Women and girls continue to be gang-raped and survivors have been described as “zombies, physically and emotionally dead”, according to the UN Commission on Human Rights in the world’s youngest nation.

🚨 NEWS ALERT

UN experts warn that #SouthSudan's peace process needs urgent attention to prevent violence escalating

PRESS RELEASE ▶️ https://t.co/ggNe4M5cRSpic.twitter.com/3Duhm4LOpi

— UN Human Rights Council 📍 #HRC51 (@UN_HRC) September 26, 2022

Police the peace

In an alert, Commission chairperson, Yasmin Sooka, said that it was critical for the international community to monitor the country’s peace agreement, along with other reforms – including of the armed forces and the constitution.

Transitional justice bodies are also urgently needed, as per an agreement made four years ago by the country’s Government, the Commission noted.

Without these steps, we are likely to see millions more South Sudanese displaced or crossing borders, creating havoc for neighbouring countries and aid agencies," Ms. Sooka said.

According to South Sudan’s 2018 peace agreement, elections have been postponed until late 2024.

Death threats

But conditions must be peaceful for a national poll to happen and South Sudanese people “who have questioned the government or exposed atrocities have received death threats, been detained or tortured”, the rights commission explained.

The panel noted that none of the three proposed transitional justice bodies agreed in 2018 have been created, namely the Commission on Truth, Reconciliation and Healing, the Hybrid Court or the Compensation and Reparation Authority.

The independent rights panel – which was established by the Human Rights Council in 2016 – said that “women raped by armed forces while collecting firewood are threatened with death if they report it”.

Often, the police are too ill-equipped to do their job; “they cannot arrest a soldier who is better armed and protected the Commission said in a recent statement.

“The victims all hope that the trial which opens today before you constitutes a guarantee that never again such crimes will be committed.” – Sarah Pellet, Legal Representative of Victims, at the opening of the trial in the #Said case pic.twitter.com/RbXTgu4vUS

— Int'l Criminal Court (@IntlCrimCourt) September 26, 2022

Mahamat Said Abdel Kani - a top-ranking leader of the mostly-Muslim Séléka militia - pleaded not guilty to all charges, which relate to atrocities carried out in 2013, in the Central African Republic capital, Bangui.

Much of the violence stemmed for clashes between Séléka and the mostly-Christian Anti-balaka faction.

Occupation

Before the crimes were committed, from late 2012 to early 2013, Sélékamilitia advanced towards the capital, attacking police stations, occupying military bases, capturing towns and regional capitals, and targeting suspected supporters of President François Bozizé.

They seized Bangui in March 2013 and with forces numbering up to 20,000, looted homes while searching for sympathisers of Mr. Bozize, shot those fleeing in the back or killed others in their homes.

“Women and girls were raped and gang-raped in front of their children or parents; some died as a result of their injuries,” the arrest warrant for Mr. Said stated.

Civilians targetted

“Part of the civilian population was targeted through multiple acts of murder, imprisonment, torture, rape, persecution on political, ethnic and religious grounds, and pillaging of houses belonging to non-Muslims and others perceived to be complicit with or supportive of the Bozizé government,” the warrant continued.

Mr. Kani’s charge sheet includes imprisonment, torture, persecution, enforced disappearance and other inhumane acts, committed in Bangui between approximately April and November 2013.

He saw “oversaw the day-to-day operations” of an infamous detention centre where men were taken after being arrested by Séléka members.

“As we speak today, 650,000 kids are suffering from severe acute malnutrition. If not treated, half of them will die,” said UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Representative in Sudan, Mandeep O Brien, underscoring what veteran aid workers have called an unprecedented crisis.

Children in Sudan are caught in a perfect storm of crises on top of crises, with more than one out of every three of Sudan’s children are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Read the full briefing by @UNICEFSudan Representative @MandeepOBrien here ->https://t.co/XcKNEhnOL0

— Joe English (@JoeEEnglish) September 23, 2022

Spiralling recent problems in Sudan have their roots in a military coup in October 2021 that prompted a freeze in international funding for aid operations and which has forced UN relief teams to cut rations in half, in some cases.

Ongoing political “tumult” has also weakened State support structures for struggling families, who have had to contend with dramatic food price hikes and intertribal violence, said the UN World Food Programme’s (WFP) Country Director in Sudan, Eddie Rowe.

Rising hunger

“At the moment, WFP (has) projected that about 15 million people would go hungry every day since the hunger season started, and we are now doing an assessment because our indicators projected that this could rise up to 18 million by the end of this month,” he said.

“We are still grappling with an increased incidence of intertribal conflicts and violence, and this in fact has spread now not just to Darfur, but to other parts of the country…The Ukraine War also has had some significant impact. All of this in the context of a political unstable country, has resulted in an unprecedented humanitarian crisis this year.”

