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Letter From CPJ to Members of AU Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan

Committee on Truth, Justice and Reconciliation
Citizens for Peace and Justice (CPJ)
Juba, South Sudan
African Union Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan
Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, Chairperson
Justice Sophia A.B. Akuffo, Member
Ms. Bineta Diop, Member
Prof. Mahmood Mamdani, Member
Prof. Pacifique Manirakiza, Member

31 March 2014

Re: Initial Recommendations on the Implementation of the Mandate of the Commission of Inquiry

Honorable Members of the Commission,

March 31, 2014 (SSNA) -- We are writing to you in our capacity as members of Citizens for Peace Justice (CPJ) to share our thoughts on the important task that has been assigned to the African Union (AU) Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan. CPJ is a broadbased coalition of individuals and more than 40 organizations from South Sudanese civil society formed in the wake of the crisis in South Sudan to promote an inclusive, people-driven peace process. Our goal is to secure durable peace through social, political and economic transformation.

In a number of recent public statements, CPJ has applauded the decision that the African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) took in its 30 December 2013 communiqué calling for the creation of a commission “to investigate the human rights violations and other abuses committed during the armed conflict in South Sudan and make recommendations on the best ways and means to ensure accountability, reconciliation and healing among all South Sudanese communities.” We welcomed the recent announcement by the Chairperson of the AU Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini- Zuma, of the formation of the Commission of Inquiry and the swearing-in of its members.

Since the outbreak of violence almost four months ago, atrocities have been and continue to be perpetrated in conflict areas. Under the circumstances, we urge the Commission to begin its investigations immediately without undue delay. Included below are a series of recommendations on how the Commission might approach its task and some preliminary observations on what South Sudan requires in terms of truth, justice and reconciliation.

I. Recommendations for Investigations

The Commission’s mandate and terms of reference cover a broad array of tasks, including: establishing the causes of the conflict; compiling information to assist in identifying perpetrators of human rights violations with a view to holding them accountable; and making recommendations on mechanisms to promote accountability, reconciliation and healing.

In order to complete these tasks within the stipulated time period of three months, the Commission will need to work closely with stakeholders in South Sudan and build upon already existing bodies of knowledge, including information compiled by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and various national and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The Commission’s perceived and actual independence and impartiality must be carefully nurtured and maintained from the start of its activities if it is to have credible and effective results.

As the terms of reference are quite broad, it would be advisable for the Commission to prioritize certain aspects and adopt a phased approach to implementing its mandate. The primary focus, in our view, should be on investigating atrocities committed in conflict areas, determining the facts and circumstances surrounding the crimes, and identifying those who are responsible, including both those who directly committed the criminal acts and those with command responsibility.

a. Stakeholder Engagement

The Commission should maintain a continuous interaction with stakeholders in South Sudan in order to ensure that its work is responsive to the needs and aspirations of the South Sudanese people.

Close consultation with civil society is particularly important. Civil society groups such as CPJ have networks that extend to populations throughout the country, in both Government and Opposition held areas. We have firsthand information about violations of international human rights and humanitarian law and can provide guidance on priority areas for investigation. Our membership also includes think tanks, academics and research institutions that have developed detailed understandings of the inner workings of institutions in South Sudan. Many of our members have made credible and carefully considered recommendations for reform, both before and since the current conflict.

In order to facilitate the interaction between civil society and the Commission, it would be helpful if the Commission could appoint a focal person to have primary responsibility for engaging with civil society. This person could hold periodic meetings with civil society representatives to update them on the work of the Commission and to allow for civil society input into the process. Systems should also be developed for ensuring the quality and confidentiality of any information that is exchanged.

Beyond the consultation with civil society, the Commission should engage with other stakeholder groups, including faith-based organizations, youth groups and women’s groups. It is our recommendation that the Commission speaks to survivors of human rights abuses as well as those alleged to have perpetrated the abuses. While it is important to prioritize investigations into the grave human rights abuses that have been committed in conflict areas, the Commission should also make time to visit communities outside the conflict zone to get their views on what they would want to see happen in terms of truth, justice and reconciliation. The genesis of the conflict goes to an underlying governance crisis that affects everyone in South Sudan, and it is important for the Commission to understand the scope of this crisis if it is to provide informed and balanced recommendations.

