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Press briefing on South Sudan and Maldives

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ravina Shamdasani
Location:   Geneva
Date: 25 April 2017
Subject:   (1) South Sudan, (2)  Maldives

(1) South Sudan

We deplore the recent outbreaks of violence in several towns in various part of South Sudan, including Pajok in Eastern Equatoria and Wau in Western Bahr el-Ghazal, which have caused significant loss of civilian lives and displaced more than 22,000 people. Visits by the Human Rights Division of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to these sites have revealed reports of serious human rights violations, including indiscriminate and targeted killings of civilians, sexual violence and the looting and destruction of civilian property – and widespread impunity for the violations.

In Pajok, following an ambush by armed individuals on the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) on 3 April, there was an outbreak of violence over two days, when the army reportedly attacked civilians on the basis of their suspected support for the opposition armed groups, the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement/Army in Opposition (SPLM/A in Opposition). As a result of the violence, about 7,000 civilians fled into the bush and to neighbouring Uganda over a week. During their visit, human rights officers saw clear evidence of killings and looting. Multiple testimonies indicate that SPLA soldiers killed civilians who were unable to flee and targeted young boys and men on the basis of their ethnicity. The Human Rights Division also received reports of three incidents of sexual violence involving six women. Local authorities, including the SPLA, said the men suspected of involvement in one of the incidents had been arrested and were detained by the army. But the authorities have denied allegations of mass atrocities against civilians.

In Wau, following an incident on 9 April, when two high-ranking SPLA officers and 17 soldiers were reportedly killed in an ambush by suspected SPLM/A in Opposition elements, violence erupted on 10 April. Again, there were many civilian casualties – 28 civilians were killed according to Government figures. Several witnesses indicated that SPLA and armed Dinka men conducted house-to-house searches, questioning civilians about their ethnicity prior to shooting them. Some 17,000 civilians fled to the protection of civilians site adjacent to the UNMISS base in Wau while another 5,000 sought refuge in the compound of the Catholic Church in Wau.

While the Governor of Wau has established a committee to produce a comprehensive report to determine the motive for the attacks, identify the perpetrators and hold them accountable, we are concerned that to date our information indicates that nobody has been detained in connection with these attacks against civilians.

The widespread impunity in South Sudan for such horrendous attacks against civilians can only encourage further violence. We urge the authorities to ensure that those responsible for the violence in Pajok and Wau are held to account, regardless of their affiliations and rank.

The Human Rights Division missions took place in Pajok between 11 and 14 April and in Wau from 18 to 23 April.

(2) Maldives

On Sunday, 23 April, a prominent blogger and social media activist in the Maldives, Yameen Rasheed, was found in the stairwell of his residence with multiple stab wounds to his head, neck and body. Mr. Rasheed died of his injuries.

We are deeply alarmed by Mr. Rasheed’s killing and urge the authorities to ensure that the investigation into the murder is prompt, thorough and that the perpetrators are brought to justice in line with international human rights laws and standards. Mr. Rasheed had in December reported to the Maldives Police Service that he was receiving targeted death threats following the publication of his photo along with those of others on an anonymous Facebook page but he complained that he had to follow up for three days just to get a confirmation that his complaint had been registered. Mr. Rasheed was at the forefront of a campaign to seek justice for journalist Ahmed Rilwan, who disappeared in 2014 and is believed to have been abducted by radicalized criminal gangs.

Mr. Rasheed’s killing comes in the context of what appears to be an upsurge in arrests and prosecutions of the political opposition. We call on the authorities to take steps to remedy the shrinking space for exercise of the freedom of expression. We remind the State that it has a duty to ensure that journalists, civil society actors and human rights defenders are able to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and opinion without fear for their safety. Where such individuals have been explicitly threatened, the Government should take urgent measures to ensure their protection.

ENDS

For more information and media requests, please contact Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org ) or Liz Throssell ( +41 22 917 94 66 / ethrossell@ohchr.org)

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