JUBA, South Sudan - There UN body responsible for overseeing human rights in South Sudan says it is "deeply concerned" that, although the overall armed conflict has waned, there has been little progress in sticking to the peace agreement that has guided the country so far.
"Civilians with whom we spoke still raised numerous concerns that they feel are barriers to sustainable peace," Yasmin Sooka, Chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan said Friday, reporting from Juba on the panel's seventh field mission, currently under way.
The mission will continue through to 29 August and includes Uganda, Ethiopia, and Kenya, in addition to South Sudan.
The three Commissioners spoke to South Sudanese women, men and children on their numerous concerns, including the localization of conflict linked to land, resources, and cattle; and inefficiencies in implementing the Revitalized Peace Agreement, which, signed by the warring parties in September 2018, has been commended as a significant development toward peace.
"Despite the numerous challenges we heard, we were encouraged by the fact that committees composed of military and civil actors have been formed to improve civil-military relations and support local justice and reconciliation in Yei River state, where civilians could raise dispute resolutions," Commissioner Andrew Clapham said Friday.
"Such mechanisms that facilitate communication between armed actors and civilians could be replicated in other locations where violent conflict and violations have been witnessed in the country," he said.
Apprehension over continued impunity for sexual and gender-based violence, which is still at an all-time high, was another major concern, as survivors of sexual violence remained with only limited access for redress.
In Bentiu, the Commission heard testimonies of sexual violence from women who are waiting to report incidents.
"The lack of progress in establishing transitional justice mechanisms, including the Hybrid Court, the commission for truth, reconciliation, and healing and the compensation and reparation authority, which are to be complemented by customary and other community-centred mechanisms, is delaying accountability and reparation for these and other crimes," Commission member Barney Afako.
"So long as the voices of victims and survivors are not empowered, and these mechanisms not put in place, it is highly unlikely that South Sudanese women, men, girls, and boys will be able to witness a lasting peace," he said.
The current mission will finish on Monday, after which the Commissioners will separately visit Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya for the remaining three days of their mission.
The UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan is an independent body mandated by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to, among other things, determine and report the facts of and clarify responsibility for alleged gross violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes, including sexual and gender-based violence, with a view to ending impunity and providing accountability.
The Commission will orally present their findings on the human rights situation in South Sudan to the Council on 16 September, and provide a comprehensive written report in March 2020.
(File photo. Credit: ISHR).