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Nicaragua: UN rights chief ‘deeply concerned’ over increasing criminalization of dissenters

INTERNATIONAL, 22 February 2019, Human Rights - While the Nicaraguan Government claims to want to resolve its political and social unrest, dissenters continue to be arrested and convicted, clearly hindering a conducive environment for “genuine and inclusive dialogue,” the United Nations rights chief said on Friday.

“I am deeply concerned about the apparent lack of due process and increasing criminalization of dissent in Nicaragua,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said on Friday.

She warned that the arrest and jailing of opposition leaders, in some cases as a reprisal for cooperating with the UN to highlight human rights abuses, “clearly hinders the creation of an environment conducive to holding a genuine and inclusive dialogue – which the Government says it wants.

Over the last six months, a diverse section of several hundred people has been arrested and held in pre-trial detention for long periods for their alleged roles during protests that took place last year between April and July.

Amid rising concerns over the judiciary’s independence, since December, various criminal courts in Managua have handed down guilty verdicts and extremely heavy sentences to prominent opposition and community leaders.

Students, journalists, and a Supreme Court judge, among other dissenting voices, have fled the country.

The proceedings in many of the cases have been marred by a lack of transparency; witnesses independence and credibility; undue restrictions on evidence and witnesses for the defense; and defendants’ insufficient access to their lawyers.

Recent convictions/sentencings in controversial circumstances:

  • Student leader Jonathan López, sentenced to five years and three months in prison.
  • Peasant leaders Medardo Mairena and Pedro Mena sentenced to 216 and 210 years in prison respectively.
  • Former army officers Carlos Brenes and Tomas Maldonado, who face sentencing for 32 and 34 years, respectively.

“There needs to be an independent review of the convictions and sentences imposed on opposition leaders and activists who took part in the protests to ensure that their cases were properly handled at every stage by the police, prosecutors and judges,” stressed Ms. Bachelet.

She called on the authorities to “release all those deprived of their liberty in connection with their intrinsic right to peaceful protest and dissent,” and to ensure that those “who cooperate with the UN and other human rights organizations do not face reprisals."

“It is a fundamental tenet of democracy that people from all parts of society should be able to engage freely in debate about the future of their country, without fear of arrest or intimidation,” concluded the UN human rights chief.

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Without scaled-up humanitarian assistance ‘more and more people’ at risk in South Sudan

INTERNATIONAL, 22 February 2019, Humanitarian Aid - “Alarming” food insecurity threatens nearly seven million people in South Sudan, according to a new report by three United Nations agencies appealing for greater assistance and better access to humanitarian relief.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP), in collaboration with the Government of South Sudan, released on Friday the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), which indicated that acutely food insecure people there has shot up by 13 per cent since January last year.

“The projections are alarming and food security continues to worsen,” said Pierre Vauthier, FAO’s interim Representative in the country. “Together with the people of South Sudan, we need to act urgently to reverse this trend.”

The increase includes some 30,000 people who are already experiencing extreme food insecurity in Jonglei and Lakes states, in eastern and central South Sudan.

Food insecurity is driven by population displacement and conflict, which disrupts food production, depletes livestock and limits access to alternative food sources.

Prolonged dry spells, flooding, crop disease and pest infestation have also impacted rain-dependent agricultural production, leaving people particularly vulnerable to high prices and limited food availability.

Moreover, local cereal production in 2019 will supply 52 per cent of South Sudan’s cereal needs, compared to 61 per cent in 2018.

“Our priority is to support families to maintain and increase their production, and help agro-pastoral communities preserve their livelihoods,” Mr. Vauthier asserted.