The Commission should also take steps to ensure gender sensitivity in its operations and outcomes. Conflict affects men and women differently and it is important to acknowledge this fact in your investigations. Sexual violence is particularly difficult to investigate. Although instances of sexual violence have been recorded throughout the conflict areas, affected persons are often unwilling to discuss their experiences due to fear of being stigmatized. Effectively documenting these crimes will require a deliberate effort, patience and close cooperation with trusted civic groups.

b. Public Outreach

The Commission should develop a clear agenda and communicate it publicly from the outset so that people know what to reasonably expect upon the conclusion of its work. A commitment to transparency will be essential if the Commission is to earn and keep the people’s trust.

Information provided to the public should include an explanation of the Commission’s working methods and a feasibility assessment of the task at hand. In addition, the Commission should provide the public with information about: the date at which its mandate will expire; the procedure for extending the time period for investigations, if necessary; the dates of the proposed visits by the members of the Commission to South Sudan and the purpose of these visits; the responsibilities of the technical and administrative staff; the dates when the technical and administrative staff are planning to travel to Juba; the location where the investigators are to be based; and the Commission’s strategy for protecting informants and maintaining witness confidentiality and how this will influence its activities.

At the end of its first visit, the Commission should consider issuing a public statement and holding a press conference to inform the public about the meetings that were held and the process moving forward.

c. First Steps Upon Arriving in Juba

An important first step will be to meet with community leaders from different ethnic groups in the internally displaced person (IDP) camps in Juba. These visits should include the IDPs at the UNMISS bases in Thong Piny and Jebel, as well as those in the informal camps, the most populous of which are the camps near by the river near Konyo Konyo and in Gumbo. These meetings should be done concurrently with visits to government institutions in Juba, such as the South Sudan Human Rights Commission (SSHRC), UN agencies, diplomatic missions, and NGOs that work on issues of justice and accountability.

As the Commission commences its investigations, it is vital that it is seen to be independent and impartial from the very start. It is recommended that the Commission ensure that it has introductory meetings with people from different communities, as well as speaking to representatives of the Government, Opposition and everyone in-between. Visiting the four detainees that are currently on trial for treason in Juba would not only send a positive message of impartiality and inclusion but also prove useful as their testimonies may provide insights into events that unfolded in the lead-up to and immediate aftermath of 15 December.

II. Five Pillars of a ‘Just Peace’

Since the conflict erupted on 15 December 2014, CPJ has held a series of conferences, meetings and discussions on the meaning and requirements of truth, justice and reconciliation in light of the extreme violence that we have seen over the last three months. From these deliberations, we have identified five pillars that we feel are indispensible to a sustainable and just peace: (1) Truth, (2) Justice,

(3) Reparations, (4) Institutional Reforms and (5) Memorialization. These five pillars must be approached in an integrated manner, meaning that all are essential if South Sudan is to come to terms with the violence that continues to devastate the country and set itself on the path to peace and prosperity. The task for the nation moving forward is to generate a common understanding of what these five pillars entail and to develop workable mechanisms for achieving these goals.

a. Truth Before Forgiveness

There is a tendency in conflict-affected countries such as ours to want to close the door on the past. Once the guns are silenced, people are urged to forgive one another and move on with their lives, to forgive and forget. To adopt such an approach in South Sudan would be a grave mistake—one that has been made in the past and is increasingly considered to be a contributing factor to the enmities that led to the current conflict. People cannot be asked to forgive others who have wronged them until they know for what their forgiveness is being given. In that sense, forgiveness can only come after the truth and atonement.

As it stands now, South Sudan is awash with conflicting narratives about what has transpired since 15 December and who is responsible for the massive loss of life in the country. Thousands are missing or otherwise unaccounted for, leaving people to wonder what has happened to their loved ones. Many of the individuals who are alleged to have committed unspeakable horrors are seen walking around without consequence for their actions, a double blow for the survivors of their atrocities.

