Submission to UN Committee on Rights of Child in South Sudan

Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch presents this updated submission in advance of the 91st session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child to assess South Sudan’s implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This follows Human Rights Watch’s submission to the Committee for their 88th pre-session on its review of South Sudan,[1] and covers the following topics: detention, torture, summary and extrajudicial executions, and protection of education from attack.

Detention of children (article 37)

Human Rights Watch has called on South Sudan to immediately close all National Security Service (NSS) detention centers, prohibit NSS from operating detention centers, and ensure the agency releases all detainees in its custody or immediately brings them before an independent court to be charged with a cognizable crime.

Human Rights Watch found that South Sudanese authorities have failed to stem or investigate the appalling abuses by the country’s NSS, including detention of children.[2] The National Security Service Act (2014) grants the agency broad powers of arrest, detention, seizure and surveillance inconsistent with the country’s constitution. Since the outbreak of the civil war in December 2013, the NSS has carried out arbitrary and abusive detentions, among other documented abuses, with little to no accountability or justice for victims.

The NSS has detained children suspected of being involved with rebel groups or who otherwise are perceived to be a security threat. Children were commingled with adult detainees in cells that were often overcrowded and had little access to food, clean water, or medical care.[3] Some were beaten as punishment. As with adults, they were not afforded basic due process protections, in violation of both South Sudanese and international law.[4]

In August 2017, a detainee held in the NSS detention site in Hai Jalaba for two days said he witnessed a boy being caned by officers. The boy was detained on accusations of spying on the NSS:

They boy was crying seriously saying he will die. He said he collected an identification document (ID) outside and it belonged to an NSS personnel, he tried to bring back the ID to NSS and that’s when he was arrested and detained. He was beaten badly, every morning.[5]

In 2019, the NSS held a 13-year-old boy from the Toposa tribe at the lower section of the “Blue House” detention site for six weeks on accusations of being a rebel fighter. Former detainees said that the NSS moved him out of the Blue House after six weeks to an unknown location.[6]

In addition to children who were held because they were accused of wrongdoing, former detainees held in the lower section of the Blue House site told Human Rights Watch they witnessed an eight month-old infant held together with her mother for three months in 2018.[7] The breastfeeding mother, who had been detained on accusations of fraud only ate once a day like other detainees, and was not given any specialized care or food to ensure her or her child’s health and safety. International best practices strongly recommend that pregnant or lactating women are provided with alternatives, such as community-based options, to incarceration.

International law recognizes that children participating in armed conflict are primarily victims and not perpetrators of abuses, and rejects the use of detention except in exceptional cases where children have committed grave offenses or pose a serious threat to a state’s security.

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee ask the government of South Sudan:

  • A written explanation for every detention of a child in NSS facilities.
  • How many children, pregnant women and girls, and lactating mothers are being held in NSS detention sites?
  • Does the Government of South Sudan have any policies in place to ensure comprehensive prenatal, postnatal and other healthcare, food, social services, family communication and other necessities for children, pregnant women and girls and lactating women while in detention? If so, why are they not being implemented in full?
  • Have there been any investigations into abuses of detained children by NSS officials?
  • Has there been any remedy or redress for children who experienced abuse while in NSS custody?
  • What steps have or are being taken to restrict the powers of arrest, detention, search and seizure of the NSS and to bring it in compliance with regional and international human rights law and standards?

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee call on the government of South Sudan to:

  • Improve access to justice mechanisms in South Sudan to ensure criminal cases involving children are handled by appropriate rule of law authorities in a prompt manner with due process rights guaranteed.
  • Ensure that the detention of children is always used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time. Explore and support non-custodial alternatives to imprisonment of children such as reformatory/rehabilitative programs and community service.
  • Alternatives to detention should also be found wherever possible for pregnant and lactating women and girls.
  • Promptly and impartially investigate and, if there is sufficient admissible evidence, prosecute all South Sudanese officials, armed opposition group commanders and National Security Service agents suspected of criminal responsibility for committing crimes and abuses against children, regardless of rank.
  • Ensure findings of investigations into NSS abuses are made public and that victims of torture and other abuses have access to redress. Ensure these victims are provided with compensation and receive appropriate psychosocial support and access to health care.
  • Pending closure of NSS facilities:
    • Ensure that all detainees enjoy full due process rights, including access to legal counsel as required under the constitution. Ensure they have access to legal counsel at any time pending their release or appearance before a judge.
    • Ensure detainees have adequate access to medical care, including examinations by independent qualified doctors and mental health professionals, and monitor the quality of medical care being provided.