UN agencies work to alleviate suffering

  • FAO aims to provide 800,000 farming, fishing and agro-pastoral households in severely food insecure areas with vegetable and crop seeds, agricultural hand tools and fishing equipment.
  • FAO is vaccinating animals to support agro-pastoralist communities that depend on livestock.
  • UNICEF is targeting more than two million children and their mothers to deliver nutrition services.
  • UNICEF will provide micronutrient supplements, health and water, sanitation and hygiene services to prevent acute malnutrition and use ready-to-use therapeutic food to treat severely acute malnourished children.
  • WFP plans to pre-position 175,000 metric tons of food in more than 60 warehouses to reduce delivery costs and making airdrops unnecessary during the rainy season.
  • WFP will provide the most vulnerable with food:
    • and cash distributions in areas with working markets;
    • for work on reconstructing community assets;
    • for school meals;
    • and special products to treat malnutrition among children, and pregnant or nursing women.

More funds are urgently needed to scale-up humanitarian assistance, particularly as some 50,000 people will face extreme food insecurity during the leans season, between May and July.

Already food insecure, Unity, Jonglei, Upper Nile and Lakes states risk famine if the overall situation deteriorates further and humanitarian assistance dries up.

“Unless we scale up humanitarian and recovery activities soon, more and more people will be at risk,” said Simon Cammelbeeck, WFP’s Acting Country Director in South Sudan.

Malnutrition levels are already critical and threaten to worsen, with some 860,000 children under age five severely malnourished.

“This is especially worrying as those most in need of assistance are malnourished women and children,” Mr. Cammelbeeck lamented.

While the world’s youngest nation has been mired in conflict for nearly all seven years of its existence, in early 2018 President Salva Kiir and his former Vice-President and his long-time political rival, Riek Machar, signed a peace accord, which has increased some access for UNICEF.

UNICEF has made “significant progress in treating severe malnutrition in children,” with a recovery rate above 80 per cent, according to Andrea Suley, its ad interim Representative in South Sudan.

“Yet,” she explained “our nutrition programme has a funding gap of 88 per cent,” saying: “If funding is not timely secured, the children we know how to save may not make it.”

The UN agencies have conducted relief operations since the conflict erupted in late 2013, including mobile teams travelling, usually by helicopter, to reach people in isolated areas.

“Sustained humanitarian support is required to address the immediate food assistance needs,” said UN Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan Alain Noudehou, adding that it is also “critical to support resilience.

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UN chief lauds Philippines’ ‘landmark achievement’ on setting up transition authority in Bangsamoro

INTERNATIONAL, 22 February 2019, Peace and Security - United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres congratulated the Philippines on Friday for establishing a government body to push forward the formal creation of an autonomous region.

In addition to the Government, he commended the Islamic Liberation Front, civil society groups, local communities and the Bangsamoro Transition Commission itself, which was first tasked some six years ago to help draft what in 2018 became the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

The de facto seat of the Autonomous Region, which consists of five mostly Muslim provinces, has its own government, which is outside of its jurisdiction.

Following the plebiscite confirmations of 21 January and 6 February, Mr. Guterres called the Bangsamoro Organic Law “a landmark achievement on the road to lasting peace in the Southern Philippines,” as well as “a historic occasion for all people from the Philippines.”

He pledged continued UN support in implementing the Bangsamoro Organic Law and helping to “build the capacity of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority to achieve peace, democratic governance, and respect for human rights.”

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UN rights office urges Egypt to halt death row executions amid torture allegations

INTERNATIONAL, 22 February 2019, Human Rights - Fifteen death row inmates have been executed in Egypt so far this month despite claims from many that they were tortured to secure a confession, the UN human rights office, OHCHR, said on Friday.

According to OHCHR, nine people were executed on Wednesday and six others were subjected to the death penalty earlier in the month.

The sentences were handed down after the killing of Egypt’s top prosecutor, Hisham Barakat, as well as police General Nabil Farrag and the son of a judge.

“They are all killings for which the death penalty is permissible under international law although we urge, as you know, our common position at the UN is to advocate the abolition of the death penalty,” said OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville. “But the issue here is fair trial, use of torture, forced confessions and so on.”

A number of other individuals are on death row “and at imminent risk of execution” after being convicted despite similar torture allegations, Mr. Colville said.