In order to come to terms with these experiences and build a narrative that is responsive to all that have been affected by the violence, South Sudan must embark on a public, transparent and meaningful process of truth-telling, in which perpetrators and victims are given a platform to share their experiences in pursuit of forgiveness and healing. This could be achieved through a truth commission or some other similar body that strives to build both an honest narrative for the nation of what caused the conflict as well as providing personal information to individuals on what has happened to their loved ones. For such an institution to deliver, steps must be taken to ensure that it has sufficient independence from political influence and that its findings are communicated to the public in a meaningful format.

b. Justice is Non-Negotiable

We firmly believe that lasting peace cannot be achieved through superficial ‘feel-good’ exercises that do not strike at the heart of the culture of impunity that permeates our institutions of governance.

Men and women in positions of authority and those in uniform have committed serious crimes on the assumption that they are absolutely immune from any accountability for their actions. The only way to correct this shortcoming is to assert individual accountability and liability for criminal behavior.

Accountability should form the bedrock of a new institutional culture in which all citizens are equal and subject to the rule of law.

We are keenly aware that sequencing of justice mechanisms is vitally important if people are to be held accountable in impartial criminal prosecutions that meet international standards. Fair and independent trials cannot be held while the nation is still at war. However, we feel that it is important to start the discussion now and to lay the groundwork for future accountability mechanisms through the comprehensive and credible documentation of human rights impacts in the country. In addition, any peace agreement that comes from the mediation efforts currently underway must secure the commitment of the belligerent parties to submit themselves and their supporters to specific accountability mechanisms.

Justice, in this instance, is non-negotiable. However, we also understand that justice may come in many forms. In framing its recommendations, the Commission should seek to understand what South Sudanese want in terms of justice and what victims and their families would like to see happen to those responsible for the crimes. Some thought must also be given to how justice will be done pragmatically and sufficiently, given the large number of combatants involved in the fighting and the scale and severity of the atrocities.

Given the existing challenges within the justice system of South Sudan, we believe that the judiciary is not adequately equipped to manage crimes of the magnitude and volume that we have seen in recent months without considerable assistance. In order to deliver justice in an independent and credible manner in accordance with international standards, the support of regional and international institutions should be sought. Several options are available and the specific accountability mechanisms that are appropriate would depend in large part on the types of crimes in question.

Based on views obtained from victims and survivors, it is clear that holding people accountable for the wrongs committed is a central concern, but many remain unsure of how accountability mechanisms could operate in a country as fractured as South Sudan. CPJ therefore recommends that accountability measures include the following as a minimum standard:

• Complete independence and impartiality from those alleged to have directed or participated in the atrocities. Actual and perceived concerns on credibility in this regard should be taken seriously such that they do not detract from the objective.

• Experience in dealing with war crimes and crimes against humanity. The gravity of the crimes committed and the sensitivities require that prosecutors, judges, investigators and support staff have the requisite expertise to meet people’s valid expectations that justice will be done.

Finally, the Commission should carefully consider the role that customary justice mechanisms might play in ensuring that perpetrators are held to account and victims are provided with remedies.

These customary mechanisms, while no substitute for the formal criminal prosecution of those who bear the most responsibility for the crimes, can help to extend the processes of truth, justice and reconciliation to the grassroots level in a form that is familiar and meaningful to people. Traditional authorities and religious leaders can also help to mediate between parties and explain the process to communities so that they do not try to take the law into their own hands. We have seen numerous examples of communities either attacking alleged perpetrators or forcefully breaking convicted or suspected criminals out of jail. Customary institutions can help to limit the potential for these types of reactions as an ancillary to more formal processes of justice and accountability.

