By Parach Mach
JUBA, South Sudan (AA) – As South Sudan’s leaders urged the cancellation of a planned war crimes tribunal in favor of a peace and reconciliation process, some said failure to hold the guilty accountable would be an affront to justice as well as jeopardize peace.
In a Tuesday New York Times op-ed titled, “South Sudan Needs Truth, Not Trials,” both President Salva Kiir and his former foe, First Vice President Riek Machar, warned that war crimes trials carry the risk of destabilizing efforts to unite the country.
“In contrast to reconciliation, disciplinary justice – even if delivered under international law — would destabilize efforts to unite our nation by keeping alive anger and hatred among the people of South Sudan,” they wrote.
“We call on the international community, and the United States and Britain in particular, to reconsider … support for a planned international tribunal, the Hybrid Court for South Sudan. We call on them instead to commit to global backing for a mediated peace, truth and reconciliation process,” they added.
“We intend to create a national truth and reconciliation commission modeled on those of South Africa and Northern Ireland. This commission would have wide-ranging powers to investigate and interview the people of South Sudan from the poorest farmer to the most powerful politician to compile a true account of events during the war. Those who tell the truth about what they saw or did would be granted amnesty from prosecution even if they did not express remorse,” they wrote.
But other South Sudanese insist that accountability is critical to prevent future abuses.
“Failure to bring war criminals to book is an insult to the victims. Perpetuators will not know the consequences of their deeds and this will open a room for future violence,” Edmund Yakani Berizilious, head of the Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO), told Anadolu Agency.
Kuir Aguer Bior, a south Sudanese in Canada, also said justice and accountability are key, not optional, to peace, stability, and nation-building in South Sudan.
“[Kiir and Machar’s] claim that South Sudan can be united only through a peace and reconciliation process without justice and accountability, as done in South Africa and Northern Ireland through a truth and reconciliation process, is the clearest indication that both of you are — once again — putting your immunity ahead of South Sudanese unity,” Aguer wrote in an online blog.
He argued that accountability would be a step forward for justice in the nation and build trust among the South Sudanese population, deeply divided by the nearly two-year conflict.
The United Nations secretary-general has offered the African Union support to help set up a war crimes court. A UN panel of experts earlier this year named Machar and Kiir as people who fueled the war in South Sudan, saying they should be subject to a travel ban and asset freezes.
In same report, the UN panel said that Kiir bears “command responsibility” for forces that allegedly attacked civilians in Juba, Unity State, and elsewhere. Similarly, an African Union Commission of Inquiry concluded that killings of unarmed Nuer civilians in Juba in December 2013 were carried out “pursuant to or in furtherance of a state policy.”
War broke out in South Sudan in December 2013 when Kiir accused Machar of plotting a coup. Conflict started in the capital Juba and later spread across the country, taking on an ethnic dimension. Tens of thousands were killed and 2.4 million displaced from their homes, and another 6 million remain in need of humanitarian assistance.