In an appeal to the Egyptian authorities to halt all executions, he insisted that where capital punishment was still permitted, trials “must meet the highest standards of fairness and due process” to prevent miscarriages of justice.

“Over the past few years, there has been a succession of cases of individuals being convicted in similar circumstances in Egypt amid disturbing reports of a lack of due legal proceedings,” he told journalists in Geneva.

On 20 February, nine individuals were executed for their involvement in the 2015 killing of Egypt’s General Prosecutor, Hisham Barakat, according to OHCHR.

“During the trial, detailed accounts of the torture allegedly used to obtain confessions, were apparently ignored by the courts without due consideration,” Mr. Colville said.

On 13 February, three other individuals were hanged after being convicted of the 2013 killing a police officer, General Nabil Farrag, according to the UN human rights office.

A week earlier, on 7 February, three men were executed in connection with the murder of the son of a judge in 2014.

“All of them had claimed before the courts that they had been disappeared, or detained incommunicado for prolonged periods, and were subjected to torture in order to make them confess to the crimes,” Mr. Colville explained.

The allegations follow a UN Committee Against Torture probe which concluded in June 2017 that torture is “practised systematically” in Egypt, he added.

The development echoes a similar OHCHR appeal to Cairo in January 2018 after it claimed that 20 people had been executed in a single week.

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Pregnant, nursing women can now be given Ebola vaccine, UN health agency announces

INTERNATIONAL, 21 February 2019, Health - Reversing an earlier decision, the World Health Organization (WHO) now recommends vaccinating pregnant and breastfeeding women against the Ebola virus.

The announcement was issued on Wednesday from Beijing after a consultation meeting by the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunization, which the WHO Director-General established in 1999 to provide guidance on the UN health agency’s work.

Last August, the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) Ministry of Health declared a fresh outbreak of Ebola virus disease (EVD) in North Kivu Province.

Noting that these experimental vaccines are “non-replicating or replication deficient,” SAGE concluded that “pregnant and lactating women should be included into the clinical trial protocol.”

“The protocol must include provisions for safety monitoring and for documentation of EVD cases among vaccines, including follow-up of pregnant women and their offspring,” the Group stressed.

According to SAGE, national authorities should choose the vaccine “based on a transparent and evidence-based process.”

Meanwhile, WHO, the Health Ministry and partners continue working to establish the outbreak’s full extent.

As of 16 February, 773 confirmed EVD cases have been reported in one of the country’s most populated provinces – with eight million inhabitants – as well as 65 probable others and 534 deaths.

SAGE recommends that the Ebola inoculation be administered to contacts and contacts of contacts as well as geographically targeted vaccinations to prevent contracting the disease.

The Advisory Group meets biannually to review and critique evidence on immunization and vaccine-related topics, after which it formulates recommendations for WHO vaccine position papers.

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UN decolonization successes can ‘inspire us today,’ UN chief tells Special Committee

INTERNATIONAL, 21 February 2019, UN Affairs - Since the early1960s, the United Nations decolonization committee has “accompanied many territories in their journey”, Secretary-General António Guterres said on Thursday, opening the body’s 2019 session.

Reminding the Special Committee on Decolonization that as a Portuguese national, he came from a country oppressed by dictatorship, Mr. Guterres called the decolonization agenda “an area close to my heart and to which I reiterate my commitment.”

Back in 1946, some Member States identified a roster of non-self-governing territories and placed them on a UN list. In 1960 the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples was adopted and the following year the General Assembly established the Special Committee, known by the shorthand ‘C-24’ after its original 24 members, to monitor its implementation.

As “one of the most significant chapters of the Organization’s history,” Mr. Guterres credited decolonization with helping to transform UN membership, “propelling the Organization’s growth from 51 original members to 193 today.”

Over the years this process has resulted in the removal of most territories from the list.

“But this story is still being written,” the UN chief continued, “as 17 non-self-governing territories remain,” each waiting to attain self-government, in accordance with Chapter XI of the UN Charter, the 1960 Declaration and relevant UN resolutions.  

