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The African Union Commission’s failure to advance justice for the countless victims of atrocities in South Sudan raises concerns about the regional body’s commitment to accountability, 34 South Sudanese, regional, and international rights organizations said in a letter to the AU Commission released today.
The South Sudanese government, after years of delay, announced on January 29, 2021 that it had approved the establishment of the Hybrid Court for South Sudan, along with truth telling and compensation mechanisms, provided for under the 2018 Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan, which ended the country’s brutal civil war. The AU Commission chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, welcomed the statement and promised to work with the government to create the court. But six months on, the rights groups said they have found no evidence of any concrete action taken, and the AU has not responded to their June 14 letter.
The people of South Sudan “entrusted the AU to ensure that justice is delivered and contributes to ending the culture of impunity,” the groups said in the letter. “The AU’s apparent inaction raises serious questions about the AU’s credibility not only in atrocity prevention in South Sudan, but across the African continent where many are looking to you for justice.”
The AU’s 2014 Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan recommended the creation of “an Africa-led, Africa-owned, Africa-resourced legal mechanism under the aegis of the African Union,” which would include South Sudanese judges and lawyers, to bring justice for international crimes committed during South Sudan’s conflict. The AU also released a Transitional Justice Policy in 2019 that provides for justice and accountability for international crimes alongside other non-criminal measures to help rebuild societies that have suffered widespread violence, such as South Sudan.
In 2015, the US government committed US$5 million to the AU to help set up the Hybrid Court for South Sudan. After several years, during which the AU did not use the majority of the funds, the US State Department confirmed in July that an unused allocation of US$3.65 million would not be renewed.
“The current paralysis undermines the notion of African solutions to African problems, and risks signaling that the AU is unable and unwilling to exert leadership where it matters most for the people whom the AU represents,” the groups said in the letter. “The adoption of the AU Transitional Justice Policy will be meaningless if the AU does not act when it has taken on a lead role in advancing accountability, as it did in South Sudan.”
Human rights organizations have previously said that the AU Commission should work with the South Sudanese authorities on the court’s formation, but should also move ahead to establish the court if South Sudan’s authorities lag on needed steps, such as adoption of the court’s statute. This is consistent with the 2018 peace agreement, and the earlier 2015 peace agreement, which provides for the AU Commission to establish the court. The AU should confirm publicly that it remains committed to creating the hybrid court and providing a credible roadmap and timeline.
South Sudanese, African, and international organizations “reiterate that it is incumbent on the AU Commission … to take immediate action to show that it remains committed to the inherent right of the people of South Sudan to have justice,” the groups said in the letter.