December 2022 - In view of the draft law on the establishment of a Commission on Truth, Reconciliation and Healing affecting the rights of survivors, the Gender Committee of South Sudan's Transitional National Assembly, organised a hearing for survivors to engage with parliamentarians on the new law to establish a Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing in 2023.
Hon. Kily Kiden, Chair of Gender Committee of South Sudan's Transitional National Assembly, chaired the Parliamentary hearing on 6 December 2022 with survivors of conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) at the UK Embassy in Juba. The survivor-advocates represented local survivor networks from Juba town, Juba Protection of Civilians camp, Yei, Bor, Bentiu and refugees from Uganda.
Let us be open, speak from our hearts and listen to survivors. We are sitting here not knowing survivors exist but today we see them and we are happy to be here. We are ready to listen to you. We sit in Juba not knowing what goes on in States, speak from your heart and what is happening where you come from - Hon. Kiden.
The Hearing was attended by ten parliamentarians from the Gender and Human Rights Committees as well as various State officials as well as members of civil society, representatives from various embassies in South Sudan and representatives from international bodies such as Mr. Chris Gitare from R-JMEC, the body monitoring the implementation of the peace process in South Sudan.
Welcome remarks were delivered by Jackline Nasiwa, executive director of CIGPJ and Jamie Hilton, political counsellor at the British Embassy in Juba. Survivors from the 5 locations raised a range of issues regarding transitional justice mechanisms, emphasising the need for a survivor-sensitive Truth Commission
We need to know the truth about the current conflict: what are the parties fighting about? What was the issue that started it? We need an explanation as well as an apology for all the suffering.
The survivor representative from a Refugee camp in Northern Uganda expressed disdain about how displaced persons have been neglected and alienated.
Survivors are forgotten. We have no contact with the government. Do they know we are there? Are our issues represented?
She emphasised a disconnect between Members of parliament and their failure to visit the camps and millions of refugees. On the issue of Repatriation, Hon. Nuba Jackline pointed out that Chapter 3 of the Peace Agreement (R-ARCSS) was overlooked during the pre-transitional period and continues to be ignored during the transitional period. She asked the government representatives: who is responsible for refugees? Hon. Lily Kiden explained with dismay that parliamentarians are currently not allowed to leave Juba for security reasons and that this is a real problem. Also, there are cross-border issues with the UN that mean that parliamentarians can not officially visit refugee camps. Other parliamentarians echoed the need for them to press harder in parliament for recesses to be allowed (periods where parliament is not sitting) so that they can return to their constituent areas and engage with those whom they are representing.
Hon. Lily Kiden acknowledged the importance of the Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing in Chapter 5 of R-ARCSS, including looking the need to look into human rights violations on CRSV. She emphasised the need for gender representation in the Commission including a representative of CRSV. The establishment of the Hybrid Court for South Sudan (HCSS) and access to justice was equally highlighted.
It is hard to see ministers or parliamentarians in South Sudan. It’s like seeing heaven. Today I feel like I am in heaven.
There was an overwhelming support towards the survivors of conflict-related violence in Juba. The members of parliament applauding their bravery throughout the meeting, and encouraged them to advise what the government should do to assist.
A key point raised and discussed regards children born of rape:
We need a legal status for children born of rape that does not stigmatise them. They need to be able to obtain birth certificates without the identity of the father being known.
Hon. Sarah Benjamin proposed the initiation of a Private Members Bill to address specific issues raised by survivors. However, Hon. Lilian Kiden explained that initiating a private member bill requires funding, it will be difficult without money, but that they can however push for the passing and implementation of pre-existing bills to incorporate these issues, such as the Family Bill and the Anti-GBV Bill.
We need an improvement in the security situation and an end to sexual violence by unknown gunmen. The impacts include challenges in collecting firewood and going about livelihoods due to increased risk and vulnerability to rape.
Hon. Elinama Daniel from the Human Rights Committee pointed out the ongoing unification of soldiers process and expressed hope that this would improve the security situation. The State officials expressed their disappointment at the absence of representatives from the Ministry of Justice or Defence.
We need increased medical facilities to deal with the impacts of sexual violence on survivors, including sexually transmitted infections, and the need for dedicated hospitals and facilities for survivors.
Dr. Atong, a psychologist by training, representing the Ministry of Health began by apologising on behalf of the Minister and the government of South Sudan for all harms inflicted on survivors of CRSV. She believed that it is better to integrate care for survivors of CRSV within existing hospitals to reduce alienation, isolation, stigma and to further protect them from shunning by community members. However, Banu Altunbas, Programme Director at Mukwege Foundation shared experiences from Panzi hospital in Eastern DRC and its holistic approach to survivors' needs in a specialised hospital.
Hon. Jennifer Yabu, Human Rights adviser from Central Equatoria State thanked survivors for their bravery and gave an apology on behalf of South Sudan as well. With regards to birth certificates for children born out of Rape Hon. Jennifer Yabu made an undertaking to have a discussion with the ministry for health and ensure issuance of birth certificates. She also advocated for a program carried to issue certificates for children born out of rape and the rolling out of vaccinations should be established.
The Gender Committee announced their plans to visit orphanages within Juba and reassess qualifications to take in orphaned children. Many have approached them asking for financial assistance claiming that they care for orphaned children. Hon. Liliy Kiden talked about the urgency of streamlining laws and policies to protect orphaned children.
Let us stand up together to work and support our survivors. All MP’s let’s support each other in advocating for survivor’s rights. I look forward to working together.
Regarding ongoing discussions on the the Anti-GBV bill, Hon. Lily Kiden asked MPs to join hands in pressing the Ministry of Justice to table it before parliament ASAP.
We need to rally the Members of Parliament to support us in passing this Anti-GBV Bill.
All Members present today should support the creation of the CTRH. "We must also make sure women, survivors’ and people with disabilities are well represented in the commission," said Kiden.
The chair of the gender committee thanked the organisers and emphasised their willingness to continue to collaborate asking that more hearings be organised engaging more government actors.
Closing remarks were issued by Ms. Megan Erwin from the UK embassy and Mariana Goetz, Director of Rights for Peace, who mentioned the civil society victims' rights paper. Mariana clarified that, while officials said that "we are all survivors", they were referring to the war in South Sudan in general, however CRSV survivors have undergone specific, unspeakable atrocities that require urgent and specific responses, hence the importance of interim reparations to be recommended by the Truth Commission due to be established in 2023.
Welcome Remarks by Political Counsel, James Hilton, UK Embassy in Juba, South Sudan.