Photo Source: © UN Photo/Violaine Martin
Photo Source: © UN Photo/Violaine Martin

South Sudan: As elections loom, extend vital Human Rights Commission mandate

20 February 2024

To Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council


Ahead of the UN Human Rights Coun­cil’s (“HRC” or “Coun­­cil”) 55th session (26 Feb­­ruary-5 April 2024), we, the undersigned non-governmental orga­nisa­tions, write to urge your delegation to sup­port a full extension of the mandate of the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan (here­after “CHRSS” or “Commission”).

As South Sudan is preparing for its first-ever national elections, in December 2024, significant con­cerns exist not only about the country’s human rights si­tuation but also about the absence of key conditions for the holding of free, fair, secure, and credible elections and about the absence of an enabling environment for civil society. In this context, international scrutiny remains vital.

As 95 organisations highlighted in a letter released ahead of the Council’s 52nd session,[1] the CHRSS is the only mechanism tasked with collecting and preserving evidence of vio­la­tions of in­ter­­­na­tional huma­ni­tarian and human rights law with a view to ensuring accountability and ad­dres­sing human rights issues in South Sudan from a holistic perspective. Its work, including advisory functions, remains vital as the conditions that prompted the HRC to establish the Commission, in 2016, have not significantly changed. Until there is meaningful and genuine progress, there is no reason for the Council to lift its scrutiny.

We stress that all elements of the CH­RSS’s mandate should be preserved. Any change to it, or to the level of scrutiny the Council dedicates to South Sudan in addition to the advisory services it provides as per resolution 52/1, would send the wrong message. The Commission’s man­date should at the very least cover the entirety of the transi­tio­nal period, after which an assessment should be made again whether the conditions that prompted the establishment of the Commission have changed to warrant a new approach.

~     ~     ~

Violence and impunity remain per­va­sive in the country. All trends and patterns outlined in previous civil society letters continue. Our orga­ni­sations note the lack of structural impro­vements with the utmost concern. On­going violations and abuses include extrajudicial executions and other unlawful killings, serious vio­lations of international hu­ma­nitarian law that may amount to cri­mes under inter­na­tional law, politi­cally instigated and sup­por­ted violence between commu­nity-based militias and vigilante groups, egregious violations of women’s and girls’ human rights, including sexual and gen­der-based violence (SGBV) and conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV), arbitrary arrests, and intimidation of, threats against, and harass­ment of ci­vil so­ciety actors, including human rights defenders and journalists,[2] in a climate of wide­spread impu­nity. Loca­lised conflicts and intercom­mu­nal vio­len­ce remain perva­sive in parts of Warrap State, Eastern, Central and Western Equatoria States, Greater Upper Nile State, Greater Jonglei, and Unity State, as well as in the admi­nis­trative regions of Abyei and Pibor. In May 2023, the UN Security Council extended the arms embargo on South Sudan. Implementation of the five benchmarks that serve as a basis for the UN Sec­re­tary-Ge­ne­ral’s assessment has been null or limited.

The humanitarian crisis remains severe. Across the country, conflict, including attacks against huma­ni­tarian workers and theft of food supplies, climate change, and soaring costs are causing “some of the high­est levels of hunger in the world.” In 2023, 9.4 million people (or over 85% of the population) were in need of aid. As of 22 January 2024, the funding gap for humanitarian aid is 1.7 billion US dollars.

The cross-border impact of the conflict in Sudan is also “exacerbating existing trig­gers and drivers of conflict across South Sudan […] amid competition over scarce resources, economic hardship, pre-exis­ting communal tensions, and the presence of firearms,” which adds to the much wider “patchwork of intercommunal and subnational conflict.”

Ten years after the onset of South Sudan’s conflict, which claimed over 400,000 lives and displaced mil­lions, justice remains elusive for the victims and survivors. Progress with regard to accountability re­mains extremely li­mited.  The con­­tinuation of the CHRSS’s mandate is the best means to safeguard prospects for future account­ability, including through the Hybrid Court for South Sudan (HCSS), whose establishment con­ti­nues to be para­lysed. The other transitional justice mechanisms envisioned in Chap­ter V of the peace agreement, namely the Commission for Truth, Recon­ci­liation and Healing (CTRH) and the Compensation and Reparation Authority (CRA), have not been established.

