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South Sudan: Submission to the Committee On the Rights of the Child’s Review | #childabductors | #parenting | #parenting | #kids


Since South Sudan’s civil war began in 2013, both the government and opposition forces have committed widespread atrocity crimes, including unlawful killings, torture and other ill-treatment, recruitment and use of children in their armed forces, rape, and other forms of sexual violence.[1] The 2015 Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS)[2] and the 2018 Revitalized ARCSS[3] provide for three important mechanisms to deal with human rights violations arising from the conflict as well as past abuses in South Sudan: the Commission for Truth, Healing and Reconciliation (CTRH), the Hybrid Court for South Sudan (HCSS), and the Compensation and Reparations Authority (CRA).[4] To date, none of these mechanisms has been established.

This submission focuses primarily on the following topics: the use and recruitment of child soldiers, the abduction and detention of children, sexual and other forms of gender-based violence perpetrated against children, and the protection of students, teachers, and schools during time of armed conflict. It proposes issues and questions that we would encourage Committee members to raise with the government.

Use and Recruitment of Child Soldiers (articles 35 and 38 (and Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict))

From December 2013 to October 2015, the United Nations received verified and unverified reports of incidents affecting 58,690 children, including 278 incidents of recruitment affecting between 15,000 and 16,000 children.[5]

In 2015, Security Council resolution 2206 established the Panel of Experts on South Sudan.[6] Since then, the Panel has documented the forced recruitment of children and adults and confirmed that the practice has remained persistent.[7] Human Rights Watch and the African Union have also documented these patterns of abuse.[8]

In September 2018, warring parties signed the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS), which led to a reduction of fighting in most parts of the country. However, key elements of the peace agreement have been delayed and unimplemented, including security arrangements and the process of demobilizing, reintegrating, and rehabilitating forces from all sides. These delays have had a disproportionate impact on the lives of children. The government, the pro-Machar Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLA/IO) (Riek Machar), the National Salvation Front, and other armed groups continued to recruit, train, and use children as young as 12 years old in Wau, Warrap, Unity, and Central Equatoria States.[9]

Forces also recruited children at, or on the way to or from, school. In September 2018, UNMISS reported that NAS abducted seven children from Yondoru Primary School in Mukaya, Equatoria state, and forced them into both military training and labor, including acting as bodyguards to commanders.[10] On June 28, 2019, the SPLA-IO attempted to recruit several hundred children from schools in Pibor, Jonglei state. In June 2019, the SPLA-IO attempted to recruit several hundred children from schools in Pibor, Jonglei state.[11]

As of July 2019, at least 19,000 children were thought to still be in the ranks of the government’s army and armed opposition groups.[12]

In March 2019, the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan reported that the rehabilitation and reintegration of child soldiers remained a challenge due to inadequate social and psychosocial support services, the lack of education and employment opportunities, and the risk of re-recruitment as a result of slow implementation of the peace deal and ongoing violence in parts of the country.[13]

In July 2020, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict reported 270 grave violations against 250 children, including the recruitment of 161 children.[14]

Abuses in South Sudan, including abductions for forced recruitment, sexual violence, killing and maiming of children, have been committed with the use of small and light weapons. South Sudan and neighbouring states have violated a UN arms embargo, imposed in July 2018, in an effort to stem the flow of weapons that are being used against civilians, that would likely be used in committing these abuses. The Panel of Experts found evidence that Sudan delivered weapons to South Sudan three times between March and June 2019, and that Ugandan troops entered the country without notifying the UN.[15] Also, neighbouring countries in 2018 and 2019 failed to report required cargo inspections.[16]

Human Rights Watch encourages the Committee to ask the government of South Sudan:

What specific measures has the South Sudan government taken to provide assistance and support to children recruited and adversely affected by the armed conflict?

How many cases of use of child soldiers have been documented since January 1, 2020, and how many of these remain in the ranks of government and armed opposition groups?

What screening processes have been put in place as part of the security arrangements in cantonment and training sites to ensure that children are not being recruited or used by armed groups?

What measures has the government put in place to ensure a full implementation of the UN arms embargo and what steps have been taken to hold violating parties or units to account?

What steps has South Sudan taken to implement the accountability mechanisms in its peace deals, including the CTRH, the Hybrid Court for South Sudan, and the CRA, and why has it yet to conclude the drafted Memorandum of Understanding with the African Union on the Hybrid Court for more than three years?

