A United Nations watchdog panel is warning that South Sudan could plunge into massive violence if elections are held before the government implements constitutional provisions aimed at solidifying the country’s shaky peace agreement. The three-member Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan has submitted its latest report to the U.N. Human Rights Council.
South Sudan has had a three-year transitional period to implement provisions of the Revitalized Peace Agreement ending the country’s civil war, which was to be followed by general elections in 2023.
However, Commission members say key areas of the peace agreement remain unimplemented. They say that and continuing violent conflict in parts of the country, as well as widespread, systematic human rights violations, preclude the possibility of free and fair elections.
The commission’s chair, Yasmin Sooka, said the conflict has displaced 4 million people both within the country and as refugees in neighboring countries. She said nearly 9 million people need humanitarian aid. She said the government is riddled with corruption and the country’s treasury is being looted by the political elite.
She said civil rights are repressed, with human rights activists and journalists routinely facing death threats and arbitrary detention. She said conflict-related sexual violence against women and girls is widespread and systematic throughout South Sudan.
“In this climate of fear and terror, how can we talk about constitution-making, elections, and transitional justice? Are national consultations even possible? …The growing political crisis threatens to exacerbate the existing humanitarian and human rights crises, which cause widespread suffering and makes the life of many South Sudanese unbearable,” said Sooka.
Commission member Andrew Clapham said core elements of a constitution are not yet agreed to. He said both constitution-making and elections require considerable legal, institutional, security and logistical arrangements. He said all are yet to be established.
“Beyond these key legal and procedural considerations, it is critical to recognize the risks of further polarization and political violence around these elections, particularly when insufficient groundwork has been laid for the process. The consequences of a rushed poll, within a contested political system and without requisite security and democratic conditions in place, could indeed be disastrous,” said Clapham.
South Sudan’s Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Ruben Madol Arol disputes the Commission’s claims. He said his government is making progress in the implementation of the provisions in the Revitalized Agreement.
However, he said lack of outside support is hindering progress in this regard. He said South Sudan needs technical assistance and capacity-building to move the process forward. He appeals to the U.N. Council and Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to provide these tools.