South Sudanese might have to wait for the African Union summit in Johannesburg in June this year to find out who will be held responsible for grave atrocities during the yearlong civil war in their country.
Civil society activists, who are fighting for the release of the report, say it will be “terrible” if the publication of a crucial report into human rights abuses in South Sudan, set up by the AU, is again postponed. The report is the result of a commission of inquiry led by former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo.
Civil society groups are calling the AU to make the report public immediately. A draft of the 60-page report, seen by the Mail & Guardian, gives details of the devastating ethnic conflict that left an estimated 50 000 people dead and two million displaced.
The report explains the break-up of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and violent confrontation between South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir’s forces and those of his rival, former deputy president Riek Machar.
Kiir’s supporters are mostly of the Dinka tribe; Machar’s are Nuers.
Peace talks between Kiir and Machar in Addis Ababa broke down again on March 5, the final deadline given by mediators for them to reach a power-sharing agreement.
Analysts fear the war will now intensify and South Sudan could regress from being Africa’s newest nation, created in 2011 with a lot of hope for the future, to a lawless state like Somalia.
The report points at the protagonists in the violence, which was “not spontaneous”, and recommends the entire government in power in South Sudan up to July 2013, including the president, deputy president and ministers, be excluded from being part of a future transitional government.
Withdrawn at the last minute
It was supposed to be tabled to heads of state at a meeting of the AU’s Peace and Security Council that took place in Addis Ababa in January. At the last minute, the report’s tabling was withdrawn on the recommendation of Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and seconded by President Jacob Zuma and Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni.
When asked why the report was not released, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s spokesman, Ronnie Mamoepa, said the issue “is a matter for the Summit of the African Union heads of states and government to decide upon”. Ramaphosa is Zuma’s special envoy to South Sudan.
David Deng, research director at the South Sudan Law Society, said: “What happened with this report says a lot about decision-making in the AU.” Speaking to the M&G from Juba, he said the commission of inquiry was a first for the AU and indications were that it “did a good job”.
Deng believes the leaked draft of the report is not the final one, and the leak compromises the commission’s work. He says AU’s January deferral happened with little resistance. “It shows how African heads of state have one another’s backs, especially when it comes to accountability.”
Since the decision not to publish the report was taken by heads of state, its tabling might have to wait for the Johannesburg-summit in June, he says. “It will be terrible if we have to wait that long.”
The South Sudan Law Society and 75 other civil society organisations have launched a campaign to get the AU to release the report.
“We urge you to prove wrong those who doubt the commitment of the AU to justice and accountability by receiving, considering and immediately publishing the Auciss [AU Commission of Inquiry into South Sudan] report,” the organisations said in a letter to the AU.
But not everyone believes naming and shaming those responsible for atrocities will bring peace in situations like the South Sudan war. Some say the experience of the indictment of Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir by the International Criminal Court (ICC) is an example of the detrimental effects of “justice before peace”.
A warrant for the arrest of al-Bashir for committing war crimes in Darfur was issued by the ICC in 2009 but the war in Darfur continued. The indictment also hardened the position of some AU members, who have been at loggerheads with the AU ever since.
If the Obasanjo report is released, the leaders in South Sudan could also return to the battlefield because they would have nothing more to lose.
Former South African president Thabo Mbeki has been a strong opponent of the indictment of al-Bashir. In an article in the New York Times, written jointly with academic Mahmood Mamdani, a member of Obasanjo’s panel, Mbeki argues against “criminalising the perpetrators of violence” in situations like South Sudan.
Finding solutions for the war in South Sudan is complex, given the number of outside actors with economic and political interests in South Sudan. Al-Bashir’s Sudan is being accused of backing Machar’s rebels and Uganda has sent troops to help Kiir fend off the rebellion.
A report by the International Crisis Group (ICG), released in January, calls for increased support from the United States and China in the peace process. China is a major importer of South Sudanese oil and has contributed troops to the United Nations peace mission in South Sudan. China and the US, both members of the UN Security Council, could put pressure on both parties to make peace.
“If there is a chance for peace, it lies in taking advantage of the fact that, as complex as the interconnected conflicts are, their cross-border aspects do not divide the UN Security Council,” says the ICG.