We must, however, be open and honest about the shortcomings of the customary systems, particularly with regard to protecting due process rights and adhering to human rights, specifically the rights of women and children. Previous traditional peace processes, and in particular the people-to people conferences held in southern Sudan in the 1990s and early 2000s, relied on the goodwill and support of political and military actors and the independence of the community-led processes from the wider politics and conflict. It will be important to ensure efforts to establish justice and accountability mechanisms at the grassroots level remain impartial in order to effectively redress community grievances.

c. Reparations: A Transition from Victimhood to Citizenship

The impact of this conflict is only starting to be felt. Many families have lost breadwinners and the pain will be felt for many years to come. There has also been huge loss of property, which in many cases prevents people from returning home even long after the immediate threat is gone. Reparations can help survivors of human rights abuses and other crimes to rebuild their lives and transition from being victims to again enjoying the full rights and privileges of citizenship. Reparations also serve as an acknowledgement that the state failed to protect its people, for which it must seek to provide a remedy.

d. Institutional reform

Unlike the first three pillars of a just peace, which are backwards looking and seek to remedy wrongs committed in the past, the issue of institutional reform is forward looking and seeks to correct and strengthen institutions moving into the future so that these types of atrocities never happen again.

The focus of these reform initiatives should be on the security and the justice sectors. Institutions must be dissociated from individuals and strengthened so that ethnic, tribal or regional affiliations cannot be used as tools to influence institutional behavior. The focus of these reforms should be on the delivery of services to the end user in a manner that is responsive to people’s needs.

e. Memorialization

Finally, in order to ensure that these atrocities never happen again, the nation should embark on a series of memorials that acknowledge the wrongs that were done and remind people of the pain and suffering that we have caused to one another. Memorialization is a message to future generations, ensuring that they see and understand the full horror of conflict such that they are better equipped to avoid it themselves. Insights into how this might be factored into post-conflict mechanisms to secure truth, justice and reconciliation should be factored into the Commission’s recommendations.

Conclusion

Once again, we would like to take this opportunity to thank you for accepting this task. We trust that you will approach it with the care and dedication that it deserves. We also stress the importance of accountability in helping us to come to terms with the violence that has plagued our country. Until the culture of impunity in our governance institutions is eliminated once and for all, there will be no lasting peace in South Sudan. Anything less would simply be a temporary pause in the use of violence as means to resolve political crises.

We look forward to continuing to work with the AU, IGAD, and other international partners in our collective efforts to resolve the crisis in South Sudan and come to terms with our nation’s troubled past and present. Towards this end, we would like to offer our assistance and support to the Commission of Inquiry as it carries out its task.

Sincerely yours,

Awak Bior, Citizen
Juliana Bol, Citizen
David K. Deng, South Sudan Law Society (SSLS)
Pio Ding, Citizen
Gale Emmanuel, Institute for the Promotion of Civil Society (IPCS)
Samuel Lony Geng, Centre for Livelihood, Research and Poverty Reduction (CLIP-Poverty)
Lona James, Voice for Change (VFC)
Jairo Jura, Agency for Independent Media (AIM)
Peter Lasu Ladu, Equatoria Rehabilitation and Development Association (ERADA) and Juba Civic
Engagement Center (JCEC)
Alfred Lokuji, Citizen

The Appalling Security Situation of IDPs in Juba and Across South Sudan

Press Briefing (2)

Addis Ababa, March 29, 2014 (SSNA) -- The security situation of IDPs in Juba UN camps and across the South Sudan is deteriorating exceedingly. The IDPs continue to suffer brutality in the hand of Kiir Militias who are killing IDPs always at the gate of UN camps or on their way back to UN compounds. The continued mass murder and ethnic cleansing of Nuer ethnic group, who fled into UN camps for safety and protection, constitute serious abuse of human right and crime against humanity. This genocidal behaviour of Kiir and his militias truly reflect total bankruptcy and failure to address governance crisis nationally. The ethnic cleansing undertook by genocidaire Kiir against innocent women, children and elderly people of Nuer does not fully deserve it horrific description. Kiir and his militias, motivated by hatred and lust for power, continue to carry out refined and systematic extermination of ethnic groups among South Sudanese with the sole purpose of thorough ethnic cleansing. The dreadful, inhuman and ruthless murdering and massacre of Nuer civilian, in a cold blood, is a testimony to the cruelty and brutality of the Killer criminal Kiir and his militia in South Sudan. Juba and all government control areas have turned into slaughter house and concentration camp like Nazis camps in Germany during Hitler where appalling crimes and atrocities committed. The tribal ideological concept of targeting other ethnic groups seen as obstacle to Kiir’s expected lifetime presidency is what plunged the country into abyss. The horrifying figures of innocent civilian who lives in UN camps killed by Kiir are seriously disturbing. From 20/12/2103 to 25/3/2014, our office recorded 1045 death and 287 wounded from people previously sheltered in various UNMISS camps across the country. As they go out of the UNMISS Camps to look after personal errands, they are met by murderous Kiir militias who would either rape them and killed them or killing them in cold blood as they try to return to the UN camps. Here below the table showing the places and number of IDPs killed and wounded.