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee asks South Sudan to:

Impartially investigate and appropriately prosecute South Sudanese army officers and armed group commanders responsible for recruiting or abducting children;

Immediately end the recruitment and use of children in organized forces or any allied groups and immediately identify and release any child who has been forcibly recruited.

Move ahead without further delay on establishing the CTRH, Hybrid Court, and CRA.

Abduction of children (article 35)

Abductions and other abuses that occur in connection are not unique to Western Equatoria and have been committed by government and opposition forces and other armed groups since the outbreak of war in December 2013. There are a myriad of reasons, or rather incentives, that drive this practice including to bolster sizes and ranks of armed groups, free and forced labor, and sexual exploitation.

Between April and August 2018, the SPLA-IO(RM) and the Government’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) reportedly abducted over 887 civilians, including 63 girls and 41 boys, in a series of attacks.[17] Many abductees, including boys under the age of 15, were forced to be fighters. Young women were also trained alongside male recruits and issued with firearms. Other groups including government forces and National Salvation Front (NAS) also abducted women and girls.[18]

There are few hard statistics when it comes to the numbers of abducted civilians, especially children, held captive and who remain with armed groups. Many girls who were no longer part of armed groups described fear of being re-abducted. One girl who was abducted aged 15 during fighting in her village in Western Equatoria state and forced to be a secretary to a rebel commander, told Human Rights Watch how her former commander had come looking for her several times since her release. To avoid re-abduction, her family moved her to another town.[19]

On January 30, 2020, the SPLM/A-IO under First vice president Riek Machar released 78 women and 50 children to the United Nations. The UN announced that these were victims of abductions that they had documented in 2018. However, in mid-February, SPLM/A-IO commanders and fighters in Yambio threatened and harassed those who had facilitated releases and coerced all the women and children who were released back to their base in Lirangu, UN staff told Human Rights Watch.[20]

In its January 2020 report, the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan found that even as parties cantoned their forces, all sides were recruiting civilians including through abductions of women, girls and boys, and that this “exacerbated insecurity for women and girls, as the inadequate nature of cantonment and uncertainty over livelihoods for cantoned soldiers drove them to roam around civilian inhabited areas in search of food and water, rendering women and girls vulnerable to abuse.”[21]

Human Rights Watch encourages the Committee to ask the Revitalized-Transitional Government of National Unity:

What measures have the government and leaders from armed groups put in place to promptly investigate past abductions of civilians and to prevent future ones?

What steps have been taken to trace and release civilians that were re-abducted by the SPLA/IO in February 2020?

Are there any formal processes or mechanisms in place to identify the fates and whereabout of abducted civilians and ensure their safe and unhindered return to their homes? If so, what are they, what groups or agencies are involved with them, and how do they operate? Are they, for instance, trained in gender-sensitive investigations and responses?

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee asks South Sudan to:

Ensure the governments army, the SPLA-IO, NAS and other armed groups immediately release all civilians they have abducted, first and foremost the children.

Ensure unrestricted access by the UN, ceasefire monitors and relevant humanitarian partners to all government and opposition sites where abducted civilians including children might be held.

Ensure abducted civilians including children and women and girls who suffered sexual violence receive medical and psychological support immediately and full and adequate reparations.

Ensure all those allegedly responsible for crimes committed are investigated and prosecuted, including those in positions of command and authority, including through the establishment of the long-awaited Hybrid Court for South Sudan.

Ensure that any formal processes or mechanisms in place to identify the fates and whereabout of abducted civilians to ensure their safe and unhindered return to their homes are gender-sensitive.

Sexual and gender-based violence (article 34)

Sexual violence, including rape, gangrape, sexual slavery, sexual exploitation, genital mutilation, forced nudity and other forms of gender-based violence including child and forced marriage, are widespread in South Sudan.

Human Rights Watch, the UN, national nongovernmental organizations and others have documented patterns of sexual violence against children by all armed groups, including rape of girls as young as 7 years and genital mutilation of boys.[22] Seven of the eight South Sudanese individuals under UN sanctions are implicated in sexual violence, among other crimes.[23]

Between June and September 2020, UNMISS documented at least 21 cases of rape, gang rape, forced marriage, forced nudity, sexual slavery, and attempted rape of women and girls as young as 10 by armed groups.[24]

The UN has listed several groups including government forces and SPLA-IO under first vice president Riek Machar and the SPLA-IO faction under vice president Taban Deng Gai who have committed grave violations, including kidnapping and rape, against children since the onset of the conflict in December 2013.

