After decades of war, South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011, only to relapse into conflict in 2013. In 2015, parties signed the Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan and the revitalized pact in 2018 that provided for a transitional justice process. ICTJ has monitored and worked within South Sudan since before its independence.
Background: Elusive Transition to Peace and Stability
South Sudan has endured decades of multiple conflicts with Sudan over resources, power, and identity. In addition, the country has grappled with internal ethnic and political divisions stoked by South Sudanese warlords.
On July 9, 2011, over 98 percent of South Sudan citizens voted in a referendum in favor of South Sudan’s independence. In 2013, a political feud between President Salva Kiir and First-Vice President Riek Machar resulted in renewed conflict. Intense negotiations together with UN threats of international sanctions culminated in the 2015 Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (ARCSS). Chapter V of the agreement provides for the creation of the following:
- The Commission for Truth, Reconciliation, and Healing to address the legacy of conflicts and promote peace, national reconciliation, and healing
- The Compensation and Reparation Authority to provide material and financial support to citizens affected by conflict and help them rebuild their livelihoods
- The independent Hybrid Court for South Sudan to try war crimes and crimes against humanity committed since independence
After another eruption of violence in 2016, parties returned to the negotiating table and subsequently signed the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) in 2018 that established the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (RTGoNU). This national unity government is mandated to rule for a 36-month transitional period ending with a democratic general election initially meant to take place in 2022. This period has been extended twice, and as a result the election deadline has been pushed to 2023.
Persistent delays in implementing several of the provisions in the R-ARCSS could cause the country to overshoot its transition timelines, risking renewed conflict. South Sudan has barely 13 months until the end of the transitional period but the transitional justice mechanisms that should have been underway within six months of signing the revitalized peace deal are yet to be established. The delays are attributed to political instability within the RTGoNU, the late reconstitution of the Transitional National Legislative Assembly which is vital to enacting legislation to advance the transitional processes and reforms, and limited technical expertise, among other challenges.
The multiple conflicts have left hundreds of thousands dead and displaced over two million people, many of whom remain refugees. They have also contributed to repression, deprivation, and a resulting humanitarian crisis that has gripped the country since before the struggle for independence.
Significant challenges have plagued the implementation of first the ARCSS and then the R-ARCSS. The most serious obstacles include a lack of good faith signified by the continued fighting in parts of the country despite existing ceasefire agreements (the agreement signed in Addis Ababa in December 2017 and the one signed in Rome in January 2020); the refusal of some armed groups to join the peace agreement; tensions between those in power and those in the opposition; and delays in the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration plans to unify the armed groups into one force that reflects the national character.
That said, there has been laudable incremental achievements in the peace agreement’s implementation. Notably, the Reconstituted Transitional National Legislative Assembly was formed, which will put forward and enact legislation, expedite judicial reforms, and break the stalemate over the elections; the drafting process of the permanent constitution has been launched; and the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs reconstituted the Technical Committee that will guide the drafting of the legislation establishing the Commission for Truth, Reconciliation, and Healing.
ICTJ has carried out targeted but significant work in South Sudan since 2007. Our overall goal has been to provide comparative knowledge and analysis on transitional justice to policymakers, victims’ groups, and civil society organizations working on South Sudan, with an emphasis on promoting victim participation and encouraging innovative, context-specific approaches to the design and scope of transitional justice initiatives. Our approach has been two pronged:
- We focus on actors who have been excluded from the transitional justice policymaking process. In particular, we work with victims of human rights violations and conflict-related crimes and their families, citizens (including those who have been displaced or fled the country as refugees), and members of civil society (including religious institutions, human rights advocates, women’s organizations, and educators).
- We assist both state institutions that play a role in making transitional justice policy and international and regional organizations committed to ensuring justice and accountability are part of the peace process.
To this end, ICTJ undertakes the following activities:
- ICTJ provides advice and assistance, particularly related to victim and civil society participation and to the steps required to implement and monitor transitional justice initiatives, including the measures laid out in the peace agreement.
- ICTJ offers comparative knowledge and expert analysis on transitional justice issues relevant to the South Sudanese context for advocacy purposes.
- ICTJ identifies opportunities to help build the capacity of civil society actors, victims, and members of conflict-affected communities to articulate, frame, and translate their demands and expectations into both technical policy and political action.
- ICTJ offers technical assistance trainings and consultations to both state institutions in charge of overseeing the implementation of the peace agreement and international and regional organizations committed to ensuring that justice and accountability are part of the peace process.
- ICTJ monitors the implementation of the Chapter V of the R-ARCSS with a view to enhancing the technical know-how of relevant actors to design and implement effective transitional justice processes and build sustainable peace and stability in South Sudan.