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South Sudan: UN Urges Accountability For Key Figures Supporting Militias In Greater Jonglei

GENEVA/JUBA (15 March 2021) – The UN issued a report on Monday calling on the South Sudanese authorities to hold accountable the military and political figures who are supporting community-based militias in the Greater Jonglei region, in order to prevent further violence.

Organised and heavily-armed community-based militias from the Dinka, Nuer and Murle communities carried out a wave of planned and co-ordinated attacks on villages across Jonglei and the Greater Pibor Administrative Area (GPAA) between January and August 2020, according to a new human rights report jointly issued by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“Six months after the last devasting attack in Greater Jonglei, it must be made clear that those key figures at both local and national levels, who deliberately fuelled and exploited localized tensions, will be held accountable,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet. “The risk that these community-based militias will reignite armed violence is too grave to ignore. It is of paramount importance that the Government takes effective steps to ensure that members of the security forces are prevented from supplying weapons from Government stocks to these militias,” she added.

The UN report makes it clear that the Government of South Sudan needs to take full responsibility for the harm inflicted on scores of civilians. More than 738 people were killed and 320 wounded, while at least 686 women and children were abducted, and 39 women raped during the eight-month period covered by the report. In addition, tens of thousands were displaced, civilian property and humanitarian facilities were looted and/or destroyed, and at least 86,000 cattle (worth over USD 35 million) were stolen.

While grassroots reconciliation and peace talks between the affected communities have been underway for months, no meaningful action has been taken by the authorities to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the human rights abuses.

At least 50 traditional chiefs and spiritual leaders, as well as military and political elites, directly or indirectly supported the attacks led by community-based militias in Greater Jonglei, the report says. In addition, members of Government and opposition forces actively participated in the fighting according to their kinship, or as part of a calculated move to reinforce political alliances, underlining the challenge of establishing a fully integrated army in the polarized context of South Sudan.

When the violence erupted, UNMISS rapidly deployed peacekeepers to the affected areas, establishing temporary bases and conducting regular patrols to help deter further attacks. The Mission engaged with political and traditional leaders at the national and local levels to promote reconciliation, facilitated peace conferences, and supported efforts to win the release of the hundreds of women and children reported to have been abducted. A peacebuilding trust fund is also being used to improve basic services to reduce the risk of renewed fighting.

While the authorities say they have taken some actions to address the violence, the report calls on the Government to finalize the appointment of local administrators and local assemblies throughout Jonglei and the GPAA, to investigate all allegations of human rights violations and abuses, and prosecute those responsible. State-owned weapons should be kept in secure storage facilities to prevent theft and to ensure members of the security forces cannot supply them to community-based militias. Immediate and strong steps should also be taken to facilitate the release and reunification of abducted women and children with their families.

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