U.N. rights chief Navi Pillay warned Tuesday that a half million South Sudanese in Sudan risk being left in a stateless limbo because of a nationality battle between the two countries.
Citizenship is one of the key disputes left unresolved after South Sudan's acrimonious split from Sudan on July 9 last year. The two have since come close to war.
“My office has received reports of discrimination against an estimated 500,000 persons of South Sudanese origin living in the Sudan,” Pillay told the U.N. Security Council, according to a text of her comments obtained by AFP.
The Khartoum government has said people of South Sudanese origin in Sudan have no right to become Sudanese nationals. South Sudan has meanwhile refused to grant nationality to South Sudanese-origin people living outside the country.
“There is a real risk of creating a large stateless population unless the two countries change their position regarding the granting of nationality,” Pillay said.
She called on both countries to bring their nationality laws in line with “international standards” and not to “exclude people on the basis of ethnicity, religion or other grounds.”
Tens of thousands of ethnic South Sudanese have left Sudan since the split last year and many were put on special flights in recent weeks. But tens of thousands more are at transit centers around Khartoum and other major cities.
Pillay expressed concern about rights restrictions and worsening conditions in both countries, as well as the impact of the returnees on impoverished South Sudan.
Highlighting recent protests against rising prices in Sudan, Pillay said “Sudanese security forces have cracked down on peaceful protesters using rubber bullets, tear gas and other heavy handed methods.”
She said scores of protesters have been arrested, along with journalists, human rights defenders, and opposition members.
In South Sudan, she added, “impunity, particularly among members of the security forces, remains prevalent. Freedom of expression, movement and association need to be reinforced and peaceful dissent should be respected.”
Pillay said she was “concerned” about arbitrary detentions in the country and “inhumane prison conditions.”
She said the U.N. mission in South Sudan has reported “a growing number of detainees dying in custody due to starvation or illness.”
She said inter-communal violence was bringing “havoc” to the world’s newest country.
“Cyclical fighting between ethnic communities, caused by cattle raiding and competition over land resources, continues to threaten civilians, and since independence, has led to the loss of more than 2,000 lives,” she said.