S/No

Place

No: IDPs  Killed

No: of IDPs wounded

 

Remarks

1

Upper Nile-Malakal

328

37

 

 

2

Jonglei-Bor

31

12

 

 

3

Unity State-Bentiu

78

110

 

 

4

Central Equatoria-Juba

UN House= 169

Tongpiny=439

55

64

 

 

5

Totall

1045

278

 

 

On the 18 of the March 2014 when Kiir militias attacked Malakal, three women who were collecting firewood nearby UN compound in Malakal were killed by the Kiir Militias as they tried to run into the UN camps in Malakal. On the 22/3/2013, Six IDPs (Nuer) were killed in Juba at Jebel checkpoint at 3pm as they tried to return to the UN house after collecting some food stuffs. Another IDP (nuer) was killed at UNMISS gate as he tried to entered the camp.

On Monday 24th March 2014 five girls (Nuer) were raped and killed at Custom Market in the afternoon by Kiir Militias. On that same evening Monday, two IDPs (1 girl and 1 boy) were killed at Tongpiny graveyard as they tried to pay respect to their deceased father. A girl was raped and killed after she was left unconscious by Kiir militias. We are calling upon the UNMISS to either relocate these IDPs to safer zones or provide military escort to all the IDPs leaving UN camps to collect firewood or access banking services or getting some food items from the market. We are calling upon the newly formed AU Commission of Inquiry (CoI), Human Rights Watch, International Crisis Group and the ICC to carry out thorough and independent investigation to these heinous crimes committed by Kiir militia. We call upon UN Security Council, Troika, European Union and the wider international Community to call for the immediate resignation of the criminal and Killer president Salva Kiir from power and hand himself over to the ICC. We call upon the UN and wider international community to apply targeted sanctions to the arrogant leaders who are trying to undermine the peace process by creating preconditions and obstacle to peace and security in South Sudan.

Thanks,

Public Relations Department
Humanitarian Liaison Office
SPLM/SPLA-in Opposition
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

South Sudan Rebels Reject the Inclusion of Uganda in the IGAD-led Peace Talks

Addis Ababa, March 27, 2014 (SSNA) -- South Sudanese rebels have submitted a protest letter to the head of the IGAD-led talks, rejecting the inclusion of Uganda as an observer in the talks, and threatened to boycott peace efforts if IGAD allows Kampala to be part of the ongoing peace talks in Ethiopia.

The rebels further assert that Kampala is playing double standards and therefore should not be trusted.

“The SPLM/A-[in Opposition] rejects in the strongest terms possible the participation of Uganda as an observer at the IGAD Peace Process in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia”, Gai says in the statement.

“It is with deep regret that, SPLM/A-[in Opposition] shall not sit at the negotiation table where Uganda is an observer because Uganda can not be both the prosecutor and the judge at the same time”, he continues.

In a letter addressed to Chairperson of IGAD Special Envoys for South Sudan, Seyuom Mesfin, and signed by General Taban Deng Gai, the Head of the SPLM/SPLA-in Opposition Peace Negotiation Team, the rebels question the impartiality of the Uganda, saying Kampla should simply join Kiir’s negotiating team.

“The Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF) is fighting alongside the government of South Sudan’s forces; and therefore it’s a party to the conflict which disqualifies them as a peace mediator. SPLM/A has no objection to the participation of Uganda alongside the Government of Salva Kirr’s delegation”, Gai added.

However, the rebels indicate that they still support a peaceful solution to the conflict and urge all parties to do the same.

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