29th October 2020
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Parties used starvation as warfare method in S Sudan – UN report

Author: Daniel Danis | Published: Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Displaced women and children in Wau in 2016 | Credit | File photo

A new report by the UN Human Rights Council has revealed that both the government and opposition forces – SPLA-IO – have deliberately used starvation of civilians as a method of warfare in South Sudan.

In the 46-page report titled: There is nothing left for us: Starvation as a method of warfare in South Sudan, the forces exerted collective punishment and starvation as a method of warfare.

It found that food insecurity in Western Bahr el Ghazal, Jonglei, and Central Equatoria States is linked directly to the conflict and therefore almost entirely human-induced.

The Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan said the warring parties used starvation in these States, sometimes as an instrument to punish non-aligning communities, as in the case of Jonglei.

In the first report of its kind by a UN panel released yesterday, the commission documents how, between January 2017 and November 2018, Government forces intentionally deprived Fertit and Luo communities living under the control of the opposition in Western Bahr el Ghazal State of critical resources.

It also found that the government commanders authorized their soldiers to reward themselves by destroying objects essential to the survival of these rural populations.

“Sustained attacks were carried out against numerous towns and villages across Western Bahr el Ghazal State over a number of years, which resulted in significant numbers of deaths, rapes, and the destruction, arson, and looting of properties,” said Commissioner Andrew Clapham.

Clapham stated that these resulted in food insecurity -compounded by physical insecurity, leaving civilians with no alternative but to flee.

He said the actions by the then SPLA violated the rule which protects civilians from starvation and the rule prohibiting collective punishment and destroying their social fabric and livelihoods.

The commission affirmed that these were deliberate strategies on the part of both Government and opposition forces to use starvation of civilians as a method of warfare, amounting to acts constituting war crimes.

It further described the systematic attacks directed against the civilian population in Western Bahr el Ghazal as crimes against humanity.

The UN Human Rights Commission said 7.5 million South Sudanese currently require humanitarian assistance as a result of staggering levels of acute food insecurity, and malnutrition.

It underscored that both Government and SPLA-IO forces have deliberately and intentionally interfered with the capability of international humanitarian aid organisations to deliver vital foodstuffs to communities in need, including through the arbitrary detention of humanitarian aid workers.

The Commission further said sufficient evidence exists to hold to account members of the SPLA-IO under international and national laws for the crime of starvation of civilians used as a method of warfare by arbitrarily denying humanitarian aid to populations in need in Central Equatoria, including by arbitrarily denying objects vital to their survival.

“The resultant food insecurity compounded the physical insecurity, leaving civilians with no alternative but to flee,” he continued.

“These violations formed part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against the civilian population in Western Bahr el Ghazal, and can amount to crimes against humanity.”

It also said sufficient evidence exists to hold to account members of Government forces, under international and national laws, who have pursued policies and actions amounting to intentionally using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare in Western Bahr el Ghazal and Jonglei State.

The Human Rights Commission maintained that some commanders could be held accountable under international law for failing to prevent or punish the international crime of starvation of the civilian population as a method of warfare.

The commission recommended that the Government of South Sudan prevent, investigate, and punish those responsible for starvation related crimes under the Geneva Conventions Act 2012, and other relevant laws of South Sudan.

“The on-going failure to address underlying causes of the conflict has fueled the political competition for South Sudan’s resources and corruption between political elites driving ethnic divisions and violence, and deepening impunity in the country,” said Commissioner Barney Afako.

“Without the timely implementation of an inclusive and holistic transitional justice process, as envisioned in the Peace Agreement, sustainable peace for South Sudan will remain elusive,” he added.

It also demands that starvation as a method of warfare as an explicit war crime be included in the Draft Statute of the Hybrid Court.

The Commission further urges that the African Union to ensure that South Sudan is held accountable for acts and omissions related to access to food which amounts to a violation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Kampala Convention on the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa.

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