H.E. Moussa Faki Mahamat Chairperson
African Union (AU) Commission Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
June 9, 2021
Re: Accountability Mechanisms in South Sudan
We write to express our deep concern over the slow progress in establishing accountability mechanisms in South Sudan, including the Hybrid Court for South Sudan.
Your statement following the January 29, 2021 announcement of the Government of South Sudan’s approval for the establishment of this court and other accountability mechanisms provided for under the Revitalized Agreement for Resolving the Conflict in South Sudan (R- ARCISS) was welcome and gave hope to South Sudanese that justice, at last, was going to be served. The statement also confirmed that the AU leadership considers justice and accountability as key elements in stabilizing the country.
AU leadership on South Sudan matters:
- Before and after independence, South Sudan has experienced a long and bloody conflict where people have suffered brutal human rights violations and abuses;
- South Sudan, as Africa’s youngest state, has benefitted greatly from AU support for the country’s development at the highest level, through eminent personalities such as former presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Thabo Mbeki; and
- The AU took the lead on advancing accountability in South Sudan, as embodied by its decision to create the AU Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan, which recommended a hybrid court to bring justice for crimes under international law.
Since your statement, however, it appears to us that no further concrete steps by the AU have been taken. We understand the South Sudanese Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs requested to meet with the AU Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), which has been the AU Commission’s lead on the Court’s establishment, in November to discuss the court. The meeting was scheduled for December, but the OLC postponed it. The meeting was supposed to be rescheduled for late March or April, but to the best of our knowledge the meeting has yet to be rescheduled. South Sudanese officials have indicated to civil society that they are waiting on the AU to discuss the court’s establishment.
We also note that civil society organizations, especially local groups, have also faced challenges in connecting with the OLC on South Sudan, which has led to a lack of clear understanding and knowledge by organizations concerning the status of efforts to establish the Hybrid Court for South Sudan.
The people of South Sudan have waited more than seven years for accountability for widespread, and horrific crimes committed in their country. They entrusted the AU to ensure that justice is delivered and contributes to ending the culture of impunity. Meanwhile, the lack of justice is fueling new abuses and threatens the prospects for long-term security. We are concerned that the continued absence of credible judicial proceedings to hold perpetrators to account will foster further revenge attacks by individuals and communities that will plunge the country into additional cycles of violence and human rights violations.
The AU’s apparent inaction raises serious questions about the AU’s credibility not only in atrocity prevention in South Sudan, but across the African continent where many are looking to you for justice. The current paralysis undermines the notion of African solutions to African problems, and risks signaling that the AU is unable and unwilling to exert leadership where it matters most for the people whom the AU represents.
The inaction also risks demonstrating the AU’s failure to implement its own Transitional Justice Policy. The adoption of the AU Transitional Justice Policy will be meaningless if the AU does not act when it has taken on a lead role in advancing accountability, as it did in South Sudan.
We the undersigned South Sudanese, African, and international organizations with a presence and, in some cases, a membership in Africa reiterate that it is incumbent on the AU Commission, and particularly the OLC, to take immediate action to show that it remains committed to the inherent right of the people of South Sudan to have justice. To that end, we urge you to:
- Immediately establish the Hybrid Court for South Sudan;
- Operationalize the court’s investigative capacity as a particular priority to collect and preserve evidence; and
- Provide a public update on the status of the court’s operationalization with a clear timeline.
The victims and survivors of serious crimes committed during South Sudan’s conflict deserve no less.
African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS)
Africa Center for International Law and Accountability (ACILA) Africa Legal Aid (AFLA)
Assistance Mission for Africa (AMA) – South Sudan Center for Peace and Advocacy (CPA) – South Sudan Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law – Sierra Leone
Civil Society Coalition on Defense of Civic Space – South Sudan Civil Society Human Rights Advocacy Platform of Liberia
Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO) – South Sudan Crown The Woman – South Sudan
Dialogue and Research Institute – South Sudan
Forum for Peace and Unity – South Sudan
Foundation for Democracy and Accountable Governance (FODAG) – South Sudan Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Concern Eritrea International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) INTREPID South Sudan
Legal Action Worldwide Nigerian Coalition for the ICC
Organization for Responsive Governance (ORG) – South Sudan Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU)
Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA)
Solidarity Ministries Africa for Reconciliation & Development (SMARD) – South Sudan Southern African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (SACCORD) Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC)
South Sudan Civil Society Forum (SSCSF)
South Sudan Human Rights Defenders Network (SSHRDN) South Sudan Law Society (SSLS)
South Sudan Women Empowerment Network (SSWEN) South Sudan Youth Transitional Justice Academy
South Sudan Centre for Inclusive Governance, Peace and Justice (CIGPJ) Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG) – South Sudan
Victim Advocates International
H.E. President Felix-Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo, Chairman of the African Union Hon. Dr. Peter Mutuku Mathuki, Secretary General of the East African Community
H.E. Dr. Workneh Gebeyehu, Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development
H.E. Amb. Bankole Adeoye, AU Commissioner for Political Affairs & Peace and Security Hon. Dr. Solomon Dersso, Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights
H.E. Amb. James Pitia Morgan, South Sudan Ambassador to Ethiopia
H.E. Amb. Joram Biswaro, Special Representative of the Chairperson of the AU Commission for South Sudan
H.E. Amb. Dr. Namira Negm, AU Legal Counsel