The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Commission) has been following, through its Country Rapporteur for South Sudan, the ongoing civil conflict in South Sudan and is appalled by the deliberate and brutal targeting of civilians, particularly women and children by both the government forces and opposition forces.
The African Commission particularly takes note of the Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued on 10 July 2018 which documents some of the worst atrocities by government forces in the rebel held areas, including shooting at fleeing civilians, gang rape of women and children, and killing of elderly people, persons with disabilities and children, including through being hanged from trees and burned alive. The Report further confirms retaliatory attacks on civilians carried out by opposition armed groups.
The African Commission condemns in the strongest terms these acts of violence constituting gross violations and abuses of the human and peoples’ rights under the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and the rules of international humanitarian law.
The Commission is concerned about the 2.5 million South Sudanese forced to seek refuge in neighbouring countries, and the 1.74 million internally displaced persons. The Commission further condemns the attacks against humanitarian workers, UN Peacekeepers and other actions limited humanitarian access.
Considering that the ongoing violations can be brought to an end through the resolution of the conflict in South Sudan, the Commission is further concerned about the repeated failure of the parties to conclusively resolve the conflict within the framework of the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) High-Level Revitalizaiton Forum and about reports of violations of the latest ceasefire that came into effect on 30 June 2018.
The African Commission reaffirms the continued relevance of the IGAD mediated August 2015 Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan, notably the transitional justice mechanisms provided for in the agreement.
The Commission reaffirms as a fundamental right of all peoples the right to national peace and security guaranteed under Article 23 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter), as well as the right of human beings to respect for their life, integrity of their person (Article 4) and the prohibition of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment (Article 5). The Commission also affirms the principle of distinction under international humanitarian law, which absolutely prohibits attacks against civilians.
The African Commission:
1. Reminds the government of South Sudan that it bears primary responsibility for protecting civilians, including those in the rebel held areas, for ensuring that its forces completely cease the targetting of civilians and for investigating and holding those responsible accountable;
2. Urges IGAD and its Special Envoy for the South Sudan Peace process as well as the African Union to explicitly require as part of the ceasefire and the peace talks, total abstention from and rejection of attacks against civilians; and to include attacks against civilians and violations of international humanitarian law among the indicators for monitoring the ceasefire;
3. Calls on the government and the armed opposition to end attacks against humanitarian actors and to ensure unrestricted humanitarian access for bringing life saving aid to the internally displaced and others in need of humanitarian assistance;
4. Underscores the supreme importance of the conclusive resolution of the conflict through the ongoing peace process under the auspices of IGAD for ending the violations and suffering that the civilian population continues to endure;
5. Urges the AU to put in place a mechanism for documenting the identities of civilian authorities and military commanders, both in the government and the armed opposition, who are responsible for or failed to stop attacks against civlians; and
6. Calls on IGAD, the AU and the South Sudan Government and the other Parties to the August 2015 IGAD Agreement, to urgently put in place a process for the implementation of the transitional justice mechanisms provided for in the 2015 Agreement and in this regard urges them to cooperate, as stipulated in the 2015 Agreement, with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights for putting in place such a process, including on the operationalization of the truth, reconciliation and healing commission.
Honourable Commissioner Solomon Ayele Dersso, Commissioner Rapporteur for the Republic of South Sudan
Banjul, 12 July 2018