South Sudan

South Sudan Risks Spiralling Out of Control amid Revenge Killings, Human Rights Abuses, Impending Famine, Security Council Warned

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SC/11378 Security Council 7168th Meeting (PM)

Permanent Representative, in Briefing On Humanitarian Situation, Says Government Cannot Be on Same Footing as Rebels

With the sharp and drastic deterioration of the human rights situation in South Sudan, and the accompanying spiral of revenge killings, the country was at risk of a wide-spread humanitarian crisis, the United Nations human rights chief told the Security Council today.

Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said her recent visit to South Sudan, accompanied by the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, had revealed not only extensive violence, but also a real fear of disaster among the population, including the likelihood of a massive famine. That atmosphere had been fuelled by elements on all sides of the conflict calling publicly for their supporters to hunt down members of different ethnic groups, including a rebel radio broadcast urging the rape of women from other communities.

Adding to that was the prevailing lack of concern for innocent civilians, she continued, adding that, with the planting season almost halfway over, she and her colleague had urged leaders of both the Government and rebels sides to call a 30-day ceasefire to facilitate the planting of food crops in order to avert famine. Judging from the leaders’ reaction, that was not an overriding concern, she noted. “I fear that South Sudan’s leaders are locked in a purely personal power struggle, with little or no regard for the appalling suffering that it inflicts on their people.”

However, international pressure seemed to be having some effect, she noted. Peace talks between the warring sides had reopened in Addis Ababa under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD), the East African subregional bloc, earlier in the week. Still, she reminded the Council, it had agreed in December to increase the number of peacekeepers in South Sudan from 7,700 to 13,200, but the troop-contributing countries had still not supplied some two thirds of the extra troops. “They are desperately needed,” she emphasized, adding that the Mission must have a full complement of personnel and an adequate budget.

Adama Dieng, Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, recalled the recent brutal attacks on Bentiu, in Unity State, and on Bor, in Jonglei State, emphasizing that unless such attacks were not be stopped immediately, South Sudan could plunge into serious violence and spiral out of control. Yet, in consultations with senior Government officials in Juba and with rebel leader and former Vice-President Riek Machar, both sides had either denied attacks against civilians or justified by claiming they had been carried out in self-defence against a vengeful group.

“If we are to ensure the protection of the civilian population in this country,” he said, “the State must acknowledge that it has the primary responsibility to protect all South Sudanese, irrespective of nationality, ethnicity or political affiliation.” However, if the parties did not clearly demonstrate their intention to end the violence, the Council should consider taking additional measures to prevent the situation from deteriorating further. The violence was not motivated by a desire to change the country, but rather by self-interest related to gaining access to oil wealth and development resources, he said. “The international community must not be complicit in this agenda,” he stressed.

Rwanda’s representative recalled the day three years ago when South Sudan had been welcomed into the United Nations as a Member State, while ruing the current violence and crisis. “You can’t fight for independence for years and then turn around and kill your people; it’s a shame.” He said the international community had just commemorated the anniversary of his own country’s genocide and had said “never again”. Now, the call was “lessons learned”, words that Rwanda feared were merely “cosmetic”. Why was it that when politicians fought for power, it was the people who paid the price?, he asked.

South Sudan’s representative, however, emphasized that a democratically elected Government could not be placed on the same moral, political and legal footing as a rebel group using violence to overthrow that Government. Although South Sudan understood that the United Nations needed to take into account the urgent need to protect civilians, deliver humanitarian assistance and promote respect for human rights, the country also needed support for capacity-building, now more than ever before. Withdrawing that support could only compound the crisis, he cautioned.

Also speaking today were representatives of the United States, Australia, Nigeria, China, Chad, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, France, Jordan, Lithuania, Chile, Argentina, Luxembourg and the Republic of Korea.

The meeting began at 3:04 p.m. ended at 5:15 p.m.

Background

Meeting this afternoon, members of the Security Council had before them reports of the Secretary-General on Sudan and South Sudan.