The Art of Facts

A LEGAL BLOG about Fact-finding and Armed ConflicTS

A first look at the AU Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan Report

So yesterday the African Union Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan (AUCISS) finally published its long awaited report. It’s dated 15 October 2014 and was submitted to the African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) in January 2015 during the 24th AU Summit of Heads of State and Government. It however took the AUPSC some 9 months to release it amid concerns it would disrupt the peace process between the Governmental army and the main opposition armed faction, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-in Opposition (SPLA-IO), led by former vice president, Riek Machar. The AUPSC decision in July 2015 to establish an ad hoc sub-committee to study the report had prompted criticism from human rights groups. With the signature of a peace agreement on 17 August 2015, the AU could not hold the report any longer.

The AUCISS was established by the AUPSC on 30 December 2013 “to investigate the human rights violations and other abuses committed during the armed conflict in South Sudan and make recommendations on the best ways and means to ensure accountability, reconciliation and healing among all South Sudanese communities”.

Since the outbreak of the conflict in December 2013, scores of human rights and IHL violations by all parties to the conflict were reported. In June 2015, the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) released a report documenting abuses, including unlawful killings, rape, looting and destruction of property, committed during the escalation of fighting in Greater Upper Nile in April-May 2015.

The Report is interesting by many accounts, not least because it provides extensive analysis and recommendations on institutional reforms aimed at addressing the root causes of the conflict, whilst the investigative part of the mandate related to human rights abuses amounts to a third of the report. Although not explicitly referring to the standard of proof used, the Report also relies on a detailed methodology, adopting a gender perspective and using valuable tools in addition to witness testimonies, such as Focus Group Discussion (paras. 13-24).

Above all, it provides, once more, a terrifying account of the brutality and atrocities committed during the conflict, described as “heart-wrenching” by the Commission, including “reports of people being burnt in places of worship and hospitals, mass burials, women of all ages raped; both elderly and young” (para. 380).

In contrast the legal and descriptive take on this report in this post may look disrespectful and sickening. I’m well aware of this. And faced with the magnitude and horrific nature of the abuses, the publication of this Report will hopefully contribute to addressing the plight of the victims.

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