Among other things, the Special Committee annually reviews the territories remaining on the list – making recommendations on implementation and supporting the dissemination of public opinion information on the decolonization process.

Decolonization under way today

Most recently, Mr. Guterres explained, New Caledonia in the South Pacific territory took an important decolonization step forward through a referendum last November.

He commended France, the country administering the territory, on its cooperation throughout the process – in accordance with the 1998 Nouméa Accord, which set out that a referendum on self-determination would be held by 2018.

Meanwhile, the Special Committee assisted in the period leading up to the referendum, including by dispatching two visiting missions to New Caledonia.

“To achieve decolonization, the voices of the peoples of the territories should be heard,” underscored Mr. Guterres adding that “likewise vital” was the cooperation of all concerned, including the administering powers.

To achieve decolonization, the voices of the peoples of the territories should be heard – UN chief

That the people of the non-self-governing territories understand the options regarding their political status and right to choose their future freely is “paramount,” according to the UN chief.

As he wished the Committee “every success” throughout the 2019 session, Mr. Guterres said: “The UN’s decolonization successes across the decades can inspire us today.”

“Let us uphold our duty to assist all the peoples of the non-self-governing territories in bringing their decolonization process to a successful conclusion, according to their own choice,” concluded the Secretary-General. 

The C-24 also observes the Week of Solidarity with the Peoples of Non-Self-Governing Territories.

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Agreement on new peace deal ‘only one step’ on challenging road ahead for Central African Republic, says UN envoy

INTERNATIONAL, 21 February 2019, Peace and Security - Despite the recent signing of a recent peace deal between the Government of the Central African Republic (CAR) and 14 armed groups “we should not forget that the situation in the country remains serious,” a senior UN envoy told the Security Council on Thursday.

“The signing of the Global Agreement for Peace and National Reconciliation on 6 February is the culmination of a long process,” said Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of the UN mission in CAR.

In his final briefing to the Council, Mr. Onanga-Anyanga recalled that after a difficult transition, new legitimate and democratic institutions were installed on March 30, 2016. “Central Africans have come a long way, and despite numerous challenges…they deserve our admiration and encouragement,” he added.

Since conflict began in CAR in 2012, due to fighting between the mostly Christian anti-Balaka militia and the mainly Muslim Séléka rebel coalition, thousands of civilians have been killed and two out of three people in the small Central African Nation have become dependent on humanitarian aid.

“While we are right to welcome the fact that our multifaceted efforts have allowed this important political advance in the Central African Republic, we must remain vigilant because the situation remains serious,” said the UN envoy, adding: “The unbearable fate of displaced people and refugees, as well as scenes of senseless violence and the many victims [are a nagging reminder] of this.”

Mr. Onanga-Anyanga stressed that the signing of the peace deal was a “necessary and decisive step, certainly, but only one step. The hardest thing is indeed to come. The real test will be in the full and good faith implementation of the agreement,” he explained.

With that in mind, he called on all stakeholders to scrupulously honor the commitments they have made under the agreement and not to betray the confidence placed in them by the Central African people and all those who accompanied them in throughout the peace process.

“The country today has the opportunity to open a new page full of promise and that turns its back, definitely, to a painful story,” said Mr. Onanga-Anyanga, and he urged the parties to always pursue dialogue to sustain the new political and social consensus put forward by the February 6 agreement.

The UN envoy said the role of the guarantors, especially neighboring countries and the region, and that of the facilitators will be decisive for the full realization of the accord. He welcomed the joint initiative of the United Nations and the African Union to hold a meeting of the International Support Group at CAR on Friday 22 February.

Mr. Onanga-Anyanga said that the support of the Security Council, the countries of the region and the wider international community remain essential for the successful implementation of the peace agreement.

Finally, he saluted the sacrifice of peacekeepers who were killed in CAR. "These peacekeepers gave their lives to help assist, protect and comfort the Central African people and support the country's young democratic institutions when threatened," he said.