South Sudan has no clear minimum age of marriage to protect children against this harmful practice.[25] According to UNICEF, more than half (52 percent) of South Sudanese girls between the ages of 15 and 18 are married, with some marrying as young as age 12.[26] Child marriage in South Sudan has been exacerbated by the conflict and more recently by the Covid-19 pandemic. In September 2020, a South Sudanese civil society organization reported that since Covid-19 restrictions were imposed in April 2020, at least 1,535 girls were subjected to child marriages, pregnancies, and sexual exploitation in states of Western, Eastern, and Central Equatoria.[27]

South Sudan has committed to eliminate child marriage by 2030[28] in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals[29] and has committed to ending child marriage by the end of 2020 under the Ministerial Commitment on comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents and young people in Eastern and Southern Africa.[30]

Failure to combat child marriage is likely to have serious implications for the future development of South Sudan. It constrains the education, health, security, and economic progress of women and girls, their families, and their communities.[31]

Human Rights Watch encourages the Committee to ask the government of South Sudan:

How many soldiers including senior commanders have been either investigated or prosecuted for rape and other sexual and gender-based violence against children since the start of the conflict?

What assistance, including medical care and psychosocial support, has been given to child victims of sexual violence and other gender-based crimes since the start of the conflict?

What legal and programmatic steps are authorities in South Sudan taking to protect children from child marriage?

Does the Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare keep records of child marriages across the country? If so, what is the number of child marriages recorded in the country in the last five years, broken down by gender?

Do children currently in marriages have access to legal redress, including measures to annul the marriage and protect already married girls and their children?

What steps are authorities in South Sudan taking to ensure that married girls, including those who are pregnant or parenting, can continue formal education?

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee asks South Sudan to:

Issue clear, public orders to all combatants to prevent and end all abuses, including sexual and gender-based violence.

Provide comprehensive assistance to child victims of sexual violence and other gender-based crimes, including medical and psychosocial rehabilitation.

Develop legislation that complies with international human rights standards, including by clearly setting the minimum age of marriage at 18 for both boys and girls without parental consent, and ensure its enforcement.

Take action to effectively implement the Strategic National Action Plan (2017-2030) to end child marriage by 2030, including by securing necessary financial resources.

Take measures to ensure that all girls, including those who are married, pregnant or parenting, can continue with education and are supported to remain in school.

Declare zero tolerance on child marriage, and publicly and forcefully condemn acts of violence against girls and women who resist child marriages.

Detention of Children (Articles 2, 3, 9, and 37)

Human Rights Watch has documented scores of cases in which soldiers arbitrarily arrested and detained civilians, including children, and subjected them to ill-treatment and torture.

Researchers also identified several cases of abductions and enforced disappearances of children.[32] Human Rights Watch has found that the National Security Service (NSS) has detained children as young as 13 who have been accused of supporting rebels or committing other national security crimes.[33] Mothers have also been detained together with their children as young as 8 months.

Under international humanitarian law, anyone taken into custody during an armed conflict, including children, must be protected from “violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture” and “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment.”[34] International human rights law similarly prohibits torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of a detainee in any circumstance.[35]

Human Rights Watch encourages the Committee to ask the government of South Sudan:

How many children are being held in detention facilities or in the national prison service, and how many of these have been charged or tried in accordance with the law? How many of these are in juvenile detention centres or in the regular prison system? If in the national prison system, are children comingled with adult prisoners?

What measures or plans are in place to ensure children being held in national prisons or juvenile detention centres have opportunities for education, adequate access to medical care including mental health, and skills and capacity building among others?

What steps has the government taken to protect children from abductions by armed groups and enforced disappearances by security forces and other government agents?

What measures have been put in place to ensure that children in prisons or detention centres are not subject to neglect, torture, abuse and gender-based violence?

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee asks South Sudan to:

Improve access to justice mechanisms in South Sudan to ensure juvenile cases are handled by appropriate authorities in a prompt manner with due process rights guaranteed;

Explore and support non-custodial alternatives to imprisonment of children such as reformatory/rehabilitative programs and community service.

