Solaye Snider, Blog Writer

After over a year of delays, the African Union Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan (AUCISS) was formally released to the public at the end of October. The report confirms that “crimes against humanity” and “war crimes” have been committed by both rebels and government forces, making several recommendations on how to achieve peace and justice in South Sudan. The findings renew doubts about the participation of President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar in the transitional government currently being negotiated on the basis of a very fragile peace agreement.

The United Nations (UN) and other international bodies have been waiting for the report to be released before moving ahead on any plans for pursuing justice in South Sudan and ending the “culture of impunity” they see as a root cause of ongoing violence. The 315 page report is based on testimony and document analysis from government and rebel leaders as well as Sudanese civilians and other civil society actors.  Although stopping short of labeling the atrocities genocide, the report confirms that evidence exists of a state/organizational policy to attack civilians based on their ethnicity or political affiliation. Its documentation of horrific acts of rape, torture, and the brutal mutilation of bodies are worse than previous reports had identified. The Commission found that more atrocities were perpetrated against non-combatant civilian populations than in previous  conflicts in South Sudan.

The Commission’s understanding of accountability includes criminal justice, reparations, administrative sanctions, and truth telling. The report stressed the importance of criminal justice and administrative sanctions to hold the main perpetrators accountable for their crimes, hile also emphasizing the challenge of trying to achieve peace, justice, and reconciliation simultaneously. Many South Sudanese interviewed during the inquiry expressed that Kiir and Machar would have to give up their power and be held accountable for their crimes before a stable transitional arrangement could be achieved. Others thought that achieving such an arrangement without the two leaders would be more difficult.

Overall, the South Sudanese consulted expressed a clear desire for “accountability in the form of retributive justice” and demanded a “formal criminal process to end the rooted culture of impunity.” To address this, the Commission recommends the creation of a wholly African court of Sudanese lawyers and judges, spearheaded by the AU and supported by the UN and others in the international community. However, the Commission maintains that stability must be restored before these recommendations on  criminal accountability can be implemented, and that criminal, civil, and administrative accountability must be addressed before processes of ethnic and political reconciliation can be successful.

The urgency of criminal accountability has been highlighted in most responses to the inquiry. The anti-genocide organization Enough warned that the report’s emphasis on reconciliation and truth-telling, though also important, risks overshadowing the need for criminal prosecution of the perpetrators which they feel should be prioritized.

The United States has issued a statement supporting the creation of a hybrid court to hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes, pledging financial and technical support to the project and encouraging others to do the same.

STAND Canada has responded to the report with a call to action, encouraging Canadians to pressure the new Liberal government into supporting the proposed African-led court and contribute to efforts of peacekeeping and reconciliation.

The information contained in the report is a valuable tool for those seeking criminal accountability for the perpetrators of war crimes in the conflict, and contains meaningful recommendations for how to achieve peace, justice, and reconciliation in South Sudan.

To see STAND Canada’s action alert for South Sudan click here.

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