This was Mr. Onanga-Anyanga's last briefing to the Security  Council as Special Representative for CAR. Heading up the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) since August 2015, Mr. Onanga-Anyanga will be succeeded by Mankeur Ndiaye, of Senegal.

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Service and Sacrifice: UN peacekeeping assignment ‘lifetime opportunity’ for Nepalese doctor

INTERNATIONAL, 21 February 2019, Peace and Security - For over six decades, Nepalese women and men have served around the world as United Nations peacekeepers. The South Asian nation is currently the fifth largest contributor to UN peacekeeping, with over 5,700 personnel serving in more than a dozen countries. They protect vulnerable communities and support countries working to move from conflict to peace, doing so at great personal risk and in harsh conditions.

UN News spoke with one such peacekeeper, Captain Poonam Khadka, who served with the joint African Union-UN peacekeeping mission (UNAMID) in the Darfur region of Sudan last year. Captain Khadka completed her assignment in Darfur and returned home to Nepal in January of this year. The following interview took place while she was still serving with the Mission.

UN News: Please state your name, position and where you are from; tell us a little bit about your background.

Poonam Khadka: I’m Captain Dr. Poonam Racal Khadka, the Senior Medical Officer working with the Nepal Force Reserve Company (FRC) Level 1 Hospital at UNAMID headquarters in El Fasher, North Darfur. I joined the Nepal Armed Forces in 2011 and have worked in its military hospitals ever since. My family background is rooted in the Nepalese military; my husband, my father-in-law and my brother-in-law, literally most of my immediate and extended family, have worked in the military. The strong military background is my main motivation in my work, especially when you get this rare opportunity to serve in UN peacekeeping missions, where I can make a contribution to global peace and stability and provide support to people in need all over the world. 

UN News: How long have you been with UNAMID and what are your responsibilities?

Poonam Khadka: I joined UNAMID in mid-2017. My main responsibility is to treat and care for patients who come or are admitted to our Level 1 Hospital. Additionally, I am the Gender Focal Point for the Nepal Contingent. The latter assignment affords me the opportunity to interact with the local communities during sensitization campaigns where we educate them on the importance of health care and hygiene, particularly in the IDP [internally displaced persons] camps. These sensitisation campaigns focus mainly on the critical need for handwashing during cooking or toilet use, drinking safe water, eating healthy food in addition to the protection of the environment through organizing clean-up campaigns in their communities.  

UN News: What led you to join UN peacekeeping?

Poonam Khadka: Actually, I was nominated by the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) as well as my Government. It is compulsory, in my country, for everyone working in our military hospitals to work in a UN peacekeeping mission before he/she completes a master’s degree.  Personally, I was driven by the need to serve humanity and to support vulnerable people, particularly those living in conflict areas or those affected by natural calamities.

UN News: Which UN missions have you served with? 

Poonam Khadka: This is my second UN peacekeeping assignment. Prior to joining UNAMID, I served with the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) from 2014 to 2015.

UN Photo/Amin Ismail
Captain Poonam Khadka while on mission in Sudan’s Darfur region. UN Photo/Amin Ismail
UN News: Describe what a typical day at the mission is like for you.

Poonam Khadka: In UNAMID, we are on duty 24/7. This also depends on the patient conditions in our hospital as sometimes we have to stay overnight to attend to very sick patients and other emergencies. Otherwise, we work the normal 6 hours per day.

We have also done external assignments as was the case during the last Nelson Mandela Day commemorative event held in ZamZam IDP Camp, near El Fasher, North Darfur where we partnered with other military personnel from the Indonesian and Egypt Contingents to conduct a health camp. We sensitised residents there about water-borne diseases, the usage of oral rehydration solutions at home and how to keep hands clean to minimise food contamination.

UN News: What are some of the highlights of serving with the peacekeeping mission?

