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Conflicts

South Sudan expert: Climate of impunity 'a big problem'

A United Nations inquiry into the human rights situation is wrapping up its second visit to South Sudan today. DW talked to analyst Henrik Maihack about the situation and how it could be improved.

DW: What do you hear about the human rights situation in South Sudan at the moment?

Henrik Maihack: South Sudan is in a difficult situation at the moment, because the military confrontation between the government army and the loose coalition of rebels is ongoing. It is particularly focusing on the southern region of Greater Equatoria. We hear reports from the region that the offensive is increasingly targeting villages where the government claims that rebels are hiding. While that is happening, we hear reports of civilians being harmed and of large displacements. But its very hard to verify these reports.

A number that speaks for itself are the over 200,000 refugees that have crossed the border into Uganda in the last three months to go into a camp called Bidi Bidi. That camp was not there before July this year. If people are still fleeing, it shows how difficult the situation really is.

Will the UN commissions' investigation or the AU special envoy have any impact on the warring parties?

A portrait of South Sudan analyst Henrik Maihack.

South Sudan analyst Henrik Maihack

I think right now, with this escalation ongoing, it is very difficult for any external actor to have a direct impact at the moment. As a first step, the over 12,000 UN peacekeepers need to be put in a position in which they are more able to implement their mandate and effectively protect civilians. What is urgently needed is a new approach to bring about peace in South Sudan. We see that the current peace agreement is hardly holding in practice. We see an increasing number of militias, of rebels and an increasing aggressiveness of the government army. It will be very difficult to stop the violence in the mid or long-term unless there is a new process that brings the armed and civilian actors to the table.

What measures do you suggest to improve the human rights situation in South Sudan?

The first measure that is important is to restart the peace process. We need a new approach that brings the armed and the non-armed actors that often have been excluded from peace agreements in the past to the table to negotiate a way forward. Without such a political process, you can only treat the symptoms of this conflict. That's why you need a new political approach.

In that regard, the region is important. The neighboring countries still have influence in South Sudan and with that influence they could collectively restart such a process. In the long term, it is also important that accountability is ensured. For too long, crimes in the war-context in South Sudan have not had any consequences. There is a climate of impunity that certainly is a big problem.

Henrik Maihack is the country representative for the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES) in South Sudan

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