All East Africa - Latest NewsSOUTH SUDAN

HRW cites systematic arbitrary detentions in South Sudan


By Timothy Sibasi,

KAMPALA – Witnesses and victims of abuse interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported dozens of cases of arbitrary detention by the army, including cases in which victims were held in shipping containers sometimes for long periods; and enforced disappearances, whereby authorities refuse to acknowledge the detention or disclose the whereabouts or fate of a detainee. Soldiers beat and tortured the vast majority of detainees, according to victims and relatives who spoke to Human Rights Watch.

The cases described in this report are part of a much larger body of similar abuses documented since January 2016 by Human Rights Watch in the Greater Equatoria and Bahr-el-Ghazal regions — in and around the towns of Yambio, Wau, Juba and Yei. The accounts show a clear pattern of government forces unlawfully targeting civilians for killings, rapes, arbitrary arrests, disappearances, torture, beatings, harassment and the looting, burning and destruction of their property.

The wall of Juba jail Image caption where victims of arbitrary arrests are locked up

According to the report in many instances, government soldiers fired indiscriminately in populated areas in what seems to have been retaliation for IO hit-and-run attacks on their forces, failing to take any precautions to protect civilians. In other cases, indiscriminate shootings and other tactics designed to instill fear in the population seemed to have the goal of displacing the civilians from rebel-held areas in an apparent effort to expose rebel fighters. The decision of rebels to encourage civilians from their own communities – particularly in the Equatorias and Wau area – to leave cities controlled by government forces, have further   contributed to displacement.

The ethnic dimension to these crimes, with predominantly Dinka forces targeting members of other ethnic groups suspected of supporting the opposition, is clear.  Exacerbating these divisions is a long legacy of the Sudanese government’s support for some of the same ethnic groups during the long southern independence wars.

The gravity of the abuses since the new war began in December 2013 and the ethnic dynamics that accompany many of these abuses is extensively and publicly documented by international organizations such as the United Nations and the African Union, non-government organizations, such Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and by national investigative committees reporting to President SalvaKiir. However, both parties to the conflict have failed to take all necessary and reasonable measures to stop the crimes or hold those responsible to account.

SPLA soldiers jump from a vehicle in Juba December 21, 2013. – RTX16QJA

The proposed Hybrid Court for South Sudan (HCSS), provided for under the ARCSS, raised hopes that further atrocities fueled by decades of impunity and de facto amnesties would finally be curtailed. Under the peace agreement, the court is to be composed of South Sudanese and other African judges and staff, and to be established by the African Union Commission.

Nearly two years after the ARCSS was concluded, the court has yet to be established, and for more than eighteen months, almost no tangible progress toward its establishment was made. Serious crimes continue to be perpetrated, and concern that the court would never materialize increased.

Although the parties to the conflict agreed in principle to the HCSS under the ARCSS, a key challenge for the HCSS was that South Sudan’s government had yet to substantively engage with the AU Commission on the establishment of the court.

On July 21, AU Commission, South Sudanese, and UN officials met in Juba to discuss the Hybrid Court for South Sudan and agreed on a roadmap for the court’s establishment, including finalizing the court’s statute by the end of August. If implemented, the roadmap could represent a breakthrough in advancing justice for victims of grave crimes committed in South Sudan.

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