South Sudan needs to activate the hybrid court to try war crimes as the atrocities continue even as the partners to the peace deal prepare to form a transitional government of national unity.
Amnesty International in its report released on Friday says the African Union Commission should set up the hybrid criminal court provided for in the August 2015 peace agreement, following findings that government soldiers killed approximately 60 men and boys in a shipping container in Leer, Dr Riek Machar’s hometown in Unity State.
According to the report, the victims were suffocated to death in October last year. Based on interviews with 42 witnesses, Amnesty International says that the mass killings at the grounds of the former Comboni Catholic Church bear evidence of war crimes, and that despite that, no steps have been taken to hold perpetrators to account.
“The arbitrary arrest, torture, and mass killing of these detainees is just one illustration of the South Sudanese government’s absolute disregard for the laws of war,” said Lama Fakih, senior crisis advisor at Amnesty International.
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But the government dismissed the report saying it is one of the one sided reports that have been targeting the government since the war broke out in December 2013.
South Sudan Charge d’Affairs in Kenya, Jimmy Deng, told The EastAfrican that the interviewees were all from the opposition stronghold of Leer and that they were unlikely to say anything positive about the government.
“What is the need of releasing such a report when the country is yearning for reconciliation and healing? It can only mean that the government has been the villain while ignoring atrocities committed by the rebels,” said Mr Deng who added that the government has been investigating reports of atrocities all over the country since the war begun.
The Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement-in Opposition (SPLM-IO) representative in Kenya, Lam Jok, said that that this is just one of the few documented incidents while such atrocities have been taking place all over the country.
“We would welcome the establishment of the hybrid court as soon as possible because the reason we signed the peace agreement is to stop senseless killings all over the country,” said Mr Jok.