Torture, summary, and extrajudicial executions (articles 6, 37)

On May 25, 2022, Justin Lisok Lomuresuk, a 16-year-old primary school student from Kiri boma of Kajokeji in South Sudan’s Central Equatoria state, was cutting wood when he found the decomposing body of a soldier tied to a tree. He told his siblings, who then reported it to local authorities. The next day, while villagers, local officials, and police gathered at the scene, around 25 soldiers arrived in a pickup truck and on motorcycles. A commanding officer ordered the 16-year-old, his 18-year-old brother, and an adult neighbor to sit down, then four soldiers sprayed them with bullets, killing them. The authorities had not questioned the three or anyone else about the suspected crime. These heinous summary executions appear to be done as a form of collective punishment. Later that day, soldiers arrested the boys’ 23-year-old sister and took her, along with her two-year-old child, to the army barracks in Wudu town. On Tuesday evening, officials released the woman and her baby.[8]

Human Rights Watch independently verified the summary executions of two children, in Nyang Akoch village, in Tonj North, in Warrap state, on April 11, 2021.

On April 3, 2021, armed youth had shot at a vehicle traveling on the Wau-Tonj Road in Majok payam (the administrative division below counties), Tonj North, killing one passenger. They also injured another on the arm with a spear. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that payam authorities detained four suspects between April 6 and their execution on April 11: Achuil Kuol Bol, a 17-year-old cattle keeper; Majok Deng Mabior, a 14-year-old student; and two adults, Madut Akol Agok and Deng Bol Kuot. Payam authorities arrested the 14-year-old student at Majok Primary School on April 6, and detained him at their headquarters. The 17-year-old’s family members said that payam authorities had initially arrested his elderly father as a proxy when they could not find the boy. When the boy presented himself to the authorities on April 7, he was detained.

The detentions were not judicially authorized, the detainees were not held in a lawful detention center, and judicial authorities did not investigate the allegations. Community members and witnesses said that the detainees were kept in a thatched grass house, which served as a prison, under the orders of the executive chief of Majok payam and that the authorities tortured and ill-treated them, including with corporal punishment and prolonged chaining. A relative who visited the 14-year-old said they needed to bribe the authorities to give the student food and water.

Governor Aleu Ayieny Aleu visited the village on April 11, along with security forces. Six witnesses who attended the welcome ceremony said that the governor asked for the detainees. One witness said he saw and overheard the governor speak to two chiefs in a small office and say, “I want the prisoners,” before taking the prisoners from the payam headquarters.

“What I saw was a large army that came and tied the suspects’ eyes and hands and threw them on the pickup car,” said another witness. “And soldiers sat on them as they drove away … with two chiefs.” Another witness confirmed that the five suspects were blindfolded and tied. He said their eyes were covered by pieces of one victim’s ripped t-shirt and their hands were tied behind their backs.

Family members and witnesses said a firing squad executed the three men and two boys on April 11 at about 6 p.m. in Keet, Majok payam. Two chiefs from the community that lost the passenger on the April 3 shooting attended the execution. One witness hid nearby and saw approximately 15 soldiers make the five men and boys lie face down next to each other, then shot them dead. A credible source said that the next day, the relatives of Bol, Kuot, and Mabior collected and buried their bodies at their homes.[9]

The UN Mission in South Sudan also documented executions of 29 males in Warrap state between March and July, including boys and elderly men.[10] In January 2021, President Salva Kiir appointed Warrap Governor Aleu with a mandate, among other things, to curb violence and crime.[11]

Government and media sources said that after becoming governor, Aleu toured Warrap state for months, meeting with community members, state and county authorities, and security forces, as part of his security, peace, and reconciliation strategy. He however encouraged violence in some instances. “What will you do when there are thieves and criminals killing people and stealing their property?” he said, addressing the soldiers in Thuuk Muonyjang. “Just like tuek [a woodpecker] cuts into trees, you can do the same to a human and know you will all be promoted … Are you going to fail in your mission?”[12]

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee ask the government of South Sudan:

  • Were Justin Lisok Lomuresuk, Achuil Kuol Bol, or Majok Deng Mabior ever charged or presented before customary law or formal judicial authorities?
  • Has the government ordered an investigation in response to complaints that their executions were not lawful?

