Monday, March 21, 2016

241.6 - Not Good News: UN excoriates South Sudan over human rights violations

Not Good News: UN excoriates South Sudan over human rights violations

After all that good news, I have not some good news, also from the international file.

I have talked about this a few times before. I don't know exactly why I do since I know few if any of you are interested in this except perhaps philosophically, but this is a story I have been following at least to some degree for years. The last time I mentioned it was last fall, and at the time I said that I don't know why this particular world tragedy affects me more than others do, but I have found it a particularly sad tale. Maybe it's because it is so deeply marked with hopes being raised and then being shot down - usually literally.

It's the case of South Sudan.

The African nation of Sudan went through a 20 year civil war that set the Christian and traditionalist (or animist) southern part of the country against the mainly Muslim north. The war dragged on, brutal year after brutal year. By the time it all ended, about two million were dead, about four million more were homeless.

Finally, with both sides exhausted in every sense of the term a peace deal was worked out in January 2005. In accord with that agreement, in January 2011 a referendum was held in southern Sudan on independence. Over 95% voted yes and South Sudan became a nation.

What you have to understand is that I followed this story, I followed it through the first negotiations to end the fighting, through the draft agreement which looked like it would never come, through the final agreement which looked like it would never come, through the multiple near-breakdowns of the whole process, to the plebiscite which had at one time seemed so very far off it seemed like it would never come. I followed it. I followed it when two old rivals, Riek Machar and Salva Kiir, joined together in the new government of South Sudan.

And I followed it when at the end of 2013 that government broke down into competing tribal rivalries, plunging South Sudan into a civil war as treacherous as the one it had so recently survived. And - and again I don't know why this one more than others - but it breaks my heart to think about it.

And I follow it now as last week the UN Human Rights Office released a report that, quoting the press release,
describes "in searing detail" a multitude of horrendous human rights violations, including a Government-operated "scorched earth policy," and deliberate targeting of civilians for killing, rape, and pillage.
Children and the elderly burned alive. Men hung from trees, or cut into pieces. Parents forced to watch their children get raped. "Searing" barely describes it.

The report says both sides have committed "serious and systematic violence against civilians" since fighting broke out in December 2013, but since 2015 most of the blame falls on government forces and affiliated militias, largely because the opposition forces have been weakened.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein called called South Sudan "one of the most horrendous human rights situations in the world, with massive use of rape as an instrument of terror and weapon of war." In fact, there are reports of soldiers being allowed to rape women as a form of wages.

Salva Kiir                             Riek Machar
Not just the UN, Amnesty International also has condemned the government's behavior, accusing it of a war crime of stuffing 60 men and boys into a hot shipping container last October and leaving them there to suffocate and die.

Yet for all this, Commissioner al-Hussein said, South Sudan "has been more or less off the international radar." And that, too, breaks my heart.

But again again again there is hope. There always seems to be a flicker of hope. When I spoke here about South Sudan the last time, last fall, it was to talk about a new peace agreement reached in August.

Now, South Sudan rebels have said that 23 of their top generals are expected to arrive in the capitol city of Juba on March 21 to prepare for the coming of their leader, Riek Machar, who is the designated first vice president in a national unity government that is supposed to come out of that new settlement. They claim that sending the generals is proof of their intention to abide by the peace accord, but at the same time raised concerns by insisting that they be allowed to bring their heavy weapons - including tanks - and some 3000 troops with them.

The rebels responded to concerns by saying their experience with the South Sudan military gave them reason to be distrustful - which frankly is true but the same could be said of them.

And so we wait for March 21 and I try to stitch my heart together one more time. We'll see.

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