UN: Continued violence and starvation used as a weapon of war against innocent civilians in South Sudan

In December of 2020, South Sudan’s Judiciary launched its first Gender-Based Violence and Juvenile Court to address gender-based crimes and seek justice for victims. A year later, South Sudan’s efforts have been working, but not at the speed or scale that will reduce sexual crimes against women and children, as highlighted in a recent Human Rights Council Session.

On March 12, 2021, the 46th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council met to discuss human rights situations that require the Council’s attention, highlighting South Sudan as making little progress, broken promises, and using food as a weapon of war against their people.

During the Session, most speakers started by applauding South Sudan’s efforts to curve sexual violence by establishing a hybrid court of justice in Juba, the Gender-Based Violence Court, but the overall sentiment wasn’t positive.

United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, represented by Mr. James Duddridge, Minister for Africa at the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office, stated that continued violence and starvation were being used as weapons of war, and it was unclear what steps the government was taking.

Ms. Marleen Steenbrugghe from the European Union was alarmed by the gross human rights violations. She described reports of conflict-related sexual violence, rape, sexual slavery as horrific. The EU welcomed the positive steps announced by South Sudan’s government and an agreement to work with the Council on Human Rights, but needed to understand better how the international community should support them given the country’s extreme situation.

Ms. Tine Mørch, representing Norway on behalf of the Nordic and Baltic countries, worried about the slow pace of efforts and continued human rights abuses, sexual abuse, and rape of women and children daily without a balanced response. Ms. Mørch, stated that the government of Sudan bears the primary responsibility.

Ms. Kristina Sukacheva, Russian Federation, stated that “mutual trust must be fostered.” Ms. Sukacheva worried that the sporadic armed intercommunity clashes against civilians and humanitarian workers were becoming worse.

“Since December 2020, South Sudan’s GBV Court has convicted more than ten people for gender-based crimes, including sexual assault and defilement,” reported UNDP on March 8, 2021. That statistic doesn’t seem reasonable in a country with a population of 10 million people.

South Sudan also harbors much of the region’s oil rigs, controlling most economic opportunities in the area. This places them in a position to boost economic recovery. Still, recovery will also rely on stability, lowering intercommunal violence and widespread rape and sexual violence of women and children.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is discussing additional loans to South Sudan. “We are still negotiating,” South Sudan’s Governor Dier Tong Ngor said. “I am confident that we will get more than what we got before.” His comment was referring to the $52.3 million emergency assistance approved by the IMF in November 2020. 

On top of that, in September 2020, USAID reported the United States (U.S.) would pay $108 million in additional humanitarian assistance to the Republic of South Sudan. The funding brings U.S. humanitarian assistance to nearly $907 million since the beginning of 2020, including more than $64 million in supplemental humanitarian aid to respond to COVID-19.

South Sudan was formally recognized as a country in 2011, making it the youngest country on Earth. Created out of civil war and violent conflict, South Sudan’s tenth anniversary outlines a struggling country with a lot of oil, gross human rights violations, and a starving population. Widespread hunger, unsanitized water, crumbling infrastructure, and underfunded education plague the country while hundreds of millions of dollars pass through the economy to access its vast natural resources. 

Kristi Pelzel is a Senior White House correspondent for Today News Africa in Washington D.C. Kristi also covers the US Department of State and the United Nations. She holds a master's degree from Georgetown University.

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