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23 South Sudanese could face ICC over war crimes

At least 23 South Sudanese could face trial before the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes, crimes against humanity and possible genocide, the UN says.

The suspects, who include politicians, reportedly committed the crimes in South Sudan’s five-year old war.

The UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan said the identified individuals bore superior responsibility under international criminal law for serious crimes related to the conflict.

Members of the commission told the the media Tuesday that the listed individuals, along with previously identified alleged perpetrators, could face justice in courts around the world, not just in South Sudan.

“We have not placed all our eggs in one basket,” the chair of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, Ms Yasmin Sooka said

“We have framed these crimes in multiple ways to allow future prosecutions to take place in jurisdictions inside and outside South Sudan.

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“This allows for the prosecution of war crimes and crimes against humanity in states that are parties to relevant treaties on torture, enforced disappearance and attacks on UN personnel, for example,” she explained.

In its third report to the Human Rights Council, the Juba commission noted that while the signing of the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan in September 2018 had seen improvements in the overall situation in terms of security, peace and economy, the situation in the Equatorias, in the southern part of the country, was extremely volatile with ongoing fighting in the Yei River Area between the government and the National Salvation Front (NAS) forces, which had not signed the agreement.

Thousands of civilians, the commission said, were still being forcibly displaced.

It said it had documented several incidents of human rights abuses between May and June 2018 in Unity State, Western Bahr el-Ghazal, and Central Equatoria, that could amount to serious violations of human rights and of humanitarian law.

The commission documented sexual violence, including brutal multiple gang rapes, sexual slavery, abductions, forced marriage, forced pregnancy, forced abortion and mutilation of sexual organs as well as killings, at the hands of both government forces and those belonging to the opposition.

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“It has become commonplace to say that these crimes take place because impunity has become entrenched,” Ms Sooka said.

The commission also noted increases in arbitrary detentions, torture, executions and enforced disappearances. These generated paranoia in South Sudan, with civil society activists reporting they felt afraid to speak out.

Witnesses interviewed by the commission also described torture, including beating and whipping, pulling out of toe nails, cutting, burning and electrocution.

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The report says the signing of the 2018 peace agreement had not delivered immediate improvement in the desperate humanitarian situation for the people of South Sudan.

Due in large part to the conflict, 60 per cent of the South Sudanese population was severely food insecure, and there remained 2.2 million refugees and 1.9 million Internally Displaced Persons.

The humanitarian situation was exacerbated by the deliberate obstruction of the work of humanitarian actors, the commission noted, adding that South Sudan had been ranked the most dangerous place in the world for humanitarian workers for the third consecutive year.

On Tuesday, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on ICC to pursue South Sudan war crimes in an effort to put an end to persistent impunity in the youngest state.

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