A soldier walks past women carrying their belongings near Benitu, northern South Sudan, February 11, 2017.
The Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, a United Nations Human Rights Council investigative body, has uncovered more evidence of continuing serious violations in the country that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, despite the parties to South Sudan’s long-running conflict signing the revitalized peace agreements in October last year.
The report, released today, documents horrific attacks on civilians, destruction of property and forced displacement, and shocking levels of rape and sexual violence against women and girls as young as seven. The report also details many cases of arbitrary detention by South Sudan’s draconian national security agency, torture and abuse of detainees, deaths in custody, and enforced disappearances, as in the case of human rights lawyer Dong Samuel, missing for two years.
This is not the first time the commission has documented such grave crimes. In its previous report for the period between 2016-2017, the commission also found evidence of violations that could amount to crimes against humanity. The UN’s human rights officers on the ground and Human Rights Watch have also documented serious crimes taking place in South Sudan since war broke out there in December 2013.
Despite mounting evidence, the South Sudanese government has taken no real steps towards accountability. Its leaders have made no progress on the long-promised African Union-South Sudanese hybrid court. Domestic justice efforts to date have been ad hoc and an inadequate response to pervasive sexual violence and other violations.
In an environment of near-total impunity for even the worst crimes, the role of the commission to collect and preserve evidence, including information regarding individuals who may be responsible for them, is critical for any future justice efforts – whether at the hybrid court or elsewhere.
There’s little reason to believe that the revitalized peace deal will end violence and abuses or bring about justice anytime soon – and it should certainly not be used as an excuse to tamper with the mandate of the commission. Instead, the UN Human Rights Council should double down on its commitment to accountability in South Sudan and ensure the commission continues its vital work for another term.