Ten months before South Sudan’s first national elections, uncertainty over the constitution-making and elec­toral pro­cess is high. Critical questions remain unanswered, including on the type of election, voter registration issues, deli­nea­ting constituencies, and managing electoral disputes. Foundational tasks necessary for citizens to head to the polls are incomplete. Among them, the need to reconstitute the National Constitutional Review Com­mission, the National Elections Com­mission, and the Political Par­ties Council. Transitional security arrangements as per the R-ARCSS are lagging behind sche­dule. On 14 December 2023, the head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), Nicholas Haysom, sounded the alarm. He said that “South Sudan is in no position to hold free, fair, or secure elections […].” Stressing that a “critical mass of pre-requisites” is necessary to hold free, fair, and credible elections, he mentioned the absence of a permanent Constitution, voter registration details, an election security plan, well trained, equipped, and unified security forces, and a mechanism for resolving disputes over results.

As the CHRSS highlighted in a conference room paper, “holding elections without addressing security concerns, creating an enabling environment, and completing the technical arrangements risks compoun­ding grievances and fuelling fur­ther violence.” The Commission added: “It is […] troubling that [ruling] SPLM-IG leaders have continued to emphasise the urgency of elections to end the transition period, and its power-sharing arrangements, which they have increasingly portrayed as a political encumbrance. They envisage a ‘winner takes all’ outcome […]. A context in which elections become a zero-sum exercise inc­rea­ses the political stakes and foments a recourse to irregularities and even violence, as the loss of elec­tions represents the margina­li­sation of whole constituencies […].”

Beyond logistical preparations, an enabling environment for free, fair, and credible elections, inclu­ding an open civic space, is also lacking. To address this, “entrenched patterns of disruption and inter­ference with citizens’ freedoms of assembly, association and expression must be abandoned […].”

In practice, however, South Sudanese civil so­ciety, including human rights defenders (HRDs) and jour­na­lists and media workers, has been facing inten­sifying repression. This includes undue res­tric­tions on their rights to freedoms of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly, and association. Independent actors face harassment, intimidation, sur­veil­­lance, arbitrary bureaucratic controls, censorship, threats, phy­sical assault, arbi­trary arrests and deten­tions, inc­luding incommunicado detention and extraordinary renditions from other African countries, tor­ture, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings. Wo­men HRDs and journalists face additional gender-spe­cific threats, including sexual violence, in the con­text of reprisals.[1] The National Security Service (NSS), whose mandate should urgently be brought in line with interna­tional human rights law and the 2011 Transitional Constitution through amendments to the NSS Act, is a key instrument of repression. As the Commission summed up in its last conference room paper, “[a]s South Sudan contemplates a period of elections and constitution-making, the impartial and cons­truc­tive role of the NSS will be a critical litmus test of the credibility of those processes.”

~     ~     ~

This is not the time to relax the Council’s scrutiny. The mandate of the CHRSS remains vital and should continue until the reasons that led the Council to establish this mechanism have been ad­dress­ed in a meaningful manner.

The Council should request the CHRSS:

      • To present a comprehensive written report on the situation of human rights in South Sudan to it at its 58th session, to be followed by an enhanced interactive dialogue;
      • To present an oral update to the Council at its 57th session; and
      • To share its reports and recommendations with relevant bodies and mechanisms of the African Union and all relevant organs of the United Nations, and to submit a comprehensive report to the General Assembly at its 79th session, to be followed by an interactive dialogue.

We thank you for your attention to these pressing issues and stand ready to provide your delegation with further information as required.