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee call on the government of South Sudan to:

  • Conduct prompt, thorough, and impartial investigations into alleged extrajudicial executions in Central Equatoria and Warrap state; ensure that findings are made publicly available in a timely manner; and ensure that those responsible are tried in proceedings that meet international fair trial standards.
  • Direct the state governors and state judicial authorities to provide victims’ family members with reparations and remedies, including monetary compensation.
  • Direct the state governors to develop and adopt a human rights-respecting strategy to address violent conflict, in consultation with relevant national ministers. Such a strategy should address root causes of conflict; hold accountable local and national actors who instigate and take part in the violence; and ensure that government and military efforts to protect civilians are lawful and strictly adhere to the rule of law and due process.
  • Order all security forces and administrative officials to respect and protect human rights, including the rights to liberty, due process including the presumption of innocence, a fair trial, and rights to life and freedom from torture, and inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.
  • Ensure that crimes against children by the military, police or NSS are brought before ordinary civilian courts and hearings accessible to the public.

Protection of Education from Attack (article 28)

In 2020, all parties to conflict in South Sudan-including the South Sudan People’s Defense Forces (SSPDF), the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO), and the South Sudan Opposition Alliance-signed a comprehensive action plan covering all six grave violations against children during armed conflict, including attacks against schools, and have since progressed in its implementation.[13]

Attacks on schools

During 2020 to 2021, the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) collected 11 reported incidents of attacks on schools in South Sudan. The number of reported attacks declined slightly compared to previous years, when GCPEA identified approximately 10 and 18 reported attacks on schools in 2019 and 2018, respectively.[14] In 2020, GCPEA identified three reported incidents of attacks on schools, consisting of arson and looting. For example, in August 2020, assailants reportedly looted Salaam Primary School in Yei tow, Central Equatoria state, and burned down the school’s office. According to media reports, textbooks and other learning materials were taken from the school, which was closed at the time due to Covid-19 prevention measures.[15]

In 2021, GCPEA gathered eight incident reports of attacks on schools, from media, UN, and NGO reporting.[16] Attacks involved arson, looting, crossfire, and explosive weapons. For instance:

  • On June 20, 2021, according to Save the Children and news reports, unidentified assailants looted a school in Eastern Equatoria State, killing a security guard and stealing learning kits. No children were present at the time of the attack.[17]
  • On July 4, 2021, an armed group looted Liech Primary School in Rubkona internally displaced people camp in Unity state, stealing learning materials and damaging six classrooms.[18]

Military use of schools

GCPEA identified at least ten reported instances of the military use of schools in 2020 and 2021. In comparison, GCPEA identified 20 and 35 reports of military use in 2019 and 2018, respectively.[19] The UN verified the use of ten schools by South Sudan People’s Defense Forces (SSPDF) and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army in Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) in 2020.[20] Also in 2020, the UN Mine Action Service surveyed a primary school in Bentiu, Unity state, which had been used as a military garrison, in order to remove explosive ordnance.[21] Examples of military use of schools in recent years include:

  • Around January 1, 2020, government forces which had been occupying Jambo primary school in Mugwo County, Yei River state, reportedly vacated the institution, according to the county commissioner in an interview with local media outlet Radio Tamazuj.[22]
  • The UN reported that, on January 7, 2020, SSPDF and Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition soldiers used a school in Kalyak, Unity, to host police forces.[23]
  • Sometime between June 1 and early August 2020, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North Malik Agar faction occupied a school in Maban county, Upper Nile state, according to the UN.[24]
  • In December 2019, in an offensive on Lasu town in Yei River state, SSPDF soldiers occupied Lasu primary school, as well as injuring civilians and burning churches, according to the UN.[25] The soldiers reportedly continued to partially occupy the primary school through 2020 and into late 2021, creating fear in students who attended classes there.[26]

