Yasmin Sooka

South Sudan warlords can be prosecuted for war crimes, crimes against humanity around the world – UN human rights experts says

By Deng Machol

Yasmin Sooka
Yasmin Sooka

Juba – the UN says it has identified 23 individuals over the past years who bear command or superior responsibility under international criminal law for serious crimes related to the five – years political conflict in South Sudan.

Members of the Commission, mandated by the Human Rights Council to investigate human rights in Africa youngest nation, told the council this week that these individuals, along previously identified alleged perpetrators could face justice in courts in the world, not just in South Sudan.

“We have placed all of our eggs in on one baskets,” said Yasmin Sooka, chair of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan. We have framed these crimes in multiple ways to allow future prosecutions to take in jurisdictions inside and outside South Sudan,” she explained.

The Human rights council further noted that evidence it has collected could be used to prosecute perpetrators of crimes outside South Sudan.

It said witnesses also described torture, including beating and whipping, pulling out of toenails, cutting, burning and electrocution.

The Commission also said it documented cases where prisoners had been held in shipping containers with no fresh air or toilets, including sexual violence,  brutal rapes, multiple gang rapes, sexual slavery, abductions, forced marriage, forced pregnancy, forced abortion and mutilation of sexual organs and as well as killing at the hands of both government forces and those belonging to the opposition.

“The Commission also noted increases in arbitrary detentions, torture, executions and enforced disappearances. These generated paranoia and fear in South Sudan, with civil society activists reporting they felt afraid to speak out,” said the report.

It says this allows for the prosecution of war crimes and crimes against humanity in states that are parties to relevant treaties on torture, enforced disappearance and attacks on UN.

Despite the signing of the revitalized peace deal last year, the UN team said the ‘agreement had not delivered an immediate improvement in the desperate, security, peace, economy and humanitarian situation for the people of South Sudan.’

It reiterated its continued concern about the lack of progress in establishing the transitional justice mechanisms in September 2018.

“These mechanisms are essential for dealing with the past, preventing fresh violations, ensuring accountability and constructing a cohesive society,” said Barney Afako, commission member.

Of recently, the government argues that the delay or unwillingness by the international community to fund the implementation of peace agreement has made it difficult to set up required institutions and speed up the return and reparations of displaced persons, including setting up the hybrid court.

“Despite these delays in the establishment of justice mechanisms within South Sudan,” underlined Andrew Clapham, commission member. “Perpetrators of violent crimes in South Sudan should not think they can escape justice, as they could be prosecuted in international courts or domestic courts in other countries.”

According to the over 200 page report, the crimes reported occurred between May and June 2018 in Unity State, Western Bahr el Ghazal and Central Equatoria States.

Ms. Sooka stressed that ‘it has become commonplace to say that these crimes take place because impunity has become entranced…. but that impunity cannot be allowed to continue.’

Despite the criticizing report, the UN Commission also called on the region and the wider international community to invest politically and materially in the transitional justice mechanisms in South Sudan.

“These are essential for building sustainable peace,” said Ms. Sooka. As well as supporting the people of South Sudan in rebuilding all aspects of national life, especially the rule of law.”

The commission says no progress had been made on establishing these mechanism, calling on the government of South Sudan to take urgent step towards establishment of the Commission of Truth, Reconciliation and Healing and the Compensation and Reparation Authority. And therefore, both the government of South Sudan and the African Union to establish the Hybrid Court for South Sudan.

The Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan was established by the Human Rights Council in May 2016, with a mandate to determine and report the facts and circumstances of collect and preserve evidence of and clarify responsibility for alleged gross violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes, including sexual and ethnic violence.

South Sudan returned to another political violence in 2013, after two years of her independence from Sudan. Juba government is yet to comment on the new development.

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