To mark the International Day of the Disappeared on August 30, Human Rights Watch and Remembering the Ones We Lost called for an investigation of the fate and whereabouts of the victims of enforced disappearances and those still missing from years of civil war in South Sudan.
Since the conflict broke out in December 2013, the United Nations and other organisations including Human Rights Watch have documented major human rights violations against civilians while an unknown number of people are still missing.
“People have vanished in South Sudan, and are presumed detained or dead,” said Jehanne Henry, East Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
“These unresolved cases are spreading fear and terror among the public. The government needs to acknowledge that people are still missing and take concrete steps to investigate and hold those responsible to account.”
Remembering The Ones We Lost, a public memorial that aims to name all victims of conflict and armed violence in South Sudanestablished in 2014, has documented 280 names of missing people since December 2013.
These figures, based on interviews with families of victims, represent a fraction of the numbers of those missing in South Sudan.
The International Committee of the Red Cross reported in 2019 that over 4,000 people were still missing since the war started and their fate or whereabouts remained unknown.
In many cases, the military and National Security Service (NSS) were implicated and the South Sudan’s government has never investigated the disappearances of the men or ensured accountability for them.
International law prohibits enforced disappearances, which violate fundamental rights to liberty and security, and to be free from torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.
The International Convention on the Protection on All Persons from Enforced Disappearances (ICPPED) provides that “no one shall be subjected to enforced disappearance” and imposes an absolute ban on secret detentions.
The United Nations Security Council, in a landmark resolution in 2019, called on parties to armed conflicts globally to strengthen efforts toward uncovering what happened to those missing and giving closure to their families.
While some of those reported missing may turn out to have been forcibly disappeared, others may have been abducted or detained by other people, forcefully recruited into armed groups, or fled, perished, or met other outcomes.
But in South Sudan, neither the government’s army, nor armed opposition groups, have properly accounted for the missing.
South Sudan should reckon with past abuses, including those committed by the Sudanese government and militia, and Southern rebel forces in the territory that is now South Sudan, the groups said.
The authorities should take immediate, concrete steps by ratifying the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and end the practices of unlawful and secret detentions by its security forces.
“South Sudan’s leaders have been preoccupied with power sharing rather than addressing the gravity and impact of past and on-going conflict-related abuses,” said Daud Gideon, executive director of Remembering The Ones We Lost.
“Another year should not pass without justice for the countless missing and their families, who continue to suffer in vain.” (Source: HRW)