Mr. Chair, thank you very much to you and to your colleagues for reaching out to the United Nations for this briefing on the human rights situation in South Sudan.
The world's newest nation, tragically, is a country some five years old. It has had two years of war, in which more than one and a half million people have been internally displaced and forced into harsh and dangerous living conditions. Thousands more have sought safety and shelter from their own government and opposition forces by finding refuge within UN compounds.
The crisis in South Sudan is profound. A political crisis led to a human rights crisis, and the consequences have also resulted in a humanitarian, economic, and security crisis.
As you know, the conflict broke out in Juba, the capital, in December 2013. Through much of 2014 the UN and the African Union had documented brutal violations and abuses of human rights committed by both sides—the government and the opposition, with allied militia—that the UN and the AU said amounted to crimes against humanity and war crimes.
In 2015 the Human Rights Council of the UN asked my office to undertake an assessment mission, that I led, to identify human rights violations committed in the country since December 2013. The report, which we issued in March of this year, concluded that in 2015 the government's counter-insurgency offensive in Unity state was carried out with the apparent purpose of spreading terror among civilians, including widespread sexual and gender-based violence that led to the abduction of women and girls, and indiscriminate attacks on villages, some of which involved massive looting of property and the theft of thousands upon thousands of cattle.
Throughout this conflict, sexual and gender-based violence has been widespread. We documented in 2015 that the breadth and depth of the crimes against women and girls was alarming. We concluded that rape and sexual violence were being used as a weapon of war. The consequences of this violence upon the civilian population are grave and profound. We concluded in 2015 that again crimes against humanity and war crimes had taken place in South Sudan.
As you may know, in international law there are three atrocity crimes, and the only one we haven't mentioned is genocide. We didn't mention genocide because although we think the actus reus of genocide had taken place there was an insufficiency of evidence to conclude that the mens rea of genocide had happened. Nevertheless, we've concluded that two of the three atrocity crimes of international law have taken place. Thousands have been killed and many brutally. We documented children who were killed by being hung from trees. The campaign of sexual violence shocks the conscience. No one is spared; not the children, not the elderly, and not the disabled. One witness, a mother, described to us being tied to a tree as soldiers gang-raped her daughter and then shot her husband dead.
The humanitarian crisis involves six million, which is half the population. They are in need of humanitarian assistance, and almost three million of them are severely food insecure. Many parts of the country face severe food insecurity and possible famine. We discovered that civilians were forced into the wetlands and are eating grass and turmeric. The IDP population is around 1.8 million. Around 200,000 of those people are seeking protection within the UN compounds, of which there are six. The refugee population, as of June 15, according to UNHCR, is 871,536. Approximately 70% of that refugee population are children.
There has been massive destruction of civilian property. UN premises, schools, and churches have all been attacked. Killings have taken place in churches and mosques. Killings have also taken place on UN bases. Humanitarians killed to date number 49, including UN staff working with the World Food Programme, who have disappeared and are presumed dead.
The economic crisis has inflation at 300%, the value of the local pound has dropped 90%, and the security crisis is deeply troubling. Parking the conflict-related violence for a minute, the national security apparatus is everywhere in South Sudan, harassing, detaining, and killing opponents. The democratic space is being suffocated, with civil society under constant surveillance and humanitarian staff under constant threat.
Among the additional challenges I would urge you to consider for vulnerable groups is just the sheer size of the country. It is France meets Belgium. There are 10 states. One state, Jonglei, is the size of Bangladesh. There are almost no paved roads. Much of the frightened population who are on the run are in hard-to-reach areas. The rainy season limits our movement from April through December. Malaria is rampant, including cerebral malaria, which has killed thousands, including UN staff.
The conflict has given rise to a new type of IDP settlement, which is those living within UN compounds. Those compounds were never intended to protect South Sudanese civilians from their own government.
Two days ago we were informed by the government that the rotary-wing aircraft of the UN would not be allowed to fly in the country, and also that we could not provide new UN staff to South Sudan, and our national staff are not allowed to leave the country. The council of elders, who are Dinka who support the government, have informed the UN that the idea of sending additional international troops—which as you may have heard yesterday is the idea of the African Union—would be a declaration of war and an invasion of the country.
Despite these challenges, the UN and its partners in 2015 provided assistance to 4.5 million people. In 2016, one million have been reached, but there is a critical lack of funding. As of July 12, only 40% of the $1.3-billion humanitarian response plan for 2016 has been provided.
On the topic of refugees, according to the UNHCR only 17% of the $573 million for refugee protection has been provided. As you know, new fighting broke out in February in Pibor in Junglei state and also as you know, recently in Juba, 10 days ago.
In terms of what should happen next and what Canada can possibly do, I set out some recommendations in the brief note to you about the need for robust diplomacy. The crisis, as I said at the outset, is deep and profound and growing. Canada has imposed sanctions, asset freezes, and financial sanctions against two persons, I believe in 2014.
There's a question that the UN has raised with member states, including Canada, as to whether there should be an arms embargo. There is no arms embargo against South Sudan.
I would also ask Canada to consider providing military and police personnel to the UN mission, as well as adequate funding for the UN humanitarian response plan and also for the UNHCR's refugee protection and assistance programs, as well as supporting civil society coalitions that are working for reconciliation.
The most obvious solution for protecting vulnerable people is a political transformation to end the orchestration of the violence, predominantly by the political elite of the country.
In closing this part of my statement, I would say that the crisis in South Sudan is deep, profound, and almost existential. The international rhetoric of “no more Rwandas” appears empty. The government has no regard for life. You're either a loyalist or you're not, and if you're not, you're in peril of harassment, detention, and death.
What's particularly distressing, I think—