Poonam Khadka: UN peacekeeping missions operate in a multi-cultural environment where each and every member learns new things and exchanges ideas with colleagues and the host community.  During my tenure with UNAMID, I have taken the initiative to attend HIV/AIDS awareness sessions and participated in various cultural and sporting activities organized by the Nepal Contingent to mark various UN International Day observances.

UN News: What are some of the challenges for you personally?

Poonam Khadka: The long distance and time away from close family is perhaps my greatest challenge as my current location is very far from my country.  The weather in Darfur sometimes is challenging for me, especially during the sandstorm season and the incessant humid and hot weather.

UN News: What do your family and friends back home think about your service with UN peacekeeping?

Poonam Khadka: My family and friends are very proud of what I do as they know that we are in Darfur representing our country, Nepal. My family appreciates that our Nepal Contingent is in Darfur to build peace and security and to assist in conflict resolution in the region.

Working as a peacekeeper and being a female military officer, who is also a doctor working in UN peacekeeping, fills me and my family with a lot of pride.  

UN Photo/Amin Ismail
Captain Poonam Khadka while on mission in Sudan’s Darfur region. UN Photo/Amin Ismail
UN News: How would you describe your overall experience as a UN peacekeeper? Is there one particular experience/memory you will take back with you when you return home?

Poonam Khadka: Coming from a South Asian, male-dominated environment, where female voices are gradually being understood by our communities, I am encouraged that lately gender equality issues are being mainstreamed into the workplace and in families. For instance, I come from a family of five brothers and sisters. My parents opted to send me, a woman, to China to study for five years, while my brothers studied locally in government engineering colleges.

Nowadays, in the larger cities in my country, people are changing their mindsets about gender parity but the women in the remote areas still encounter problems in accessing education and theirs voices remain unheard in their communities and families.

Personally, I am gratified by the chance to work in a UN peacekeeping mission, as this has offered me the opportunity to internalise gender-related issues. Working for MONUSCO and now for UNAMID has helped build my self-confidence immensely, especially in gender-related approaches in the workplace.

UN News: What would you say to others in your home country who are considering serving with the UN?

Poonam Khadka: Working in a UN peacekeeping mission is a lifetime opportunity as it accords people like me a chance to interact with people from different countries with different norms and cultures. I learn from them and they learn from me. As a female peacekeeper, I feel proud and grateful that I have the chance to work with other female and male peacekeepers from around the globe.

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How Bangladesh spearheaded creation of International Mother Language Day

INTERNATIONAL, 21 February 2019, Culture and Education - Concerned that one language goes extinct every two weeks, the United Nations is honouring linguistic diversity and celebrating indigenous languages on International Mother Language Day. And the roots of the Day start in a South-Asian country with a bloody and historic connection to 21 February.

“We have to protect our heritage, our culture, our existence,” said Ambassador Masud Bin Momen, of Bangladesh, the country which successfully lobbied the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1999 to create International Mother Language Day. The UN General Assembly formally recognized the Day in 2008.

The origins of the Day began before 21 February 1952, but erupted on that day, when students at the University of Dhaka and other activists protested a Government order declaring Urdu as the sole national language. Bangladesh at the time was part of Pakistan. The deadly protest provoked widespread unrest, resulting in 1956, in Bengali being granted official status.

“It is a part of our Bengali nationalism to promote and commemorate this Day for the protection of not only our language but all those struggles elsewhere around the world,” Mr. Momen told UN News.

He said International Mother Language Day also celebrates multilingualism worldwide, promoting more tolerance and a “sense of culture of peace and harmony where diversity does not mean harmful for the global citizen but diversity is also a powerful instrument.”   

Watch the entire television interview with Mr. Momen on YouTube, or listen to our highlights on SoundCloud. 

As part of the Day’s celebrations, the United Nations Postal Administration will issue 18 World Language stamps, each saying “hello” in English and in a dozen other languages.

