Tuesday

18th Jun 2019

Opinion

EU has chance to help women of South Sudan

  • ICC: Sexual violence in war can constitute crimes against humanity (Photo: Arsenie Coseac)

As UN high commissioner for human rights, I visited South Sudan in May 2012, less than a year after its people voted for better future as an independent nation state. There were human rights issues to address but also a great optimism.

 

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

I was made hopeful by discussions with South Sudan’s leaders on discrimination and violence against women.

The president and senior officials seemed committed to supporting girls’ empowerment and education, and accepted that the rule of law, based on a good human rights system, is fundamental to a properly functioning democracy.

 

I returned to South Sudan in April 2014, four months after tensions within the county’s ruling party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), boiled over into armed conflict in the capital, Juba.

Violence spread rapidly amongst security forces, with civilians targeted based on their ethnicity or assumed political affiliation. Armed thugs roamed the countryside raping women and children, and taking them as sex slaves.

My hopes were shattered.

 

The ruthlessness of sexual violence in South Sudan even brings back memories of Rwanda.

In 1998, while serving as a judge on the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, my colleagues and I heard horrendous stories of mass rapes and other sexual crimes. I was moved by the testimony of victims who said that rape destroyed their physical and psychological health.

 

In our judgment in the case of The Prosecutor v. Jean Paul Akayesu, we held that sexual violence in war could constitute genocide and crimes against humanity, as well as torture. We found that sexual violence was used as an instrument of war aimed at the systematic destruction of Tutsi women and the Tutsi group as a whole.

 

While South Sudan is not experiencing genocide, the levels of sexual violence are no less shocking.

Zainab  Bangura, the UN’s envoy for sexual violence in conflict, recently said she has not witnessed a situation worse than South Sudan in her 30 years’ experience.

She can draw comparisons with Liberia, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and Bosnia, where women’s bodies were weapons in the frontlines of conflict.

 

One of the main reasons we are seeing such extreme sexual violence in South Sudan is the country’s pervasive culture of impunity.

The perpetrators –  including members of the police, army , and armed militias  – know that there is no rigorous justice system and almost no risk of consequences. Unless this changes, the frequency and brutality of sexual violence will rise, as one cycle of violence fuels the next. 

 

For those seeking justice, accountability and an end to  the country’s long-standing  culture of impunity, the  African  Union's  Commission of Inquiry  on South Sudan is a beacon of light. 

 

Under the leadership of former Nigerian pesident Olusegun Obasanjo, the commission’s final report is rumoured to be a damning document that details  countless human rights violations and even lists  names of those recommended for trial.

This is what the beginnings of accountability should look like.

 

Nkosazana Dlamini  Zuma, the chairperson of the African commission, is  to be commended for her leadership in forming the first ever African Union investigation of mass human rights violations on our continent.

Now she faces an even bigger challenge - to see life breathed into the commission’s recommendations.

 

It is an issue on which Europe has already expressed concern.

Just last December the EU foreign affairs council drew attention to ongoing human rights violations in South Sudan and the need to bring perpetrators to justice.

 

For the credibility of the EU, it is critical that Alexander Rondos, the EU’s special representative to the Horn of Africa, attends the African Union summit in Ethiopia later this month.

He should urge the continent’s leaders to make Obasanjo’s report public and act on the EU's own recommendations by calling for the urgent creation of a credible accountability mechanism.

If the report is buried or watered down, the hope created by the establishment of the commission will die, and impunity will continue to reign.

 

We need accountability and justice to stem the tide of human rights abuses spreading across much of South Sudan.

The threat of criminal prosecution can act as a powerful deterrent and may even help convince the warring parties they have more gain by laying down their guns and committing to the (more difficult) task of making peace and rebuilding their country.

 

There have been tremendous advances in tackling impunity for serious crimes over the past 20 years, in particular through the ad hoc tribunals for the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Cambodia and the International Criminal Court.

 

While international and national accountability processes have contributed immensely to challenging impunity for violations of International law, such efforts on their own cannot stop the cycle completely.

Political will on the part of governments is essential, and usually constitutes the biggest obstacle.

 

If the government of South Sudan is not willing or able to put a stop to this insidious form of violence that targets women and girls, the international community has a responsibility to step in. 

 

As Rondos convenes with African heads of state  and AU officials in Addis Ababa for the 24th AU Summit, they must do all they can to ensure that the report from Obasanjo’s Commission of Inquiry represents the beginning of the end of impunity in South Sudan.

 

Navi Pillay has served as a judge of the International Criminal Court, as president of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and, from 2008 to 2014, was the United Nations high commissioner for human rights. She currently has no formal role

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Investigation

Europe’s tax haven investments in Africa

A combination of lax rules and no-questions-asked policy means that money from the European Investment Bank, the EU's longterm lending institution, is flowing to tax havens. An Egyptian case study shows how this happens.

Catalonia MEPs are a judicial, not political, issue

Carles Puigdemont and Toni Comin currently live outside Spain. They were prosecuted for the serious crimes, and they have fled justice. It is not possible to judge in absentia in Spain, where the justice system protects the rights of defendants.

News in Brief

  1. Romanian ex-PM frontrunner to head new liberal group
  2. France, Germany and Spain in fighter jet deal
  3. Tusk grilled in Poland over role as PM
  4. Italy is 'most credible' US partner in EU, says Salvini
  5. EU blames Sudan junta for killings and rapes
  6. Report: EU may suspend Turkey customs union talks
  7. Swiss stock exchange could lose EU access in July
  8. Austria's Strache will not take up EU parliament seat

Six takeaways on digital disinformation at EU elections

For example, Germany's primetime TV news reported that 47 percent of political social media discussions were related to the extreme-right AfD party, when in fact this was the case only for Twitter - used by only four percent of Germans.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  3. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  5. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  6. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  7. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  8. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody

Latest News

  1. Macron and Mogherini decline to back US accusation on Iran
  2. EU summit must give effective answer on migration
  3. Spain's Garcia set to be next Socialist leader in parliament
  4. Erdogan mocks Macron amid EU sanctions threat
  5. The most dangerous pesticide you've never heard of
  6. 'Russian sources' targeted EU elections with disinformation
  7. Top EU jobs summit dominates This WEEK
  8. EP parties planning 'coalition agenda' ahead of jobs summit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  2. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  5. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  10. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  11. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  12. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us