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Transitional Justice is the only way to a right foundation

By Kuyang Harriet Logo Mulukwat 

Transitional justice features as an additional component of the United Nation’s extended mandate in South Sudan. Largely considered as the most appropriate path for communities emerging from conflict to undertake, the concept itself must be broken down for specific situations. Experience has shown that while there are several issues such as tribalism, corruption and a blatant disregard of institutional processes to be dealt with in South Sudan, the commitment of both parties and their forefront participation is a needed ingredient and perhaps the most essential for an effective Transitional Justice process. In the first days of the signing of the compromise Peace Agreement, I noticed very negative sentiments from both of the signatories to the deal. Clearly, the peace seemed as that which has been imposed by the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD).

 

How will transitional justice be approached in the context of South Sudan; So that communities can begin to heal and move beyond a painful past? What role will government (Leadership) play in this regard? There have been a couple of processes on transitional justice discussions to set in motion thoughts, concepts and approaches to transitional justice for South Sudan –but the highest political level of participation is lacking. The initial processes have been led by the United Nations and civil society groups and I have been looking forward to the role of the leadership. None has been shown so far.

 

A perception survey on Transitional Justice has been published by UNDP and in that survey – shocking outcomes such as people’s willingness to let the past go and move on with their lives indicates that the communities are tired of the animosity and are ready to forgive those who they perceive as perpetrators of violence against them or their families. The indicative good will of the communities is a sign that with the engagement of the leadership, South Sudan can effectively steer away from its problematic past. 

Discussing transitional justice models and mechanisms is always a conversation of another day and has never been an initiative of the leadership.  What is crucial for the leadership of both parties to the peace is to show a commitment to lead the process to reconcile the communities. For me, leadership is lacking and I’m beginning to worry that all of the transitional justice discussions, dominated by the civil societies will be another of those great initiatives that will hit a snag.

Does the leadership of both parties to the peace deal think that transitional justice is not a noteworthy endeavor? I hope note. In 2004, Justice Africa had initiated a similar engagement with prominent civil society organizations – it was essentially a discussion which focused on the urgency of reconciliation and also the need to bring the perpetrators of human rights abuses to book for crimes committed during the second Sudanese civil war. Also at that time, the comprehensive peace agreement negotiations were nearing a conclusion and a peace deal was very close. A group of negotiators were dispatched from Naivasha, Kenya where the negotiations were taking place, to stop the meeting organized by Justice Africa. At that time, the proponents of reconciliation and accountability for past human rights abuses were convinced that the timing was wrong. They were advised to halt the meeting and convene it at a more appropriate time. The reasons of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) members had made great sense, because at the time a search for a comprehensive peace had made more sense than pursuing little issues such as accountability for past human rights abuses or even reconciliation. It was understood that those would be dealt with once the peace was attained.

 

Accountability was not pursued, neither was reconciliation. Instead South Sudanese chose to build a nation on a false cohesion and that proved to be illusionary. For instance the famous South to South dialogue became a mere rhetoric. In the face of mounting disunity and disgruntlement the leadership never pursued reconciliation and instead branded those who demanded for reconciliation and nation building as trouble makers. Many such proponents of reconciliation have been totally excluded from government.  I call on the leadership to start to heed the calls on reconciliation and accountability which can effectively be pursued with the most appropriate transitional justice model. 

It is time that South Sudanese raised the issues of the past, issues of human rights accountability – this way, a slow progressive journey towards a stable future will be feasible.

Leadership within Government and the opposition must be at the forefront of mending the broken communities. They must be at the helm of transitional justice initiatives, before proceeding with nation building premised on a false foundation. The recent crumble of the nation happened solely because the unfinished business of the South Sudanese has never been spoken about. For the nation to rise again and rally support from donors, the leadership must be seen to want transitional justice as a first step towards dealing with South Sudan’s terrible past.

 

The Writer is a South Sudanese Lawyer and a United Nations Consultant on Democratic Governance and the Rule of Law and teaches on a part time basis at the College of Law of the University of Juba. She can be reached on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

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