Today, South Sudan becomes the world’s newest country. Back in January 2011, the people of South Sudan voted in a referendum mandated by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and decided to secede from Sudan.
Sadly, South Sudan’s very first birthday is being overshadowed by ongoing conflict in many border areas, fueled by arms shipment from countries such as China, Russia and the USA to volatile regions of Sudan such as Southern Kordofan. For instance, analysis by Amnesty International has linked Russian-made aircraft to indiscriminate airstrikes in the past month that led to civilian deaths and injuries in the regional capital Kadugli and other areas in Southern Kordofan. Satellite imagery acquired by the Satellite Sentinel Project corrobates that analysis, proving that Russian-made aircrafts have been present in many areas where conflict and violence occurs on a regular basis.
In addition, the new Republic of South Sudan will have to overcome many challenges of its own—including its legacy of prolonged civil war and severe underdevelopment—in addition to the immense trials any new state faces. Continued fighting this year has left around 1,400 civilians dead and over 160,000 people displaced. Soldiers of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and other armed forced are continually met with impunity for the crimes they commit. Political opposition is stifled, and weaknesses in the justice system lead to human rights abuses including arbitrary arrests and detentions, prolonged period of pre-trial detention, denial of a fair trial, and poor conditions of detention. Women and girls are subjected to traditional practices that can cause both physical and emotional harm, and have little knowledge of their rights and access to justice.
In a recent statement, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch urged the Republic of South Sudan to demonstrate its commitment to human rights by taking action in the following key areas:
1. Ensure accountability for abuses by soldiers, police, and other security forces.
2. Uphold the right to freedom of expression and association
3. Review the legality of all detentions, particularly of juveniles
4. Immediately place a moratorium on all executions, with the ultimate view of abolishing the death penalty
5. Promote and protect the rights of women and girls
6. Create a robust framework for human rights by ratifying key international human rights treaties and ensuring compliance with their provisions
Right now South Sudan has an opportunity for a fresh start. The new president Salva Kiir and his government must send a clear message to its people and the rest of the world that human rights will be protected, and abuses met with justice. The new leadership can and must set a strong precedent for human rights, and then uphold it. You can help by joining Amnesty in congratulating President Kiir and South Sudan on independence, while expressing your concerns regarding human rights.
In the meantime, Amnesty International wishes South Sudan a very happy birthday.