A special event will be organized on 21 February in New York, organized by Bangladesh, Guatemala, Mozambique, Nigeria and Papua New Guinea, in collaboration with the United Nations Department for General Assembly and Conference Management (DGACM), the UN Department of Global Communications (DGC), the UN Postal Administration (UNPA) and the New York Office of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

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South Sudan: ‘Outraged’ UN experts say ongoing widespread human rights violations may amount to war crimes

INTERNATIONAL, 20 February 2019, Human Rights - United Nations investigators on Wednesday denounced a raft of gross human rights violations being perpetrated in South Sudan, where over the past year, incidents of rape have surged and abductions, sexual slavery and brutal killings “have become commonplace.”  

“There is a confirmed pattern of how combatants attack villages, plunder homes, take women as sexual slaves and then set homes alight – often with people in them,” Yasmin Sooka, Chair of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan said in Nairobi at the launch of the launch of the three-member expert-body’s third report

“Rapes, gang rapes, sexual mutilation, abductions and sexual slavery, as well as killings, have become commonplace in South Sudan,” she continued. “There is no doubt that these crimes are persistent because impunity is so entrenched that every kind of norm is broken.”

While a lack of accountability during the country’s struggle for independence has helped to fuel the current conflict, the report stresses that sustainable peace requires tangible and credible accountability and justice.

There is no doubt that these crimes are persistent because impunity is so entrenched that every kind of norm is broken – Yasmin Sooka

“We do acknowledge the efforts of the Government to hold some perpetrators accountable for gross violations of human rights and serious violations of international humanitarian law,” Commissioner Andrew Clapham said in Geneva.

“However, we also have to note that pervasive impunity remains the norm.”

The Commission, set up in 2016 by the UN Human Rights Council, urged the Government, the region and the international community to “take urgent steps” to respect the cessation of hostilities, implement the Revitalized Agreement signed five months ago and “push to silence the guns completely.”

South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, has been mired in instability and conflict for nearly all seven years of its existence.

Earlier in 2018, President Salva Kiir and his former Vice-President and long-time political rival, Riek Machar, signed a new peace accord, and hopes have been high that the deal would finally end the crisis and deliver better and safer conditions for millions that have been left homeless and hungry.

A downward spiral

Since its December 2017 update, the Commission said the magnitude of rape and sexual violence has worsened markedly, with a surge in rapes between November and December.

According to UNICEF, 25 per cent of those targeted by sexual violence are children, including girls as young as seven. Elderly and pregnant women have also been raped, and sexual violence against men and boys remains underreported as the stigma attached to it is higher than that of raping and killing the young and the elderly.

Portrait of a woman resident of Wau Shilluk, South Sudan. The town has been reduced to dust, as ongoing conflict has seen the complete destruction of homes, the school and hospital., by © UNICEF/UN0236862/Rich

The Commission also investigated sexual exploitation and abuse allegations committed by UN peacekeepers.

Cases in 2018, which involved 18 alleged perpetrators of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), were registered in the UN Sexual Exploitation and Abuse Database, and peacekeepers from one of the Protection of Civilians sites were repatriated. 

The Commission also noted a link between the conflict and the country’s political economy – pointing to the misappropriation of natural resources, and “a total lack of transparency and independent oversight,” that has allegedly diverted revenues to Government elites.

Victims and vulnerable communities – especially women, the internally displaced and refugees – must be included in designing and implementing mechanisms for the transitional justice agenda, which the Commission deemed “essential for building sustainable peace.”

As it continues to document violations, build dossiers on perpetrators, and collect and preserve evidence for future accountability processes, the Commission has detailed three case studies documenting war crimes, which will be handed over to the Right Commission in Geneva.  

“This evidence may be used beyond South Sudanese bodies – it may be available on request to regional and state parties for future prosecutions,” said Commissioner Barney Afako.

“With sustained political will and effective leadership,” concluded Ms. Sooka, “the transitional justice framework and mechanisms can help to bring accountability, reconciliation and healing as South Sudanese deal with the past and secure their future stability and prosperity.”

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