Massive plundering of South Sudan’s public coffers is undermining human rights in the world’s youngest nation and threatening its already fragile peace process, according to a UN report released on Thursday.
Since independence a decade ago, South Sudan has struggled to emerge from five years of civil war and is battling chronic instability, economic chaos, ethnic violence and a hunger crisis.
The UN’s Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan said a “staggering” amount of money and other wealth had been diverted from public coffers and resources – more than $73m since 2018, with almost $39m stolen across a period of less than two months.
It described the figure as only a fraction of the overall amount looted, saying President Salva Kiir had admitted as far back as 2012 that South Sudan’s governing elites had diverted more than $4bn.
Commission Chair Yasmin Sooka said the UN’s documentation of the “corruption, embezzlement, bribery, and misappropriation of State funds by political elites is merely the tip of the iceberg”.
“The Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, the National Revenue Authority, and a number of foreign corporations have all been complicit in this”, Sooka added.
The report said that through these actions, “South Sudan’s leaders are undermining human rights and endangering security” and called on them to implement the terms of the peace deal to ensure proper economic management.
“This plundering also continues to fuel political competition amongst elites, and is a key driver of the ongoing conflict, violations and serious crimes, jeopardising the prospects for sustainable peace,” the commission said in the report.
A 2018 ceasefire to end the civil war and a power-sharing deal was agreed between Kiir and his rival-turned-deputy Riek Machar but little progress has been made in fulfilling the peace deal’s terms.
The report accused South Sudan’s elites of deliberately adopting a “highly informal” system of oil revenue collection without independent oversight and transparency that is enabling the misappropriation of public funds.
The country, which ranks last on Transparency International’s corruption index along with Somalia, is almost entirely dependent on earnings from oil.
The report also charged that the oil industry was dominated by unaccountable consortiums, whose actions it said have caused environmental degradation and damage to people’s health.
It spoke of oil spills in areas of northern Unity state that have led to pre-term births, stillbirths, congenital anomalies or deaths in newborns, blindness, male sexual dysfunction, and low fertility.
It said it had identified several individuals allegedly linked to rights violations and economic crimes whose names would be passed to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for possible investigation or prosecution.
The commission was hired by the UN Human Rights Council in 2016 to regularly examine the situation in South Sudan.