By Khairunissa Dhala Khairunissa Dhala is a researcher on refugee and migrant rights at Amnesty International.
At just 37 years of age, Joyce has seen it all. She's stared into the abyss of human cruelty and lived to tell the story. In September 2016, soldiers stormed her home in Kajo Keji, South Sudan, which she shared with her husband and their children. They tied her husband's arms behind his back and stabbed him multiple times until he lay dead.
A single mother with nine children to feed, Joyce decided to run away - to escape the violence in her native land. So she joined the hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese people fleeing southwards to Uganda.
But although the trek to Uganda by foot has reduced her risk of being shot dead or raped by soldiers or rebels, her life is still a painful daily struggle. She still lacks basic supplies, including food, water or shelter.
Rich countries are failing in their obligation to help Uganda support thousands of refugees fleeing death, rape and other human rights violations in South Sudan, said Amnesty International in a damning report launched ahead of a high level donor summit in the Ugandan capital Kampala.
More than 900,000 refugees have fled the brutal conflict in South Sudan and sought safety in Uganda, but funding shortfalls mean that many of them are not receiving basic services such as food, water and shelter. At least 86% of them are women and children.
“Uganda has remained welcoming and generous at a time when many countries are closing their borders on refugees, but it is under incredible strain as funds dry up and thousands continue to cross from South Sudan every day,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s Director for East Africa, Horn and Great Lakes.
“Donors, including the US, EU countries, Canada, China and Japan, must step up support for Uganda by ensuring timely funding for refugees’ immediate and long-term needs. These refugees must not become the latest victims of a collective and shameful failure of international cooperation.”
South Sudanese authorities must release all people detained without charge by the security agencies, including 28 men currently held at the headquarters of the national intelligence agency in the capital Juba, said Amnesty International’s Secretary General today in an open letter to President Salva Kiir.
The call comes after the president publicly pledged to release all political detainees.
“Hundreds of people, mostly men, have been arrested without charge by security agents and held in torturous conditions for long periods of time, since the conflict began more than three years ago. Others have disappeared without a trace at the hands of National Security Service and Military Intelligence agents,” said Salil Shetty.
“While President Kiir’s pledge was welcome, we call on him to go a step further and order a full investigation into arbitrary detention practices of government security agencies, enforced disappearances, deaths in custody, torture and other ill-treatment.”
The United Nations Security Council’s failure to approve a 23 December, 2016, resolution that would have imposed an arms embargo on South Sudan and placed a travel ban and asset freeze on three senior South Sudanese leaders was deeply disappointing, seven non-governmental groups said today.
The measure failed to gain the nine votes needed to pass, with seven in favour and eight abstentions.
“South Sudanese civilians had a reasonable expectation that the Security Council would make good on its long-standing threat to impose an arms embargo and extend sanctions to some of the senior leaders who have been responsible for grave human rights abuses” said John Prendergast, founding director at the Enough Project.
“I can only imagine their frustration with today’s vote.”
Amnesty International, Control Arms, Enough Project, Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, Humanity United, Human Rights Watch and PAX issued the statement jointly.
The Kenyan government’s deportation of James Gatdet Dak, the spokesperson of South Sudan opposition leader Riek Machar, despite the fact that he is a recognized refugee, is a brazen and dangerous attack on refugee rights, said Amnesty International.
He was forced onto a flight on Thursday afternoon and flown to South Sudan’s capital Juba.
“Gatdet’s deportation is Kenya’s latest attack on refugees’ right to safety and it places Gatdet at grave risk of torture and other ill-treatment,” said Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
Gatdet was arrested by Kenyan authorities at his residence in the capital, Nairobi, on 2 November. His arrest was apparently in connection with a comment he allegedly posted on his Facebook page hailing the sacking of Gen. Johnson Ondieki, a Kenyan general and the commander of UN forces in South Sudan, in the wake of a scathing UN report into failures by UN peacekeepers to protect civilians during clashes in July.
Continued fighting in South Sudan must not derail justice for crimes committed during the deadly conflict that began in December 2013, said Amnesty International and FIDH in a joint briefing published today.
The organizations are calling on the African Union (AU) Commission and the South Sudan government to urgently establish the proposed Hybrid Court for South Sudan (HCSS).
“Thousands have been killed, women raped, entire villages destroyed, and humanitarian personnel attacked. But as world attention has focused on ending the fighting, accountability for violations that could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity has been put on the back burner,” said Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Africa Director for Research and Advocacy.
“Justice must not be delayed any further. Fresh violations should give added impetus to efforts to form the Hybrid Court.”
Renewed violence underscores the urgency of bringing to account those responsible for crimes under international law committed during South Sudan’s armed conflict, said Amnesty International and FIDH today, a year on from a faltering peace agreement.
