Start main page content

Call to end gross human rights violations in Sudan

- Lee-Anne Bruce

Call by Human Rights Organisations for Urgent Intervention by the South African government to stop gross human rights violations in the Republic of South Sudan

A group of human rights organizations in South Africa are calling on the South African government urgently to intervene in stopping the gross human rights violations in South Sudan. Indeed, according to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, abuses include ‘the deliberate targeting of civilian populations on the basis of their ethnic identity by means of killings, abductions, unlawful detentions or deprivation of liberty, rape and sexual violence, and the burning of villages and looting’. The Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide has also warned that many of the indicators of genocide are in evidence. Scorched earth policies and the violent conflict have led to massive famine with over 5 million people
being food insecure.

David Bilchitz, Director of the South African Institute for Advanced Constitutional, Public,
Human Rights and International Law (SAIFAC), a centre of the University of Johannesburg, stated that ‘the situation has become utterly intolerable and is not receiving the priority attention it deserves so as to prevent the most shocking human rights violations. Silence in such a situation is complicity’.

His colleague, Prof Bonita Meyersfeld, Director of the Centre for Applied Legal Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand, goes further and states that ‘South Africa, as an important voice on the African continent, must use all diplomatic means at its disposal to find a solution. The protection of civilians against deliberate killing, sexual violence, the destruction of their homes and famine must become a priority of the African Union and international community’.

The conflict results from the eruption of violence between forces loyal to President Kiir and those loyal to the former Vice President Dr Riek Machar. The implementation of a peace agreement failed when fighting broke out in Juba in July 2016 between the two parties.

In the wake of this political dispute, thousands more civilians have been displaced and forced to to take refuge in neighboring countries. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that there are almost 2 million refugees out of a population of 12 million. Famine is wide-spread and, in the view of the UN, caused by the conflict. Armed forces have gone on the rampage in civilian areas, killing, raping and pillaging houses in several states (Upper Nile, Unity, and the 3 Equatorias). Recently, deadly attacks have been reported in Pajok, Wanduruba, Yei, Lainya and Kajokeji (amongst others). Humanitarian aid workers have also been targeted with over 67 being killed during the conflict.

Prof Frans Viljoen, of the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria, stated that ‘The South African government must become more engaged in addressing the conflict in South Sudan and act as a neutral party to help resolve the conflict’.

Dr Mispa Roux, deputy director of SAIFAC, also calls on the South African government to use this opportunity ‘to prove that it is willing to act in conformity with international legal obligations to prevent the commission of genocide and crimes against humanity, to prioritize the plight of the victims, and not to submit to regional and national politics. This will restore South Africa’s reputation in the international community as a legitimate guardian of human rights and a leader in preventing gross human rights violations.’

The human rights organizations are issuing a collective call for the South African government to take the following steps:

  • Publicly, to condemn all forms of human rights violations in South Sudan;
  • Actively, to engage its African Union partners in seeking a common consensus on ensuring an end to the conflict;
  • Actively to intensify diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict;
  • Being willing to engage the doctrine of humanitarian intervention to protect the civilian
    population from their leaders;
  • Taking any other measures that are possible to ensure that a cessation of hostilities and
    process of rebuilding the fragile political community in South Sudan takes place; and
  • Champion accountability for human rights violations, including, active support for the
    establishment of mechanisms such as the hybrid court

Issued on 25 July 2017

Signed by:
South African Institute for Advanced Constitutional, Public, Human Rights and International Law, University of Johannesburg
NRF Research Chair in International Law, University of Johannesburg
The Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria
The Centre for Applied Legal Studies, University of the Witwatersrand
Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre