11 May 2012 Welcoming South Sudan’s commitment to human rights, a top United Nations official today encouraged the country on its “very long and difficult path to peace, prosperity and a full realization of human rights,” and stressed the importance of addressing issues such as arbitrary detentions, torture and violence against women.
In a statement issued on the penultimate day of her five-day visit to the country, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said that the young nation, which gained independence from Sudan last year following a referendum, must strive to put a legal framework in place that recognizes and protects the human rights of all its citizens.
“To some extent South Sudan is starting with a clean slate, and when it comes to passing good laws and establishing effective institutions, that can be a major advantage,” Ms. Pillay said. “I have therefore urged the Government to ratify all the main international human rights treaties as soon as possible.”
During her visit – aimed at helping the development of the country’s long-term human rights infrastructure such as laws, institutions and practices – Ms. Pillay held meetings with President Salva Kiir and other Government officials, as well as representatives from civil society organizations and the peacekeeping operation known as the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
She said she was heartened to hear President Kiir say he is committed to ratifying all the core human rights treaties, and expressed her hope that her visit could speed up the ratification of other conventions concerned with the protection of children, persons with disabilities, migrant workers, and discrimination against women, as well as other basic human freedoms.
“Human rights are not negotiable and cannot be cherry-picked. There are no excuses, not even the youthfulness of the state, for ignoring or violating them,” she said. “All the South Sudanese I have met during this visit have made it clear they want these rights to be reflected in their daily lives.”
Mr. Pillay highlighted the need to combat impunity, particularly among members of the security forces who violate people’s human rights. She noted that there had been some progress during the ongoing civilian disarmament campaign in the state of Jonglei, during which several soldiers reported to have committed crimes have been promptly arrested and, in some cases, charged.
In addition, Ms. Pillay drew attention to the precarious situation that many women face on a daily basis, as many are victims of rape and domestic violence.
“I met a number of civil society organizations as well as individual women who talked to me very frankly about both their own and other women’s situations. They talked of the extreme lack of rights for women living in rural areas of South Sudan. They described the tyranny of a dowry system that fuels the practice of early and forced marriage, in which neither the daughters nor the mothers usually have any say,” Ms. Pillay said.
The human rights chief noted that, in her discussions, her interlocutors painted a “very disturbing picture” of domestic violence, and suggested rape was fairly commonplace, but rarely investigated. As well, she was told that girls who are sometimes killed for rejecting forced marriages, or ill treated and even beaten to death by male relatives.
“Such terrible forms of discrimination should not be explained away as cultural practices that cannot be challenged or changed. I believe in cultural rights, but not in the cultural repression of half the population,” Ms. Pillay said. “The women I have met in South Sudan want the same things women everywhere want, namely the human rights that belong to them as much as to men.”
Ms. Pillay also condemned the recent aerial bombardments by the Sudanese Armed Forces in South Sudan, and stressed that the only possible way to sort out the various border disputes between the two countries is through negotiations.
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