In 2021, the UN verified the use of nine schools.[27] Between June and August of that year, the UN verified the occupation of two schools, one in Western Bahr el-Ghazal state by SPLM/A-IO, and another in Central Equatoria state by SSPDF.[28] In September and October 2021, GCPEA identified two cases of military use, which may overlap with the UN-verified incidents:

  • For several weeks around September and October 2021, SSPDF soldiers occupied a primary school in Tambura town, Western Equatoria state. Amnesty International documented that the soldiers used the school as a barracks during fighting, until government representatives negotiated with them to vacate the premises.[29]
  • SSPDF forces used a primary school in Yei town, Central Equatoria state, as a barracks in October 2021. Parents and the community transferred their children from the school for fear of the soldiers harassing students.[30]

In 2012, 2013, and 2014, orders were issued within the South Sudanese army prohibiting the occupation of schools.[31] In 2014, a draft amendment to the Sudan People’s Liberation Army Act proposed making it an offense for a member of the South Sudanese army to occupy a school; but the amendment was not made into law.[32]

Under the 2017 Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities, Protection of Civilians, and Humanitarian Access, parties to the conflict agreed that they would not occupy any schools, and would withdraw from any schools that they had occupied.[33] In the 2018 Agreement on Implementing the Permanent Ceasefire, the parties agreed that all schools should be demilitarized during the pre-transitional period.[34] And in the later 2018 Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict, parties repeated this commitment.[35]

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee ask the government of South Sudan:

  • How many soldiers have been investigated and prosecuted for violating the 2012, 2013, or 2014 army orders by occupying a school?

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee:

  • Commend South Sudan for taking steps to implement the Safe Schools Declaration, including by signing a comprehensive action plan covering all six grave violations against children, and incorporating the demilitarization of schools into peace agreements.
  • Ask the government of South Sudan to share such examples of its implementation of the Safe Schools Declaration and its military orders prohibiting the use of schools for military purposes with other countries that have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration.

[1] “Submission to the Committee on the Rights of the Child’s Review of South Sudan,” Human Rights Watch, November 30, 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/11/30/submission-committee-rights-childs-review-south-sudan#_ftnref33.

[2] Human Rights Watch, “What Crime Was I Paying For?”: Abuses by South Sudan’s National Security Service (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2020), www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/media_2020/12/southsudan1220_web.pdf.

[3] Human Rights Watch interview with former detainee, Juba, October 13, 2019; Human Rights Watch interview with former detainees, September 11, 2018, Kampala, Uganda; and Human Rights Watch interview with former detainee, Juba, December 4, 2018.

[4] Under the Child Act, 2008, secs. 19 and 21, children are guaranteed the right not to be deprived of their liberty without due process and to be free from torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Additionally, children who have committed illegal acts need to be treated in accordance with international juvenile justice standards, which emphasize alternatives to detention, and prioritize the rehabilitation and social reintegration of the child. Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), adopted November 20, 1989, G.A. Res. 44/25, annex, 44 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 49) at 167, U.N. Doc. A/44/49 (1989), entered into force September 2, 1990, arts. 37, 40; UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 24, Children’s Rights in the Justice System, U.N. Doc. CRC/C/GC/24 (2019).

[5] Human Rights Watch interview with former detainee, Kampala, November 6, 2019.

[6] Human Rights Watch interview with former Detainee, Juba, October 13, 2019.

[7] Human Rights Watch interview with former detainee, Juba, October 16, 2019; Convention on the Rights of the Child, arts. 18(2), 19(1), 6(2).

[8] Nyagoah Tut Pur, “Execution-Style Killings Emblematic of Impunity by South Sudan Army,” commentary, Human Rights Dispatch, June 1, 2022, https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/06/01/execution-style-killings-emblematic-impunity-south-sudan-army.

[9] Ibid.

[10] “UNMISS Deeply Concerned at Spate of Extra-judicial Executions,” United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) press release, July 26, 2021, https://unmiss.unmissions.org/unmiss-deeply-concerned-spate-extra-judicial-executions (accessed August 8, 2022).

[11] “Kiir fires Warrap governor, appoints a successor,” Radio Tamazuj, January 29, 2021, https://radiotamazuj.org/en/news/article/kiir-fires-warrap-governor-appoints-a-successor (accessed August 8, 2022).

[12] “South Sudan: Summary Executions in North,” Human Rights Watch news release, July 29, 2021, https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/07/29/south-sudan-summary-executions-north.

