Since 2013, the young nation of South Sudan has been in the midst of a violent civil war. The violence, which is both politically and ethnically driven, is primarily between forces loyal to South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, and those loyal to the Vice President, Riek Machar. However tens of thousands of civilians have been caught in the crossfire and targeted by brutal violence from both sides, and the situation has become increasingly destructive and volatile in recent months.
As a result of the violence and insecurity facing South Sudanese civilians, an estimated 2.3 million people are displaced, and humanitarian needs have skyrocketed. With both sides of this civil war heavily armed, civilians continue to be targeted with violence and intimidation at alarming rates, with little accountability for perpetrators.
In light of these concerning developments, organizations like Human Rights Watch (HRW) are calling on the Obama Administration to put an arms embargo on South Sudan. In the press release below, HRW reports on the deteriorating situation in the country and makes the case for why additional action is urgently needed.
We encourage you to learn more by reading HRW’s press release and by checking out Human Rights Watch’s #HaltArms campaign. Take action by calling on the National Security Council at the White House (@NSC44) to place an arms embargo on South Sudan to help ensure that communities in South Sudan have their best chance at safety.
Whether we are talking about LRA-affected communities in DR Congo or communities caught in the crossfire of a civil war in South Sudan, our liberty is bound together. So let’s speak up and demand that everyone receives the basic safety that they need and deserve.
From Human Rights Watch:
South Sudan: Killings, Rapes, Looting in Juba
Arms Embargo, Additional UN Sanctions Needed
(Nairobi) – Soldiers killed and raped civilians and extensively looted civilian property, including humanitarian goods, during and after clashes between government and opposition forces in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, in July, 2016, Human Rights Watch said today. In many cases, government forces appeared to target non-Dinka civilians.
As a result of indiscriminate attacks, including shooting and shelling, shells landed in camps for displaced people inside United Nations bases, and in other densely populated areas in the city, killing and wounding civilians. Human Rights Watch researchers visiting Juba in July after the clashes documented multiple crimes, most committed by government soldiers from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).
“A year after South Sudan’s leaders signed a peace deal, civilians are dying, women are being raped, and millions of people are afraid to go home,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “On August 12, the UN decided to send more peacekeepers to Juba but put off a long-overdue arms embargo. The continued supply of arms only helps fuel the abuses on a larger scale.”
The UN and member countries should also impose targeted sanctions, including asset freezes and travel bans, on those responsible for serious human rights abuses, Human Rights Watch said. The African Union Commission and donors should proceed without delay with preparations for a hybrid court to investigate and try the most serious crimes committed since the start of South Sudan’s new war in December 2013 – including during the recent fighting.
Under a peace agreement signed one year ago, on August 15, 2015, the two sides agreed to form a national unity government, integrate their forces, and establish the hybrid court, among other steps. Under the agreement, the African Union Commission was to set up the court, with South Sudanese and other African judges and staff. Key steps to create the court are to be completed by October 2016, but concrete progress has yet to occur.
On July 8, 2016 fighting started between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, and those of his first vice-president, Riek Machar, a Nuer, during a cabinet meeting at the presidential compound. The violent gun battle was preceded by weeks of heightened tensions between the forces in the capital surrounding lingering delays in implementing the peace agreement.
Over a four-day period, the two sides battled in several locations around Juba. Human Rights Watch researchers in Juba heard accounts of soldiers firing indiscriminately, hitting densely populated areas or displaced people’s camps inside UN bases. At least a dozen civilians who had sought safety in the UN camps died and scores were wounded.
Researchers also documented targeted killings, rapes and gang rapes, beatings, looting, and harassment, often along ethnic lines, in several areas of Juba. The Thongpiny, Munuki, Mangaten, Gudele, and Jebel neighborhoods were particularly affected. Due to security restrictions to some affected areas, researchers could not establish the full scale of abuse. Soldiers, operating under the formal command of General Paul Malong and President Kiir committed most of the crimes.
