call for the two leaders to listen to their people. “There is a common message coming from everyone, be they women or men, young or old, Nuer or Dinka. People want peace.”

Visiting some of the hard hit areas, he said it was striking that both Bentiu and Malakal have become “destroyed cities.” During the day, there are some signs of life, but at night they become “ghost towns” because people return to the UN’s protection sites. Mr. Šimonović warned that with over 50,000 people at sites operated by the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) in Bentiu, and over 20,000 in Malakal, the situation is not sustainable for long. “It is essential to push for peace,” he stressed.

Pushing for peach requires ending the impunity cycle. Because of a lack of accountability in previous times, violations have been occurring. This “vicious cycle” has to be broken, he declared, emphasizing the need for broader participation in the peace process.

“We need representatives of all ethnic groups, we need civil society, we need women, we need elders, we need religious leaders. Only if there is broad inclusion in the political process will there be a chance for sustainable peace.”

The security situation in South Sudan has steadily deteriorated since political in-fighting between President Kiir and his former deputy, Mr. Machar, started in mid-December 2013. The hostilities subsequently turned into a full-fledged conflict that has sent nearly 100,000 civilians fleeing to United Nations bases around the country.

According to the UN, some 2.5 million people could be in need of food assistance in through March of 2015, especially if hostilities in the country continue through the dry season.

The new deadline for the two leaders to reach a peace pact has been set by the peace broker, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), for the 5 March.