GENEVA - U.N. investigators are calling for justice in light of separate reports to the United Nations Human Rights Council describing widespread and gross violations of human rights in South Sudan and Burundi.
More than four years of fighting in South Sudan has left nearly six million people facing hunger, more than four million internally displaced and two million living as refugees in neighboring countries.
The Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan describes a civilian population at the mercy of fighters and criminal gangs who commit atrocities with impunity.
It says the warring parties must abide by the peace agreement they signed in 2015. The chair of the commission, Yasmin Sooka, told the council that the Hybrid Court for South Sudan, which was required under the agreement, should be set up right away.
"It is just one signature away — all it needs is for the government to sign the MOU [Memorandum of Understanding]," Sooka said. "If this does not happen, the African Union has the authority to set up a hybrid court — outside the country, if necessary — to try alleged perpetrators for South Sudan."
Sooka says the hybrid court will not be able to deal with the staggering number of violations in South Sudan, but it can make perpetrators legally accountable for their crimes. She says witnesses are anxious to testify, and evidence for trials can be gathered both inside and outside the country.
"Our work so far has barely scratched the surface of the violations we believe have occurred," she said. "More worrying is that we did not have to search too hard for corroborated accounts of astounding cruelty, dehumanization and ethnic persecution. … We have, indeed, struggled to do justice to the scale and intensity of the horror we documented."
The commission is collecting and preserving evidence to be shared with the hybrid court, as well as with a truth commission and a reparations body that are part of the peace agreement for South Sudan, according to Sooka.
Paulino Wanawilla Unango, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs of South Sudan, calls the report repetitious and flawed. He says the human rights situation in his country has improved and rejects the commission's assertion that people commit crimes with impunity.
Meanwhile, the three-member Commission of Inquiry on Burundi finds no improvement in the political, security, economic, social and human rights situation in Burundi since its last report to the council in September.
Commission member Francoise Hamson says many political opponents of President Pierre Nkurunziza, as well as journalists and human rights defenders, remain in exile.
"Members of civil society organizations who are still present in Burundi are under constant pressure of facing arrest," Hamson said. "The commission received a great deal of information and testimonies to cases of harassment and violence committed by public officials and/or by members of the ruling party's youth league, [known as] the Imbonerakure, against individuals who may vote no or who refuse to enroll on voters' list for the referendum."
Dozens of people have been arrested for supporting a "no" vote in an upcoming referendum that could allow the president to extend his term in office. Hamson says people remain under constant threat of abuse.
"These cases supplement other human rights violations, specifically arrests and arbitrary detention, torture and ill treatment, disappearance and violations of the right to an effective appeal and to a fair trial," Hamson said.
Burundian Ambassador Renovat Tabu questioned the legitimacy of the commission and rejected the report, saying it lacked credibility as it was riddled with false allegations about the country's human rights situation.