Two international human rights organisations are calling transitional justice in South Sudan to safeguard lasting peace.
Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch said in separate reports this week that failure to constitute the hybrid court to try those who have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, would have a negative impact on reconciliation and national healing.
Since the war started in 2013 thousands of civilians killed, hundreds of thousands displaced and countless people raped, tortured, forced into marriages, arbitrarily detained or made to disappear by both government and opposition forces.
The African Union was, according to both the 2015 and 2018 agreements, supposed to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the government of South Sudan to establish the hybrid court.
If Juba did not co-operate, the AU was to establish the court of move the International Criminal Court to take up the matter.
The hybrid court would back AU’s insistence on African solutions to African problems. In July, the AU legal counsel signed a draft report for the formation of the hybrid court, but there has not been any forward movement since then.
Insiders, however, say the AU has been hesitant on pursuing justice in South Sudan for fear it would scare those guilty of atrocities into scuttling the peace process.
Nyagoah Pur, the HRW’s South Sudan researcher, said politicians have been more concerned with reconciliation and national healing while neglecting the issue of bringing those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity to account.
“South Sudanese have a right to truth and justice. You cannot exclude these elements from a healing and reconciliation process. An exclusion of criminal accountability will end up emboldening future abuses, future perpetrators and the cycle of violence will continue,” said Pur.
“There have been blanket amnesties issued since 2005 to persons that have committed atrocities but look where these have led the country,” he added.
The HRW report released on October 8 repeated calls for a hybrid court comprising judges and prosecutors from across the continent to supplement those in South Sudan where there might be deficiencies.
HRW now wants the AU Peace and Security Council to chart the path for the hybrid court when it meets on South Sudan in Addis Ababa on October 23 and 24.
Amnesty said courts in Juba were crippled by a severe lack of independence, interference from the executive and inadequate investigative capacity for serious crimes.