March 7, 2014 (JUBA) - The African Union has established a commission of inquiry to investigate human rights violations and other abuses committed during South Sudan’s outbreak of violence in mid-December last year.
- Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, chairperson of the African Union Commission (Photo: Reuters)
Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo heads the five-member body, which was established after consultations with the different parties to the conflict, including armed opposition groups.
Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, the AU Commission chairperson, said the inquiry body was established as part of an AU Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) decision, made by the heads of states and governments.
Its mandate, she stressed, would be to “investigate human rights violations and other abuses committed during the armed conflict in South Sudan and make recommendations on the best way and means to ensure accountability, reconciliation and healing among all South Sudanese communities.”
Ugandan academic Mahmood Mamdani, Justice Sophia Akuffo, president of the African Court on Human Rights based in Arusha, Bineta Diop, AU special envoy for women, peace and security, and Professor Pacifique Manirakiza, a member of the African Commission on Human Rights (ACHPR) based in Banjul are the other members.
The commission will also be tasked with establish the immediate and remote causes of the conflict, as well as establishing the facts and circumstances that may have led to violations and other crimes.
A technical and administrative secretariat based in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, will support the five-member commission, the AU said.
CIVIL SOCIETY CALLS
The AU’s move comes after South Sudanese civil society organisations, with support from organisations operating in Africa, wrote to the ACHPR demanding a resolution condemning serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law it’s alleged took place in South Sudan since the outbreak of violence.
In its 6 February statement, civil society groups urged the ACHPR to visit South Sudan and to step up calls for “the ratification of regional and international human rights instruments.”
It’s estimated that more than 10,000 people have died in the conflict, which has displaced nearly one million people, was sparked by a dispute between the presidential guards in the capital, Juba.
In a statement issued last week, US-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch accused both pro-government and opposition forces of committing crimes, including killings, rape and abductions of civilians during the conflict.
Meanwhile, the country’s civil society groups say South Sudan must commit to numerous long-term improvements in order to better protect and promote human rights.
“Comprehensive judicial reforms are necessary if the judiciary is to meet minimum standards of professionalism and independence, particularly if it is to play a role in holding the perpetrators of the recent violence to account,” the group’s statement said.
“The ACHPR should call for and support such comprehensive reforms and call on the government of South Sudan to devote adequate human and financial resources to the judicial sector,” it urged.
Civil society groups have called on ACHPR to ensure its guidelines on the right to a fair trial and legal assistance in Africa are adequately disseminated in South Sudan and integrated into national law.
They further highlighted the “weaknesses” in the South Sudan Human Rights Commission, including insufficient human and financial resources and its susceptibility to political pressure, preventing it from adequately responding to the current crisis.
The statement urges the ACHPR to apply greater pressure on the South Sudanese government to ensure the commission remains independent and “benefits from adequate resources to carry out its mandate, in accordance with provisions of the Paris Principles.”