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DUPS LWOB: South Sudan – What We Know

Updated: Jan 20, 2019

In the last fortnight, Amnesty International has published a report into the human rights and international law violations taking place in South Sudan.[1]

South Sudan is a ‘retentionist’ state, which continues to advocate the use of the death penalty on its citizens. Amnesty’s research revealed that among those killed this year through capital punishment was a child as young as seven. Amnesty International fear that there are a further 135 people awaiting their executions and their denial of their right to life.[2] Behind the Civil War, the basic human rights of thousands are being forgotten. The aim of this article is to present a synthesis of the published reports on human rights violations in South Sudan to date. While reports can be challenged and even refuted, the reports included have been provided by internationally credible organizations, the likes of Amnesty International and UNICEF.

The History of South Sudan

South Sudan became independent in 2011, making it one of the newest nations of the world. Yet, since then, South Sudan has been victim of a Civil War between the government forces and the rebel opposition. The devastating irony of South Sudan is how country with so many hopes and visions in its independence has become trapped in such a brutal battle within itself. In 2013, not long after independence, President Kiir accused his deputy, Riek Machar, of an attempted coup. Following this accusation Machar became the leader of the opposition forces, leading to the Civil War. Yet since fighting started, the South Sudanese Civil War has seen international intervention, with some Ugandan troops fighting on the side of the government and the United Nations intervening as peacekeepers. The turbulent and short history of the nation has been plagued by human right and international abuses. Under the guise of Civil War, a recognition of human rights has been lost.

Reports of Human Rights and International Law Violations

Recently a government spokesperson, Ateny Web Ateny, refuted Amnesty’s report on the use of the death penalty, claiming South Sudan has not carried out executions since 2011.[3] Yet Amnesty insists their report is founded on credible sources, such as, “interviews with legal professions and government officials working in the justice sector, as well as desk based research”. Regardless, there are more than enough reports of human rights violations in South Sudan that should prompt an international response.

In April 2014, an attack was launched on the UN base in Bor, killing just fewer than fifty civilians. This particular attack raises important debates as it posed a direct threat to UN peacekeepers. General Secretary of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon argued that this attack should be seen as a “war crime”.[4]

Since 2016, the government forces have targeted the region of Yei.[5] As a result multiple villages have been devastated and thousands of homes destroyed. This does not constitute warfare, but indiscriminate murder. Here, the Sudanese government can be accused of attacking the rights of its citizens to shelter, social security, family life to name a few of the human rights infringed upon.

In 2017, the Washington Post accused the South Sudanese government of deliberately preventing aid reaching populations who supported the opposition forces.[6] The government have been suspected of allowing and exacerbating the starvation of opposition communities. This, if true, would be a violation of the human “right to food, and its non variations”. Again, Ateny Wek Ateny denied this claim and responded by highlighting atrocities committed by the rebel troops. Ateny claims the rebels had butchered 126 patients at a hospital in the town, Bor.

Yet one of the most shocking reports has revealed the use of Child Soldiers in South Sudan. In 2016, UNICEF reported that 9,000 children had been recruited to fight in the ongoing war.[7] UNICEF base this approximation on the large numbers of children they have witnessed receiving military training and carrying arms. If this report can be verified it undermines both the international law and the South Sudanese law against the arming of minors. In South Sudan, as well as other war-torn countries, the United Nations look to identify and condemn six violations against children, including the use of child soldiers. Despite stressing their commitment to stop the recruitment of child soldiers, the Human Rights Watch have reported that the South Sudanese government have failed to adhere to this commitment. The Human Rights Watch conducted research into the current situation, including interviews with over twenty former child recruits. The interviews reveal that the children are being recruited by both sides of the war, the government and the opposition can both be accused of, “abducting, detaining and forcing children, some as young as thirteen, into their ranks”.[8] Mausi Segun, Africa director of the Human Rights Watch, has argued, “there’s a chance to reverse the tide if the region follows though on its promise to impose sanctions on individual violations of human rights”.

Finally, although one can preempt more reports of international law violations will emerge in the following months, the South Sudanese civil war has seen rape and sexual violence increase dramatically. Again, the United Nations have estimated over half of women and girls living in camps have been victims of rape and sexual assault often committed by the military.[9]

The Next Step

These are the reports so far. And again, the South Sudanese government continues to dispel and adamantly deny many of these claims. Yet if one takes these reports to be true then South Sudan is seen to be witnessing the violation of many articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, perhaps most strikingly, article three, which states that everyone is owed “the right to life, liberty and security of person”.[10] We have witnessed the violation of this article many times since the declaration was proclaimed seventy years ago this month; however, all too often the international audience has simply observed and posthumously condemned such acts. The international community is debating what the next steps are in securing peace in South Sudan. Britain, among other nations, have deployed military personnel with a peacekeeping objective; however, in a recent review the UN have suggested a reemphasis on the political processes in South Sudan. In February 2018, the UN released a report suggesting that the Civil War requires a political rather than a humanitarian solution.[11] UNMISS (United Nations Mission in South Sudan) have stressed that to protect the human rights and lives of civilians, the international community must look to encourage and support improvement in the political processes in South Sudan.[12]

Holly Adams

DUPS Lawyers Without Borders

17 January 2019


[1] Amnesty International, ‘South Sudan Execution spree targets even children and nursing mothers’ (13 December, 2018) <> accessed 14 December 2018

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Somini Sengupta, ‘What can the United Nations do when its troops can’t, or won’s protect civilians?’ (The New York Times, 13 July 2016) <> accessed on the 10 December 2018

[5] BBC, ‘South Sudan soldiers jailed for rape and murder’ (BBC, 6 September 2018) <> accessed 9 December 2018

[6] Kevin Seiff, ‘South Sudan’s People are starving, and fighters are blocking aid’, Washington Post, 31 March 2017) < > accessed 10 December 2018

[7] UNICEF, ‘South Sudan Child Soldiers’ (UNICEF, 12 May 2017) <> accessed 9 December 2018

[8] Human Rights Watch, ‘South Sudan: Warring Parties Break Promises on Child Soldiers’ (HRW, 5 February 2018). Accessed 10 December 2018

[9] United Nations Press Statement, ‘United Nations Officials condemn targeted and widespread sexual violence in South Sudan and call for the immediate cessation of the attacks against civilians’ (11 May 2018)<> accessed 8 December 2018

[10] Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted 10 December 1948 UNGA Res 217 A(III) (UDHR)

[11] United Nations Mission in South Sudan, ‘South Sudan: UN peacekeeping review urges emphasis on supporting political process’ (UNMISS, 27 February 2018) <> accessed 15 December 2018

[12] Ibid

Disclaimer: The views expressed are that of the individual author. All rights are reserved to the original authors of the materials consulted, which are identified in the footnotes above.

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