There was further deterioration of the human rights situation in South Sudan in 2016. In July, violence broke out in the capital, Juba. Government and rebel forces both breached commitments to end hostilities and fighting spread to areas of the country not previously affected by conflict. This led to serious human rights violations by state actors, abuses by non-state actors and breaches of International Humanitarian Law. Child soldiers continued to be recruited and, as on previous occasions, women bore the brunt of the violence. Some were attacked and raped outside a UN Protection of Civilians camp in full view of UN peacekeepers who did not intervene. Others were gang raped in a hotel used by international NGOs, where a journalist was also executed. A UN Panel of Experts report concluded Government forces had deliberately targeted civilians on the basis of their ethnicity, and perpetrated unlawful killings, arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances. Incidents of hate speech and calls for armed conflict increased and the government cracked down on fundamental freedoms by harassing and intimidating journalists, arbitrarily closing media outlets and further narrowing the space for political participation and protest. Despite promises by the government to investigate the July violence, nobody was held to account.
The UK's ability to meet its objectives in 2016, including the prevention of sexual violence, was severely hampered by the July crisis, which led to the evacuation of the majority of Embassy staff. Most have now returned, as have our partner NGOs that had scaled down their activities for security reasons. At the 31st Human Rights Council (HRC) in March the UK co-tabled a Resolution setting up an International Human Rights Commission on South Sudan, with a mandate to monitor and report on the human rights situation. The Resolution included the express commitment by South Sudan to cooperate with the Commission. The HRC held a Special Session on South Sudan in December in response to the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide's warnings that the country could be on a path to genocide, prompted by reports of ethnically motivated violence. The UK lobbied for a strong outcome and the subsequent Resolution enhanced the ability of the Commission to focus on impunity and accountability, and identify priority steps the government must take to prevent further sexual violence.
The UK's key objective for 2017 is a cessation of hostilities, so that the peace process can get back on track. The President's announcement of a National Dialogue in December was a welcome step, but it remains to be seen whether this is a genuine effort to bring peace. If it is, it could enable implementation of the 2015 peace agreement, which should allow human rights abuses to be investigated through the setting up of a hybrid court by the African Union, as a mechanism for holding individuals to account. We will continue to press for action on human rights, support human rights organisations and drive work at the HRC to strengthen the mandate of the Commission inter alia to address the prevalence of sexual violence.