February 20, 2017 (ADDIS ABABA) - The United Nations Human Rights office has called for an independent body to investigate crimes committed during the more than three-year conflict in South Sudan.
- A general view of participants during the 29th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva on 3 July 2015 - (UN Photo)
A three-member commission made the call during a three-day workshop on transitional justice in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
“An independent mechanism is needed to immediately assist in investigating violations in South Sudan, in advance of the establishment of the hybrid court,” said Yasmin Sooka, chair of the U.N-mandated commission on Human Rights in South Sudan.
The Human Rights Council, she urged, should immediately establish a specialised mechanism to map and document conflict-related sexual violence in South Sudan with a specific emphasis on command and superior responsibility.
“Too many of those who say ‘justice should only come later’ really mean ‘justice should never come at all,” said Sooka.
“It is imperative to immediately start collecting evidence of violations even before the hybrid court is established,” she added.
Commissioner Ken Scott on his part, however, said investigations needed to start now so that the hybrid court has cases to hear.
“Critical evidence is being lost every day as witnesses are killed or disappear, as memories fade and physical evidence degrades”, he said.
During a visit to South Sudan in December last year, members of the commission reported that the level of sexual violence in the young nation had reached epic proportions and required urgent attention.
The Commission was established in March 2016, by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council and tasked with, among other mandates, monitoring and reporting on the situation of human rights in South Sudan and making recommendations for its improvement.
On 14 March 2017, the U.N Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan will present its report on the human rights situation and make recommendations on accountability to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“We will be calling for an international, independent, investigative mechanism for South Sudan to be set up,” said Sooka.
“It should be well-resourced to collect evidence on the ground, focusing primarily on the most recent serious crimes,” she stressed.
Chapter V of the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (ARCSS) calls for the establishment of a Hybrid Court for South Sudan, tasked to investigate and prosecute individuals bearing the responsibility for violations of international law.