South Sudan: Amnesty urges AU action on war crimes court


Posted on Wednesday, 23 November 2022 18:01
A guard of South Sudan People's Defence Forces (SSPDF) chief of staff stands in front of new members of the Unified Forces during the graduation ceremony in Malakal on November 21, 2022. (Photo by Samir Bol / AFP)

Amnesty International on Wednesday urged the African Union to take "long awaited" steps toward creating a promised war crimes tribunal to try atrocities committed during South Sudan's bloody five-year conflict.

The establishment of an AU-led ‘hybrid court’ to prosecute those responsible for war-time atrocities was first agreed on in a 2015 peace deal, and again in 2018, but never implemented.

Government and rebel forces have been accused of heinous crimes, including gang rape, ethnic massacres and enlisting child soldiers during the civil war that left nearly 400,000 people dead in the world’s youngest nation.

Amnesty and the South Sudanese Transitional Justice Working Group, a coalition of civil society and faith-based groups, says the AU must empower a court to investigate “the most serious crimes on the continent”.

Formation of court should have been delayed

“The formation of this court should not have been delayed for so long. The AU must take [this] long-awaited and bold action,” Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty’s director for East and Southern Africa, says in a statement.

“The failure to establish the hybrid court reflects a lack of political will in South Sudan’s government to hold those most responsible for serious crimes, which are likely to include senior political and military officials, to account.”

[The establishment of a court would] show that the AU stands with survivors and victims of crimes for which impunity cannot be tolerated

Two years after separating from Sudan in 2011, oil-rich South Sudan plunged into war after President Salva Kiir accused his then-deputy Riek Machar of plotting a coup.

The conflict that followed was marked by ethnic violence on a brutal scale, as battles erupted between two factions: Machar’s Nuer community and Kiir’s Dinka tribe.

UN investigators warned that ethnic cleansing may have occurred in South Sudan, where rape and starvation were used as weapons of war, and civilians were murdered in the gruesome attacks.

Kiir formed a power-sharing government with Machar in 2020, after signing a peace deal, and recommitting to have the horrific abuses tried in a special court administered with the AU.

Accusations against the government

However, the government has been accused of trying to block such a tribunal, and deliberately frustrating efforts to bring those responsible for possible war crimes to justice.

James Ninrew, the chair of the Transitional Justice Working Group, says that given its unwillingness to pursue perpetrators, the AU should not place the court in South Sudan, but elsewhere in Africa, and must ensure its judicial independence.

The establishment of a court would “show that the AU stands with survivors and victims of crimes for which impunity cannot be tolerated”, said Mwananyanda.

The AU Peace and Security Council, the bloc’s foremost conflict resolution body, is scheduled to convene on the matter on 30 November.

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