[13] Priyanka Chowdhury, “UNMISS Child Protection Trains 60 Members of South Sudan’s Armed Forces on Child Rights,” UNMISS, September 16, 2021, https://peacekeeping.un.org/en/unmiss-child-protection-trains-60-members-of-south-sudans-armed-forces-child-rights (accessed August 8, 2022).

[14] Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA), Education under Attack 2020 (New York, GCPEA: 2021), https://protectingeducation.org/publication/education-under-attack-2020/ (accessed August 8, 2022), pp. 214-215.

[15] South Sudan Exposed’s Facebook page, “Primary School looted in Yei’s Central Equatoria State,” September 1, 2020, https://www.facebook.com/107312404155553/posts/primary-school-looted-in-yeis-central-equatoria-statesalaam-primary-school-in-ye/209481577271968/ (accessed August 8, 2022).

[16] GCPEA, Education Under Attack 2022.

[17] “South Sudan: Brutal Killing of Save the Children Contractor,” Save the Children press release, June 24, 2021, https://www.savethechildren.org/us/about-us/media-and-news/2021-press-releases/brutal-killing-of-save-the-children-contractor-south-sudan (accessed August 8, 2022).

[18] Information GCPEA received from an international NGO respondent via email on January 2, 2022, Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, Education Under Attack 2022.

[19] GCPEA, Education under Attack 2020 (New York, GCPEA: 2021), pp. 216-217.

[20] UN General Assembly and Security Council, “Children and Armed Conflict: Report of the Secretary-General,” A/75/873-S/2021/437, May 6, 2020, para. 153.

[21] UN Security Council, “Situation in South Sudan: Report of the Secretary-General,” December 9, 2020, S/2020/1180, para. 71.

[22] “Soldiers vacate civilian facilities in Mugwo: official,” Radio Tamazuj, January 7, 2020, https://radiotamazuj.org/en/news/article/soldiers-vacate-civilian-facilities-in-mugwo-official#:~:text=Speaking%20to%20Radio%20Tamazuj%20on,any%20school%20or%20public%20institution. (accessed August 8, 2022).

[23] UN Security Council, “Letter dated 28 April 2020 from the Panel of Experts on South Sudan addressed to the President of the Security Council,” S/2020/342, April 28, 2020, para. 59.

[24] UN Security Council, “Situation in South Sudan: Report of the Secretary-General,” September 8, 2020, S/2020/890, para. 24.

[25] UN Security Council, “Letter dated 28 April 2020 from the Panel of Experts on South Sudan addressed to the President of the Security Council,” S/2020/342, April 28, 2020, para. 48.

[26] Information GCPEA received from an international NGO respondent via email on October 29, 2021.

[27] Information a UN respondent shared with GCPEA via email on April 20, 2022.

[28] UN Security Council, “Situation in South Sudan: Report of the Secretary-General,” September 9, 2021, S/2021/784, para. 78.

[29] “South Sudan: Survivors describe killings, mass displacement and terror amid fighting in Western Equatoria,” Amnesty International news release, December 9, 2021, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/12/south-sudan-survivors-describe-killings-mass-displacement-and-terror-amid-fighting-in-western-equatoria/ (accessed August 8, 2022).

[30] Information GCPEA received from an international NGO respondent via email on October 29, 2021.

[31] Order from Lt. Gen. Obuto Mamur Mete, Deputy Chief of General Staff for Moral Orientation, April 16, 2012; General Order, from General James Hoth Mai, Chief of General Staff, August 14, 2013; and Order from Lt. Gen. Thomas Cirillo Swaka, Acting Sudan People’s Liberation Army Chief of Staff, 557/9/2014, September 10, 2014.

[32] Draft amendment to Sudan People’s Liberation Army Act, as per letter of Kuot Jook Alith, Legal Advisor, Ministry of Defense and Veteran Affairs, September 11, 2014.

[33] Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities, Protection of Civilians, and Humanitarian Access, December 21, 2017, art. 4.

[34] Agreement on Implementing the Permanent Ceasefire and Finalizing Outstanding Issues of Security Arrangements, July 1, 2018, art. 2.2.

[35] Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan, September 12, 2018, chapter II, art. 2.2.

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