African AC­COUNT­ABIL­ITY

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In the wake of this week’s deal to end hos­til­i­ties, high ex­pec­ta­tions are trained on the African Union’s (AU’s) com­mis­sion of in­quiry into the South Su­dan con­flict. It will be chaired by for­mer Nige­rian pres­i­dent Oluse­gun Obasanjo and will in­ves­ti­gate hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions and other abuses dur­ing the con­flict in De­cem­ber last year. Barely two and a half years after the world cel­e­brated South Su­dan’s long-awaited birth in July 2011, open war­fare erupted be­tween the gov­ern­ment forces of Pres­i­dent Salva Kiir and the op­po­si­tion SPLA/M rebel forces led by for­mer vice-pres­i­dent Riek Machar.

The eth­nic di­men­sions of the con­flict, long de­nied by Kiir, a Dinka, and Machar, a Nuer, pit­ted the coun­try’s two largest eth­nic groups against each other in a con­tin­u­a­tion of South Su­dan’s long-run­ning eth­nic con­flict.

Be­tween 1983 and 2005, se­ri­ous crimes amount­ing to vi­o­la­tions of in­ter­na­tional law were com­mit­ted against the Nuer and Dinka com­mu­ni­ties by fight­ers from both sides, in­clud­ing the Nuer- and Dinka-led rebel fac­tions.

The lack of ac­count­abil­ity for past vi­o­la­tions and on­go­ing im­punity laid the ground for De­cem­ber’s con­flict. In its June 2014 in­terim re­port, the AU’s com­mis­sion of in­quiry con­firmed that eth­nic an­i­mos­ity arose out of long-stand­ing his­tor­i­cal griev­ances.

Mean­ing­ful in­ter­com­mu­nal rec­on­cil­i­a­tion can­not take place in the ab­sence of a firm com­mit­ment to end the abuses and a de­ter­mi­na­tion to en­sure jus­tice and ac­count­abil­ity.

The South Su­dan Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion has re­ported on ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings, ar­bi­trary ar­rests, rape as­so­ci­ated with peo­ple in uni­forms and mass dis­place­ment. Re­ports sug­gest that women and chil­dren in par­tic­u­lar con­tinue to be sub­ject to sex­ual vi­o­la­tions.

The es­tab­lish­ment of the com­mis­sion of in­quiry sends the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity a sig­nal that Africans are tak­ing the lead on ac­count­abil­ity.

The broad man­date of the Obasanjo-headed com­mis­sion in­cludes heal­ing, rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, in­sti­tu­tional re­form and ac­count­abil­ity. Un­doubt­edly, the com­mis­sion’s suc­cess will be de­ter­mined by how its re­port suc­ceeds in paving the way for ac­count­abil­ity by doc­u­ment­ing the vi­o­la­tions and nam­ing those al­legedly re­spon­si­ble.

Com­mis­sions of in­quiry of this na­ture are usu­ally ex­pected to make their re­ports pub­lic by fol­low­ing the ex­am­ple of other com­mis­sions of in­quiry, in­clud­ing on Syria, North Korea and Mali – all of which were es­tab­lished un­der the aus­pices of the United Na­tions.

Jus­tice and ac­count­abil­ity are cru­cial to break­ing the cy­cle of im­punity en­joyed by strong­men, in­clud­ing many of South Su­dan’s lead­ers who com­manded rebels in the pre­vi­ous war.

Three fac­tions of the Su­dan Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Move­ment (SPLM) re­cently ad­mit­ted in a pub­lic state­ment that they hold “a col­lec­tive re­spon­si­bil­ity for the cri­sis in South Su­dan that has taken a great toll on the lives and prop­erty of our peo­ple”. This paves the way for the com­mis­sion to deal with the thorny is­sue of jus­tice and ac­count­abil­ity. The state­ment was re­leased at the end of a week of meet­ings in Arusha be­tween a group loyal to Kiir; the SPLM-in-Op­po­si­tion, led by Machar; and the Group of 11, com­pris­ing for­mer mem­bers of the rul­ing party who were de­tained when fight­ing broke out in Juba in De­cem­ber last year.

The re­port by the com­mis­sion should take this ad­mis­sion into ac­count and also in­clude rec­om­men­da­tions which en­sure that those al­leged to have per­pe­trated se­ri­ous crimes are in­ves­ti­gated and pros­e­cuted in ac­cor­dance with in­ter­na­tional stan­dards.

The nam­ing of per­pe­tra­tors may, how­ever, prove to be highly con­tro­ver­sial as will the is­sue of crim­i­nal re­spon­si­bil­ity.

It is widely an­tic­i­pated that the com­mis­sion will also pro­vide rec­om­men­da­tions on a fu­ture body that could take up the is­sues of ac­count­abil­ity. While many have sug­gested that a hy­brid tri­bunal or court model would be ap­pro­pri­ate, a use­ful ex­am­ple would be the JUS­TICE RE­QUIRED Se­ri­ous crimes amount­ing to vi­o­la­tions of in­ter­na­tional law were com­mit­ted against the Nuer and Dinka com­mu­ni­ties by fight­ers from both sides. Scores of fam­i­lies were dis­placed, in­clud­ing this fam­ily from the Nuer eth­nic group, who were seek­ing med­i­ca­tion and food Ex­tra­or­di­nary African Cham­ber cre­ated by Sene­gal and the AU to pros­e­cute the worst crimes of the Habré regime. In July last year, the cham­ber charged Cha­dian His­sène Habré with crimes against hu­man­ity, tor­ture and war crimes. The ex­am­ple set by this trial in which the vic­tims were recog­nised as full par­ties, will hope­fully il­lus­trate the pos­si­bil­ity for sur­vivors to wit­ness a bru­tal dic­ta­tor brought to jus­tice.

The Obasanjo Com­mis­sion of In­quiry must note that ac­count­abil­ity ex­tends beyond crim­i­nal ac­count­abil­ity and in­cludes moral re­spon­si­bil­ity for those with blood on their hands. The com­mis­sion’s rec­om­men­da­tions should in­clude repa­ra­tions for the vic­tims, in­clud­ing psy­choso­cial support for sur­vivors of sex­ual vi­o­lence and rape. It also needs to ad­dress the is­sue of build­ing na­tional peace and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion in South Su­dan.

PHOTO: AP / MATTHEW AB­BOTT

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