Protecting Students, Teachers, and Schools During Armed Conflict (Articles 28, 38, 39)

Attacks on education continued to occur, including the use of schools by armed forces and groups, attacks on schools, attacks on students and teachers, and sexual violence at schools. Between the beginning of the conflict in December 2013 and October 2017, there were 293 reported incidents of military use and attacks on schools, affecting over 90,000 children.[36]

In July 2018, the UN reported that 2.2 million school-aged children in South Sudan were out of school, the highest proportion globally, and that 75 percent of girls were out of school.[37] An estimated 3 million children aged between three and 17 did not have access to pre-school, primary, and secondary education in 2020, with the most severe needs reported in areas with ongoing conflict including Eastern Equatoria, Lakes and Upper Nile states.[38]

Attacks on Schools, Teachers, and Students

The UN reported that one out of three schools has been damaged, destroyed, occupied, or closed since 2013.[39] Insecurity is the main cause of school closures in recent years.[40] However, there were some improvements in access to education during this period: an Education Cluster Assessment published in October 2018 estimated that 80 percent of schools were functioning, an increase of 21 percent from the previous school year.[41]

Military Use of Schools

From 2017 to 2019, state armed forces and non-state armed groups used over 100 schools and universities for military purposes, according to the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA).[42]

In the first six months of 2018, the UN reported the military use of 35 schools for sleeping quarters and bases and a total of 85 schools vacated by armed forces or armed groups.[43]

In 2019, GCPEA collected at least 20 reported instances of military use of schools, despite the signing of R-ARCC and reduction in hostilities.[44] For example, in December 2019, SSPDF soldiers occupied a primary school in Lasu for at least two months.[45]

In January 2020, SSPDF and SPLA-IO soldiers occupied a school in Kalyak to host a unified police force.[46]

In June 2015, South Sudan endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration and thereby committed to using the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict as a practical tool to guide behavior during military operations.[47] Previously, in September 2014, the Ministry of Defense and Veteran Affairs proposed an amendment to the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) Act that stated, “every SPLA member commits an offence who occupies schools or hospitals.”

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee asks the government of South Sudan:

Do any South Sudanese laws, policies, or trainings provide explicit protection for schools and universities from military use during armed conflict?

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee:

Encourages the Ministry of Defense to resubmit their proposed amendment criminalizing and prohibiting the occupation of schools and hospitals by soldiers, to the Transitional National Legislative Assembly, and urge the amendment’s adoption;

Commends South Sudan for its endorsement of the Safe Schools Declaration and the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict;

Encourages South Sudan to continue to develop and share examples of its implementation of the Declaration’s commitments with other countries that have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration and with the Committee as examples of good practice in protecting students, teachers, and schools during armed conflict;

Encourages other African Union countries to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration.

[1] Nyagoah Tut Pur, “South Sudan’s Arms Embargo Flouted,” commentary, Human Rights Watch dispatch, May 8, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/05/08/south-sudans-arms-embargo-flouted; Human Rights Watch, “We Can Die Too”: Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers in South Sudan, December 14, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/12/14/we-can-die-too/recruitment-and-use-child-soldiers-south-sudan; Human Rights Watch, “South Sudan: Government Forces Abusing Civilians, June 4, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/06/04/south-sudan-government-forces-abusing-civilians.

[2] Intergovernmental Authority on Development, Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, August 17, 2015, http://www.sudantribune.com/IMG/pdf/final_proposed_compromise_agreement_for_south_sudan_conflict.pdf (accessed November 10, 2020).

[3] Intergovernmental Authority on Development, Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS), Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, September 12, 2018, https://www.dropbox.com/s/6dn3477q3f5472d/R-ARCSS.2018-i.pdf?dl=0 (accessed November 10, 2020).

[4] “Q&A: Justice for War Crimes in South Sudan,” Human Rights Watch, August 24, 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/08/24/qa-justice-war-crimes-south-sudan.

[5] United Nations Security Council, “Letter dated 22 January 2016 from the Panel of Experts on South Sudan established pursuant to Security Council resolution 2206 (2015) addressed to the President of the Security Council,” January 22, 2016, S/2016/70, https://undocs.org/en/S/2016/70 (accessed October 28, 2020), para. 124.

[6] UN Security Council, Resolution 2206 (2015), S/RES/2206, March 3, 2015, https://undocs.org/en/S/RES/2206%20(2015) (accessed November 10, 2020).