  1. Action 54 – South Sudan
  2. Action for Community Education and Development – South Sudan
  3. Action for Community Transformation Initiative (ACTI) – South Sudan
  4. Action for Rural Transformation – South Sudan
  5. African Child Network Care (ACCN) – South Sudan
  6. AfricanDefenders (Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network)
  7. African Women and Children Organization – South Sudan
  8. Ana Taban Arts Initiative – South Sudan
  9. Anika Women Association (AWA) – South Sudan
  10. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  11. Ayod County Civil Society Network (ACCN) – South Sudan
  12. Bentiu Youth Peace Initiative
  13. Burkinabè Human Rights Defenders Coalition (CBDDH)
  14. Burundian Human Rights Defenders Coalition (CBDDH)
  15. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
  16. Center for Peace and Justice (CPJ) – South Sudan
  17. Center for Reproductive Rights
  18. Central African Network of Human Rights Defenders (REDHAC)
  19. Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (CDD) – Mozambique
  20. Centre for Development and Research (CDR) – South Sudan
  21. Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (CHRD)
  22. Centre for Innovation and Creativity – ICT Solutions (South Sudan)
  23. Centre for Legal Aid and Governance (CLAG) – South Sudan
  24. Centre for Legal Aid and Justice (CLAJ) – South Sudan
  25. Centre for Peace and Advocacy (CPA)
  26. Change Agents Organization South Sudan
  27. Child Pearl – South Sudan
  28. Civic Space Network – Africa (CSNA)
  30. Civil Society Coalition on Defence of Civic Space (CSCDCS) – South Sudan
  31. Coalition of Human Rights Defenders-Benin (CDDH-Bénin)
  32. Community Action for Rehabilitation and Development (CARD) – South Sudan
  33. Community Empowerment for Peer Education (COPE) – South Sudan
  34. Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO)
  35. Consortium of Ethiopian Human Rights Organizations (CEHRO Ethiopia)
  36. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  37. Empower the Girl Child Initiative – South Sudan
  38. Federation of Women Lawyers (South Sudan)
  39. FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights)
  40. Gender Centre for Empowering Development (GenCED) – Ghana
  41. Geneva for Human Rights – Genève pour les Droits de l’Homme
  42. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P)
  43. Humanitarian Development Organization (HDO) – South Sudan
  44. Human Rights Defenders Network – Sierra Leone
  45. Human Rights Watch
  46. Institut des Médias pour la Démocratie et les Droits de l’Homme (IM2DH) – Togo
  47. International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute
  48. International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
  49. Itkwa Women Empowerment Organization (IWEO)
  50. Ivorian Human Rights Defenders Coalition (CIDDH)
  51. Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada
  52. Ma’ Mara Sakit Village – South Sudan
  53. Mobile Humanitarian Agency – South Sudan
  54. Mozambique Human Rights Defenders Network (MozambiqueDefenders – RMDDH)
  55. National Press Club South Sudan (NPC-SS)
  56. National Women Empowerment and Rehabilitation Organization (NWERO) – South Sudan
  57. Network of the Independent Commission for Human Rights in North Africa (CIDH Africa)
  58. New Vision for Sustainable Development (NVSD) – South Sudan
  59. Nigerien Human Rights Defenders Network (RNDDH/NHRDN)
  60. Nile Centre for Human Rights and Transitional Justice (NCHRTJ)
  61. Nile Initiative for Development (NID South Sudan)
  62. Nile Sisters Development Initiative Organization (NSDIO)
  63. Opportunity Hub – South Sudan (OHSS)
  64. Pan African Peacemakers Alliance (PAPA)
  65. Passion for the Needy – South Sudan
  66. Peoples Demand Organization – South Sudan
  67. Protection International Africa
  68. Rights for Peace
  69. Rural and Urban Development Agency (RUDA) – South Sudan
  70. Safe Orphans Charity Organization – South Sudan
  71. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SouthernDefenders)
  72. South Sudan Action Network on Small Arms (SSANSA)
  73. South Sudan Community Based Organization
  74. South Sudan Human Rights Defenders Network (SSHRDN)
  75. South Sudan Youth for Peace and Development Organization (SSYPADO)
  76. Standard Action Liaison Force (SALF) – South Sudan
  77. Support Peace Initiative Development Organization (SPIDO)
  78. Togolese Human Rights Defenders Coalition (CTDDH)
  79. Union of Journalists of South Sudan (UJOSS)
  80. Voice of Women Organization (VOW)
  81. War Widows and Orphans Association (WWOA)
  82. West African Human Rights Defenders Network (ROADDH/WAHRDN)
  83. Women Action Society for Development Peace and Justice (WASDPJ)
  84. Women Ambassadors for Peacebuilding – South Sudan
  85. Women Coalition for Peace and Justice – South Sudan
  86. Women for Justice and Equality (WOJE)
  87. Women Peace Forum – South Sudan
  88. Yei Welfare Development Association (YEWEDA)
  89. Yei Youth Initiative for Human Rights and Development (YYIHRD)
  90. Youth for Democracy – South Sudan
  91. Youth Vision South Sudan (YVSS)

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