The peace accord was signed on 17 August 2015 in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. It requires the African Union (AU) to set up a hybrid court for South Sudan to investigate and prosecute individuals suspected of committing genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity since the conflict began in December 2013.
“Last month’s return to violence underscores the need to seek accountability for the horrendous crimes committed and should bolster, not undermine, the pursuit of justice,” said Elizabeth Deng, Amnesty International’s South Sudan Researcher.
“The African Union must stop dragging its feet and take concrete steps to set up the court, including by immediately collecting and preserving evidence before it is lost and witnesses’ memories of events fade.”
Amid a fresh outbreak of fighting in South Sudan, a new report by Amnesty International reveals the true horror suffered by civilians at the hands of government forces after the August 2015 peace agreement was signed.
“We are still running”: War crimes in Leer, South Sudan, details how South Sudanese government forces and allied militia hunted down and killed civilians, raped and abducted women, stole cattle and torched villages in opposition strongholds in Leer County, Unity State, between August and December 2015.
“These war crimes and other abuses committed across the country are the result of ongoing impunity that continues to fuel conflict in South Sudan, as seen in recent weeks of renewed fighting,” said Lama Fakih, Senior Crisis Advisor at Amnesty International.
South Sudanese security forces are deliberately blocking people from leaving the country in violation of their right to freedom of movement, Amnesty International can reveal.
The organisation has received reports from two charter companies that National Security Service officers have ordered them not to carry South Sudanese nationals, particularly men. It has also been told by an NGO that one of its South Sudanese staff was prevented from boarding a flight to Entebbe, Uganda.
“This arbitrary conduct by the South Sudanese security forces is totally unacceptable. South Sudan must respect people’s right to freedom of movement, including the right to leave their own country,” said Elizabeth Deng, Amnesty International’s South Sudan Researcher.
“It is absolutely critical that both parties to the conflict do not obstruct safe passage of civilians fleeing to places of refuge both inside and outside of the country.”
Thousands of South Sudanese people have reportedly gathered at the country’s southern border seeking to enter into Uganda, but they are also being prevented from crossing over.
As a renewal of violence in South Sudan threatens to plunge the country back into full-scale civil war, Amnesty International has published a list of seven recommendations for the African Union, ahead of the 27th AU Summit in Kigali, Rwanda.
From rhetoric to action lays out concrete steps leaders should take to guide the continent towards a culture that respects human rights, including in countries in the region that continue to be rocked by armed conflict.
“The latest horrific bloodshed in South Sudan demonstrates the urgent need for African leaders gathering in Kigali to take steps not only to resolve such conflicts but also to tackle their root causes,” said Netsanet Belay, Africa Director, Research and Advocacy, Amnesty International.
South Sudan: Renewed clashes put civilians at risk, underline need for arms embargo
Warring parties in South Sudan must take all possible measures to protect civilians, including thousands of internally displaced people currently sheltering at UN bases, said Amnesty International as fighting continued to threaten civilian areas in the capital, Juba, today.
On 10 and 11 July, artillery shells landed in civilian neighbourhoods near Vice-President Riek Machar’s base in Jebel neighbourhood, injuring civilians and damaging their homes.
Renewed clashes between rival armed forces since 7 July have left hundreds of people dead and others displaced. Many civilians have not left their homes in days and are running out of food and water. Others have fled to churches and to UN displacement sites, which have themselves come under artillery fire in recent days.
People forced to eat human flesh and to disembowel dead bodies during South Sudan’s civil war that began in 2013 are among thousands suffering from trauma and psychological distress amid a chronic shortage of mental healthcare services in the country, Amnesty International said today as the country marks its fifth anniversary.
In a new report, “Our hearts have gone dark”: The mental health impact of South Sudan’s conflict, the organisation documents the psychological impact of mass killings, rape, torture, abductions and even a case of forced cannibalism, on the survivors and witnesses of these crimes.
“While the death and physical destruction caused by the conflict and preceding decades of war are immediately apparent, the psychological scars are less visible and neglected,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
Dozens of detainees held in dire conditions in poorly ventilated metal shipping containers, fed only once or twice a week and given insufficient drinking water are at risk of death, warned Amnesty International today.
According to information obtained by the organisation, these conditions have apparently resulted in the deaths of multiple detainees at the Gorom detention site, located about 20km south of the capital Juba. Soldiers also periodically take them out of the containers and beat them.
“Detainees are suffering in appalling conditions and their overall treatment is nothing short of torture,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
“This egregious disregard for human life and dignity must stop and for that to happen, the detention site should be immediately shut down until conditions are brought into compliance with human rights standards.”