[7] UN Security Council, “Letter dated 28 April 2020 from the Panel of Experts on South Sudan addressed to the President of the Security Council,” S/2020/342, April 28, 2020, https://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/S_2020_342.pdf (accessed November 10, 2020), para. 22.

[8] African Union Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan, “Final Report of the African Union Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan,” Addis Ababa, October 15, 2014, http://www.peaceau.org/uploads/auciss.final.report.pdf (accessed November 10, 2020); United Nations Human Rights Council, “Assessment mission by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to improve human rights, accountability, reconciliation and capacity in South Sudan: detailed findings,” A/HRC/31/CRP.6, March 10, 2016, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session31/Documents/A-HRC-31-CRP-6_en.doc (accessed November 10, 2020); Human Rights Watch, South Sudan’s New War: Abuses by Government and Opposition Forces, August 2014, https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/08/07/south-sudans-new-war/abuses-government-and-opposition-forces; Human Rights Watch, “They Burned It All”: Destruction of Villages, Killings and Sexual Violence in Unity State South Sudan, July 2015, https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/07/22/they-burned-it-all/destruction-villages-killings-and-sexual-violence-unity-state

[9] UN Human Rights Council, Report of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, A/HRC/43/56, January 31, 2020, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/CoHRSouthSudan/A_HRC_43_56.docx (accessed November 10, 2020), paras. 45-51.

[10] United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), Conflict-related violations and abuses in Central Equatoria September 2018-April 2019, July 3, 2019, https://unmiss.unmissions.org/sites/default/files/final_-_human_rights_division_report_on_central_equatoria_-_3_july_2019.pdf (accessed November 23, 2020), para. 48.

[11] Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA), Education Under Attack 2020: A Global Study of Attacks on Schools, Universities, their Students and Staff, 2017-2019, South Sudan Country Profile, July 2020, https://protectingeducation.org/publication/education-under-attack-2020/ (accessed October 20, 2020), p. 217.

[12] “32 children released from opposition groups in South Sudan,” UNICEF news release, July 24, 2019, https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/32-children-released-opposition-groups-south-sudan#:~:text=LEER%2C%20South%20Sudan%2C%2024%20July,aged%20between%2013%20and%2017 (accessed November 10, 2020).

[13] UN Human Rights Council, Report of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, A/HRC/40/69, March 12, 2019, https://undocs.org/en/A/HRC/40/69 (accessed November 10, 2020), para. 50.

[14] UN Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on Children and armed conflict, UN A/74/845-S/2020/525, June 2020, https://www.un.org/sg/sites/www.un.org.sg/files/atoms/files/15-June-2020_Secretary-General_Report_on_CAAC_Eng.pdf (accessed November 10, 2020), para. 148.

[15] Nyagoah Tut Pur, “UN Security Council Should Renew South Sudan Arms Embargo,” commentary, Human Rights Watch dispatch, May 8, 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/05/08/un-security-council-should-renew-south-sudan-arms-embargo; UN Security Council, Resolution 2428 (2018), S/RES/2428 (2018), http://unscr.com/en/resolutions/doc/2428 (accessed November 10, 2020).

[16] Nyagoah Tut Pur, “South Sudan’s Arms Embargo Flouted,” commentary, Human Rights Watch dispatch, May 8, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/05/08/south-sudans-arms-embargo-flouted

[17] UNMISS and Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), “Violation and Abuses Against Civilians in Gbudue and Tambura States (Western Equatoria) April-August 2018,” 2018, https://unmiss.unmissions.org/sites/default/files/reportwesternequatoria17oct2018.pdf (accessed October 20, 2020).

[18] Ibid., paras. 30, 31, 35 36; Human Rights Watch, “South Sudan: Government Forces Abusing Civilians, June 4, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/06/04/south-sudan-government-forces-abusing-civilians

[19] “Freeing South Sudan’s Captive Women and Girls,” Human Rights Watch news release, February 19, 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/02/19/freeing-south-sudans-captive-women-and-girls; Human Rights Watch, “South Sudan: Government Forces Abusing Civilians, June 4, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/06/04/south-sudan-government-forces-abusing-civilians

[20] “Freeing South Sudan’s Captive Women and Girls,” Human Rights Watch news release, February 19, 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/02/19/freeing-south-sudans-captive-women-and-girls

[21] UN Human Rights Council, Report of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, A/HRC/43/56, January 31, 2020, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/CoHRSouthSudan/A_HRC_43_56.docx (accessed November 10, 2020), para. 49.