Solidarity with Sudan

In an appeal to the international community to “stand in solidarity with the children of Sudan”, UNICEF’s Mandeep O Brien noted that the crisis reflected much more than a lack of food, with basic health services, clean water, sanitation and education severely lacking.

The Revitalized Peace Agreement, signed by the Government and opposition groups four years ago, ended years of conflict in the world’s youngest nation, independent since July 2011. 

“Owing to relative peace, the internally displaced and the refugees have been voluntarily returning home, although more formal reintegration remains a challenge due to limited resources,” said Mr. Abdelbagi. 

Roadmap and challenges 

Furthermore, the parties have agreed on a roadmap to complete the remaining tasks under the agreement, which will pave the way for elections when the transitional period ends in 2025. 

The Vice-President added that the command structure of the National Unified Forces has also been established, describing the development as “a major leap” towards their transformation and regularization. 

However, implementation of the peace deal is facing several challenges, “and sanctions imposed by international partners on individuals and entities are disservice to this course,” he said. 

Revise targeted sanctions 

“We are calling upon the international community, and the UN in particular, to revise individual and targeted sanctions, arms embargo imposed on South Sudan, to enable successful completion of the remaining provisions of the peace agreement outlined in the New Roadmap.” 

Floods and food insecurity 

Mr. Abdelbagi also reported on other obstacles South Sudan is facing. Up to 80 per cent of the country has been affected by floods for the past three years, making it evident that “climate change is real”. 

To mitigate the effects on both lives and livelihoods, the authorities are donating $10 million to the UN World Food Programme (WFP) to assist displaced communities.  

“However, we need the support of the international community to reach all the flood and drought-affected areas and communities,” he said. 

The Government also conducted an analysis earlier this year, which revealed that an estimated 6.8 million people, more than half the population, are facing food insecurity, with some 2.37 million at emergency level.

On the recent political developments in Sudan, he reiterated his commitment to peaceful transition to establish real democracy that includes fair, free and transparent elections at the end of the transition period, in order to establish a civilian regime that represents all Sudanese people.

The Sudanese President went on to share that starting in July, his country’s military was asked to withdraw from negotiations meant to solve the ongoing political crisis after last year’s coup, allowing revolutionary political forces to form a civilian government. This would be a government which would be independent and implement the rest of the remaining requests in the transition period.

He restated Sudan’s commitment to cooperate with UNITAMS in line with the UN Charter and its mandate set forth by the Security Council and in line with the list of requests presented by Sudan to the UN to promote the transition. He added that cooperation will continue with UNISFA.

President Al-Burhan stated: “In order to promote national understanding we have provided all the necessary support to the AU-IGAD-UNITAMS Trilateral Mechanism, this mechanism has done a lot of work, but has yet to achieve what was required of it. This has made debates on national consensus more complicated.”

Supporting regional peace

He highlighted how signing the Juba Peace Agreement lessened conflict in Darfur and provided some stability and security to the region. In Darfur, rate of voluntary return of the displaced people has also increased. The Sudanese leader appealed to the international community for help and assistance in entitlements under the Juba Peace Agreement.

President Al-Burhan stressed how Sudan is striving to improve security, development and peace in the Africa region, with South Sudan, Somalia, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Chad among other countries. He added that Sudan was the coordinator alongside the African Union to reach a peace agreement in the Central African Republic.

“If nothing is done, the effects of terrorism, violent extremism and organized crime will be felt far beyond the region and the African continent”, said Secretary-General António Guterres, in his remarks issued by his Spokesperson’s Office.

A coordinated international breakthrough is urgently needed. We must rethink our collective approach and show creativity, going beyond existing efforts.”

The insecurity is making a “catastrophic humanitarian situation even worse”, he said, leaving some beleaguered national governments, without any access to their own citizens.

‘Deadly grip’ tightening

Meanwhile, “non-State armed groups are tightening their deadly grip over the region and are even seeking to extend their presence into the countries of the Gulf of Guinea.”

The indiscriminate use of violence by terrorist and other groups means that thousands of innocent civilians are left to suffer, while millions of others are forced from their homes, Mr. Guterres told the meeting of national leaders, during the High Level Week summit.

Women and children in particular are bearing the brunt of insecurity, violence and growing inequality”, he said, with human rights violations, sometimes committed by security forces mandated to protect civilians, “of great concern”.

Refugee women prepare food in a displacement site in Ouallam, in the Tillaberi region of Niger.
© UNOCHA/Michele Cattani
Refugee women prepare food in a displacement site in Ouallam, in the Tillaberi region of Niger.

Climate factor

And the crises are being compounded by climate change, said the UN chief, with soil erosion and the drying-up of water sources, “thereby contributing to acute food insecurity and exacerbating tensions between farmers and herders.”

“Against a global backdrop of turmoil on energy, food and financial markets, the region is threatened by a systemic debt crisis that is likely to have repercussions throughout the continent.

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