As delivered by Ambassador Keith Harper
United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva
December 12, 2016,
Thank you, Mr. President. The United States, together with our core group partners Albania, Paraguay, and the United Kingdom, initiated the call for this urgently needed Special Session to act on the evidence of growing violence and violations and abuses of human rights in South Sudan and to prevent the potential for further mass atrocities there. We are encouraged by the overwhelming support from other delegations who joined us in requesting this session, and we ask for all Council members to unite in support of a resolution that sends a powerful signal to those committing human rights abuses and violations on all sides.
My government is alarmed by the assessment of the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan that a steady process of ethnic cleansing is underway in several areas of South Sudan, involving starvation, gang rape, and the burning of villages. It is particularly concerning, because the Commission’s observations echo those separately raised by UN Special Advisor for the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng, who noted in November that there was a strong risk of violence escalating along ethnic lines, with the potential for genocide.
Indeed, my government has documented ethnically-motivated hate speech by all sides and sexual and gender-based violence against women, men, and children that is becoming increasingly widespread, and there are reports of targeting civilians based on ethnicity. We are concerned that insecurity appears to be spreading and that the government of South Sudan appears to be preparing for large scale attacks in Central Equatoria in the coming days or weeks. The United States has confirmed that at least 1,901 homes in Equatoria have been destroyed since fighting began around two months ago. In the last two weeks, the government has mobilized at least 4,000 militia from other areas and is staging them in Equatoria. This represents a substantial increase in the overall number of government-affiliated soldiers in the region.
We are also alarmed about the recent surge of refugees from Central Equatoria to northern Uganda, which could signal that the conflict is worse than we know. Yet we cannot fully assess the situation or provide assistance to displaced persons or victims of violence, given that the UN repeatedly has been denied access to this region.
There is still time to prevent this situation from escalating, and that is why the United States has initiated this Special Session now, rather than waiting until March to call attention to these activities of the South Sudan government or to renew the Commission’s mandate. We acknowledge that the Government of the Republic of South Sudan has committed to cooperating with OHCHR, UN special procedures, and the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan in the fulfilment of its mandate, and we believe that closer cooperation is particularly urgent right now. The Commission itself has recently stated that further investigations are needed – both to determine what is going on in areas where the UN heretofore has not had access as well as to collect evidence of rapes in particular, so as to facilitate future prosecutions.
It is the hope of the United States that this Special Session will pave the way for such investigations to take place, by adopting a resolution that extends the Commission’s mandate through March 2018 and broadens it to include not only a monitoring function, but also an investigative one. While we must shine a spotlight on the situation that is developing in South Sudan and condemn the violations and abuses of human rights that are taking place there, it is even more important that we take action that will prevent further violence and mass atrocities. It is also our goal to ensure that the Council’s action helps ensure that South Sudan receives technical assistance for accountability and builds the capacity to provide security and justice for its people.
It is essential that all the United Nations’ bodies and mechanisms, including the Human Rights Council, remain engaged in South Sudan at this critical moment.
We would like to remind all delegations that we are hosting an open informal on the draft text of the resolution today from 2:00 to 5:00 pm in room 27.
Thank you, Mr. President.