The 2019 Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy in the World was adopted by the EU Member States on 15 June 2020. Below is the excerpt on South Sudan.
1. Overview of the human rights and democracy situation: Although a revitalised Peace Agreement was signed in September 2018, the context remains volatile and characterised by a lack of accountability for human rights violations and abuses. The rival parties have twice extended the formation of a transitional government of national unity, first in May 2019 and then in November 2019. While most military offences have been suspended since the peace agreement, the number of casualties from localised conflict have been alarmingly high. Inter-communal clashes and revenge attacks continue to result in the killing and injuring of civilians, cattle raiding and the looting of property.
Sexual violence and other forms of violence against women and girls have continued, as well as reports of recruitment and employment of child soldiers. In February 2019, the Commission for Human Rights in South Sudan concluded that violations including rape and sexual violence continue to occur and may amount to international crimes.
Capital punishment is legal, and in practice it extends to juveniles, despite this being unconstitutional. Some prisoners of war and political detainees have been released. However the space for civil society, journalists and human rights defenders, and remains heavily constrained, with recurrent arbitrary arrests. There is both censorship and self-censorship in the country’s media.
There have been some positive developments in 2019. In September, the South Sudanese military tribunal found 9 soldiers guilty of killing a journalist, rape, gang rape and assault of international aid workers during an attack on a compound in July 2016. Also in part thanks to EU advocacy, the main monitoring body on the ceasefire (CTSAMVM) has increased his focus and training activity on sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) with the signatory parties, and indeed the SGBV cases attributable to organised armed forces have significantly reduced.
However, the steps taken to address impunity for conflict related sexual and gender based violence are still insufficient. Work on the establishment of a hybrid court foreseen in the Peace Agreement remains stalled and an environment of impunity continues to contribute to the deterioration of the human rights situation. South Sudan has not had a national election since independence. After the formation of the new transitional government, the subsequent transitional period is scheduled to deliver a constitutional review and the preparations for free and fair elections after three years. In 2019, humanitarian needs have remained high, aggravated further by unprecedented heavy flooding, and attacks on aid workers have continued, although humanitarian access has in general significantly improved since the peace agreement. It is estimated that approximately 1.5 million people are internally displaced and 2.47 million have fled as refugees to neighbouring countries. Close to 200,000 people are living in six UN 'Protection of Civilians' sites across the country.
2. EU action – key focus areas: The key EU priority in 2019 was to support an inclusive peace process, through financial and political support, including by funding the two main monitoring bodies led by IGAD and by being at the forefront of the diplomatic efforts to encourage all parties to implement the ceasefire agreement of December 2017 and the revitalised Peace Agreement of September 2018. The EU has also provided support to human rights defenders (HRDs), provided venues to promote freedom of expression and freedom of association and assembly, as well as promoted women's and children's rights.
3. EU bilateral political engagement: The bilateral political engagement is constrained at the formal level by several factors: South Sudan is not a signatory of the Cotounou agreement; in the current pre-transitional phase of implementation of the Peace Agreement the government represents only one of the parties to the peace agreement, at least until an inclusive Transitional Government of National Unity is formed. Nonetheless, the EU has advocated in all its exchanges with the government authorities for increased respect of human rights, including for an increased transparency of the public finances which links to the realisation of the fundamental economic and social rights of the population. Formal demarches were also implemented often jointly with Member States, for example on the abolition of the death penalty. The EU is also in the forefront of raising HRD issues with the wider international community in Juba, including through following individual cases and through facilitating regular meetings hosted by the EU Ambassador for ambassadors to liaise with HRDs. One successful event was a ‘speed-dating’ evening for Human Rights Day in December during which the EU facilitated 50 HRDs to meet with 50 government officials (including security officials) to help build relationships and common understanding.
4. EU financial engagement: In 2019, the EU continued to support the capacity of human rights defenders to protect themselves and to support HRDs at imminent risk of violence and/or with acute protection needs. In a context of a limited civic space, this support is key to ensuring that South Sudanese HRDs can continue to address and counter human rights violations. The EU is also supporting access to information and freedom of expression. EU 153 funds have also continued to address the marginalisation of older South Sudanese persons in situations of forced displacement in Uganda, Ethiopia and South Sudan.
In addition, the EU continued to work with civil society on enhancing Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) for South Sudanese youth. The main achievement this year has been the establishment of a unified TVET curriculum in South Sudan in cooperation with all relevant Ministerial bodies. To date, some 2,000 vulnerable youth including 400 persons with disabilities have been trained and set up small scale businesses.
5. Multilateral context: The full implementation of human rights commitments remains a challenge. While the Government of South Sudan has acceded to or ratified most international instruments, and has acceded to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict in September 2019, enforcement and implementation is a major challenge.
The Government of South Sudan has shown cooperation with several African Union bodies and various bodies of the UN Special Procedures, who are granted access during their visits to the country. As part of the UPR mid-term review in 2019, the Government of South Sudan confirmed that it is working on an initial national report on the implementation of the International Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Inhuman, Cruel and Degrading Treatment.