Human Rights Watch also received reports of abuses committed by the SPLA-in-Opposition (IO), Machar’s forces, but could not independently verify them.
In the fighting at least 73 civilians were killed according to the UN, and 36,000 people sought refuge at UN and aid group compounds during or directly after the fighting. A July 11 ceasefire halted the fighting in Juba but the government’s army, SPLA, and the armed opposition, IO, continued to fight around Juba and elsewhere in South Sudan.
In some cases, government forces directly targeted civilians on the basis of their ethnicity. A 35-year-old man said that two SPLA pick-ups full of soldiers surrounded the Bedale hotel in the Atlabara neighborhood where he hid with 27 other Nuer men shortly before the ceasefire on July 11:
The soldiers knocked at the door and asked whether any Nuer were staying at the hotel. “We urged the guard not to open. They asked, ‘Why are you hiding the Nuer!’ and then they started to shoot with their heavy machine guns through the doors and wall. That’s how my friend Mading Chan was killed.”
On the same day, a large number of soldiers belonging to contingents of government forces overran a compound that housed a number of international organizations’ staff. During their rampage, the soldiers executed a Nuer journalist, raped and gang raped several women, beat and assaulted dozens of staff, and ransacked and looted the entire compound.
Soldiers continued to attack civilians and commit other crimes after the July 11 ceasefire. Human Rights Watch documented repeated incidents in which government soldiers stopped women who ventured out of protection of civilians (POC) camps inside UN bases to get food, confiscating their goods, and raping them. In several cases, researchers heard that soldiers made statements about the victims’ ethnicity or perceived allegiance to the IO. The UN reported more than 200 cases of sexual violence by opposition and government forces during and after the recent fighting in Juba.
A 27-year-old woman returning to her POC site on July 18 with food from town said five soldiers stopped her: “They said: ‘you are carrying bullets to Riek Machar,’ and then they took me to a compound but I resisted. They beat me in the head, and in the chest. As I was in pain, they raped me. I was two months pregnant, but I lost that baby after what happened.”
Peacekeepers guarding the UN base did not do enough to protect women from rape in surrounding areas. In one example reported by media, on July 17 soldiers dragged a woman away. Peacekeepers saw what was happening but did not take action. Increased patrolling or stationary patrols in key areas could have prevented some rapes. On July 18, an aid worker managed to rescue a woman who had just been raped.
The SPLA restricted the movement of UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), leading peacekeepers to stay in their bases during the fighting. On July 12, the mission urged government security forces to lift the restrictions, but it took several days before the peacekeepers began any movement or patrols. UNMISS promised to investigate its response to sexual violence, and should also investigate why it was so unprepared and ineffectual in protecting civilians when fighting broke out, fix the problems, and make the results of such investigation public, Human Rights Watch said.
During and after the fighting, as people tried to flee, government forces restricted movement of civilians by road and air, increasing tension and fear. Security forces also beat up an opposition minister in Juba on July 12, and on July 16 national security officers (NSS) detained the editor of Juba Monitor, Alfred Taban, after he published editorials criticizing both sides, and calling on Kiir and Machar to step down. He was released on grounds of ill heath on July 29 and is awaiting trial.
On August 12, the UN Security Council authorized a new Regional Protection Force as a part of UNMISS. These 4,000 new troops are mandated to protect the airport and other key installations and “engage any actor that is preparing attacks or engages in attacks against United Nations protection of civilians sites, other United Nations premises, United Nations personnel, international and national humanitarian actors, or civilians.” Better and improved protection of civilians should remain the primary task of the peacekeeping mission as a whole, Human Rights Watch said.
“South Sudanese leaders have time and again failed to end abuses against civilians, been unwilling to rein in abusive forces or ensure justice for crimes by those under their command,” Bekele said. “There is no more excuse for delay: top leaders need to be sanctioned and an arms embargo imposed. The UN has to be more effective in protecting civilians and the AU should move ahead with the hybrid court.”