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UN Commission Calls for Criminal Accountability for South Sudan

By Lisa Schlein March 09, 2020

United Nations investigators accuse South Sudanese leaders of widespread corruption and of trampling on the rights and fundamental freedoms of their people. The U.N. Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan presented its latest report to the U.N. Human Rights Council Monday.

The U.N. commission accuses South Sudan's leaders of deliberately starving their people while brazenly looting and plundering the country's wealth. Commission Chair Yasmin Sooka says these economic crimes have dire humanitarian consequences, especially for women and children.

"Corruption has made several officials extremely wealthy at the expense of millions of their starving citizens," she said. "It affects every sector of the economy, and every state institution. These are some of the same officials who fought for independence to improve the lot of their people, and who have rapidly turned the dream of liberation into a nightmare."

Sooka says some South Sudanese leaders have stolen tens of millions of dollars from the government treasury that should have been used to feed their people. She says the plunder of resources has turned this potentially oil-rich young country into the third worst place in the world in which to live.

The report documents the recruitment of children by both the government and opposition forces. The U.N. children's fund reports some 19,000 children were still being used by the warring parties.

Sooka says the commission has documented a wide range of sexual and gender-based crimes against women and girls perpetrated with impunity by both government and opposition forces.

"Sexual and gender-based violence continue to be systematically used by the armed parties in the conflict to terrorize and subjugate civilian populations. In particular, South Sudanese women and girls continue to face rape and gang rape, sexual mutilation, forced marriage, abduction and sexualized torture," she said.

South Sudan's reaction

South Sudan's ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Mawien Makol Ariik, did not acknowledge any of the commission's blistering accusations of widespread government corruption. He glossed over the panel's findings into issues such as sexual abuse, the use of starvation as a tactic of war, recruitment of child soldiers and the erosion of civic freedoms.

Instead, he put a positive spin on the actions taken by his government. He noted that dozens of media agencies were operating freely and without censorship in the country. He said his government had signed two action plans with U.N. support to improve human rights.

One, he noted, strengthens the ability of the judiciary to try cases of gender crimes and child abuse. The other, he said, is a plan to release child soldiers and reunite them with their families.

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