South Sudan Justice and Accountability Survey

Project location: SOUTH SUDAN
Project start date: March 2019 - Project end date: June 2019
Project number: 2019-011
Beneficiary: Non c'è Pace senza Giustizia

No Peace Without Justice (NPWJ) has received a grant from the Nando and Elsa Peretti Foundation, to map the various actors involved in justice and accountability in South Sudan and consequently, identify opportunities for coordinated action and advocacy around justice. Despite the September 2018 peace agreement (the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan or R-ARCSS), impunity around crimes committed in the context of the conflict - particularly, crimes committed by high-level military and political figures- continues to be a struggle for the victims.

The lack of justice for war crimes and crimes against humanity in South Sudan reveals the weaknesses of the judicial system to prosecute and punish the perpetrators. Meanwhile, over four million people have been displaced from their homes and victims still wait for the Hybrid Court for South Sudan (HCSS) to operate, since the authorities have continuously delayed this process. In part due to the failure of the national authorities to pursue justice, putting a permanent end to the conflict in South Sudan remains a major challenge; the corruption and lack of financial resources makes the situation more critical. 

South Sudan’s Government encounters difficulties to consolidate peace in the territory. The involvement of the international community remains important to ensure accountability for the crimes committed and justice for the victims. This report presents a series of recommendations, based on the findings, on opportunities for coordinated action and advocacy around accountability, aimed at seeking to put end to the impunity and build a culture of respect for human rights and the rule of law in South Sudan. 

Overview of the conflict

In December 2013, two years after South Sudan’s independence and the fall of the regime of Khartoum, a simmering power struggle between President Salva Kiir and former Vice-President Riek Machar erupted into an armed conflict with soldiers from the national army fighting on both sides. Following this outbreak of violence, several international bodies and NGOs reported widespread human rights abuses from both sides amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity, which include killing, rape, gang-rape, sexual mutilation, looting and burning of homes, torture, arbitrary detention, and the unlawful recruitment of child soldiers. In 2018, after a second round of brutal fighting, a peace agreement – the Revised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS) was brokered. However, South Sudan and its government are far from a stable peace as well as from transitional justice standards or an established reparation mechanism. 

NPWJ involvement

Although impunity for these atrocities remains unaddressed, the importance of justice and accountability is a constant refrain among civil society actors. In light of this and the absence of any clear progress on justice, NPWJ, with the support of the Peretti Foundation, and in partnership with Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, convened a meeting with interested stakeholders and experts in the margins of the 17th Assembly of States Parties of the International Criminal Court in 2018 to discuss the situation and potential ways forward, especially on issues surrounding humanitarian aid in South Sudan. As a conclusion of the discussion, three main recommendations, namely survey relevant actors, identify gaps in action, and develop a comprehensive, coordinated and collective action around accountability, were drawn regarding next steps to be taken in order to tackle identified critical issues currently affecting South Sudan. 

Based on the outcomes of the December 2018 Meeting, NPWJ, again with the support of the Peretti Foundation, undertook a field mission to South Sudan and the region to consult a wide range of stakeholders in order to map what actors are doing on accountability in South Sudan, understand the political and other dynamics hindering or facilitating efforts on justice and identify potential ways forward. During the mission, NPWJ gathered information from over 40  stakeholders, researchers, and members of civil society organisations working on issues related to justice and accountability with the overall aim to identify and understand the political dynamics influencing the implementation of the peace agreement, the ongoing efforts towards accountability and potential gaps in these efforts.

Main Findings 

Absence of due diligence by authorities: the lack of progress establishing the Hybrid Court for South Sudan (HCSS)

Since the signing of the first peace agreement in 2015, political efforts have focused on pushing for the Hybrid Court for South Sudan, in part because the establishment of the court could serve as a signal to the parties that impunity for atrocities would not be tolerated and in part in the hopes that it could help deter further crimes. However, the implementation of the 2018 peace agreement (R-ARCSS)—including the provisions on transitional justice—remains stalled. 

At the time of the mission, only the HCSS had the jurisdiction to address all of the crimes committed in South Sudan and bring those responsible for crimes in South Sudan to justice. There were not, however, any real measures taken at the national level to prosecute those crimes. 

The fundamental role of South Sudanese actors and local civil society in the pursuit of justice 

During the mission, NPWJ noted that despite the complex political landscape, South Sudanese actors supported by, and in coordination with, the United Nations, individual governments and international NGOs, were engaged in a variety of promising justice-related efforts. 

At the domestic level, civil society organisations, such as the Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG), were engaged in human rights documentation, public outreach on the transitional justice provisions of the peace agreement, empowering victims of atrocity crimes and related projects. 

Supporting these kinds of ongoing efforts was identified as a crucial component to help strengthen and facilitate a domestic constituency for justice.

Long-term actions are necessary to build an effective transitional justice 

It takes time to establish and guarantee an effective transitional justice system in South Sudan. As a result, long-term actions and plans are required in order to build effective networks and ensure the protection and work of human rights activists in a context characterised by deep social divisions and mistrust. 


Considering those findings, NPWJ developed several recommendations to promote justice and accountability for the crimes committed in South Sudan.  

Recommendation 1: Support initiatives to engage with victims and survivors

Violence, especially Sexual and Gender-Based Violence, is a complex issue in which justice and support for survivors may take many forms, ranging from conviction in court, psychological, physical and financial help to empowerment of survivors by means of apologies and reparations. More needs to be done to understand these processes and the most suited approach for survivors.

Recommendation 2: Support efforts of civil society to build transitional justice coalitions across the country

It is important to keep a bottom-up approach in mind in which the larger population both understands and is engaged in dialogue and discussion about the peace agreement and more specifically Chapter V, pertaining to reparations, criminal accountability and truth-telling. Only then will the needs of the population be reflected and assessed in a proper manner.

Recommendation 3: Continue supporting documentation efforts

Although there are ongoing efforts, more work through both empirical and legal research would be needed to support the kinds of investigations that could lead to cases in both domestic and international courts.

Recommendation 4: Provide support to CSOs support to study housing and land disputes

With over 4 million people displaced as well as changes in internal state borders and land-grabbing, disputes over land and territory increased. These must be addressed not only from a humanitarian perspective but also with an eye towards justice and atrocity prevention.

Recommendation 5: Provide support to CSOs to undertake regional and international advocacy

South Sudanese people are the primary stakeholders in their country but it is extremely important to keep regional and international decision-makers fully behind justice and accountability as well as committed to listening to the people of South Sudan, effectively allowing survivors to speak for themselves and increase their outreach.


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