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South Sudan and the formation of unity government

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SUN 25 MAR 2020

The government of national unity recently formed brought back the opposition leader Dr. Riek Machar as the nation’s first vice president, the position he held until his dismissal by Salva Kiir in 2013 when he was accused of coup plot alongside several cabinet members of Kiir. Several other actors in the armed conflict were reintegrated back into the Salva Kiir’s cabinet alongside Machar on Saturday including Rebecca Garang the widow of the nation’s leader John Garang who died shortly after being inaugurated the President of the South Sudan during interim period.

While South Sudanese people were congratulated and the roles of African Union (AU) and Inter-Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD) are commended in ensuring the successful transition programme of the government of national unity in the country, the international community is reminded that much more remain to be done in bringing about justice to the South Sudan people.

Since signing the Revitalized Peace Agreement for the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan in 2018, the government of South Sudan and the opposition armed groups have been able to keep to the contents of the agreement in the cessation of hostilities and the formation of government of national unity recently achieved. This was made possible through several compromises by both parties in the armed conflict.

Remarkably, the South Sudanese government took what it considered difficult but necessary decision for the implementation of the unity government in reversing the 32 states created during the protracted civil war back to the originally 10 states as demanded by the opposition leader Riek Machar. With peace and stability regained in South Sudan as products of the revitalized agreement, it is believed the country has been able to kill two birds with a stone.

Although the twin pillars of good governance, peace and stability have arrived in South Sudan, what remains to be achieved is “justice” which is prerequisite for the sustainability of the State. However, there seems a glimmer of hope for the achievement of justice for especially the victims of the South Sudan armed conflict. Thus a fully implemented unity government requires a successful transitional justice system for South Sudan.

Nearly 400,000 people have been killed in the armed conflict and recent statistics puts about four million South Sudanese as refugees including the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Unimaginable atrocities have been committed in the six years protracted armed conflict such as rape of girls and women, sexual violence, recruitment of child soldiers, burning of churches, mosques, schools and several other institutions all which are egregious violations of the rules of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights calculated to be international crimes. Worst of these impacts is that the country has been significantly regarded a state with highest number of out of school children in the world according to the United Nations Children Educational Funds (UNICEF) report in 2019.

Amnesty International has continued to urge the UN, AU and IGAD to compel the government of South Sudan to comply with the Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (ARCSS) brought by IGAD and AU in 2015 with a proposal to establish a Hybrid Court for South Sudan (HCSS) as effective transitional justice mechanism. The ARCSS which was signed by both parties to the conflict was partially implemented. It brought back Dr. Riek Machar as first vice president in 2015 who later ran away from the country as hostilities renewed.

The failure of the government of South Sudan to implement the contents of the ARCSS in 2015 which led to the renewed hostilities should serve as a clue to the parties in the implementation processes of the revitalized peace agreement ongoing in the country.

Interestingly, Amnesty International and UN have considered compelling the South Sudan government to establish a Hybrid Court to bring about justice to the victims of armed conflict. This initiative has been ignored by the South Sudan government in guise of its demand of “bring us peace now and give us justice later.”

Let peace come first and accountability later, we can’t do two things at once, said Sylvester Sebit, an army intelligence officer in South Sudan.

Unfortunately, Amnesty International reports revealed the authority in South Sudan was bent onnot establishing the Hybrid Court as that according to the government is tantamount “to prosecute ourselves.” Thus this further amplified the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) reports which revealed to the effect that the government forces commanded by Salva Kiir were responsible for most atrocities crimes committed during the armed conflict.

While it is obvious that there is urgent need to pursue lasting peace and stability of the country, the South Sudanese people are in need of accountability, a necessary commodity the government is not prepared to offer at least at this moment or ever.

The world youngest nation should not be allowed to grow in lack of accountability especially of international crimes. It is a time to look up to the United Nations, African Union and International Criminal Court for help; if any!

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