Open Letter To Dr Zuma

"Timely investigation and public reporting on abuses committed could increase the prospect of preventing further abuses."

 March 6, 2014


H.E. Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma
Chairperson, African Union Commission
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

CC: Members of the Peace and Security Council

CC: Members of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

Your Excellency,

We write as a group of South Sudanese and international non-governmental organizations to request further progress on an African Union inquiry into serious crimes committed in violation of international law during the conflict in South Sudan. We would also request that your office update South Sudanese and concerned international community though issuing a public update on the status of this AU commission of inquiry.

The AU Peace and Security Council sent a clear signal on the importance of accountability for abuses committed during the conflict when it decided on December 30, 2013 for you to “urgently establish a Commission to investigate the human rights violations and other abuses committed…and make recommendations on the best ways and means to ensure accountability, reconciliation and healing among all South Sudanese communities.”

As you know, the commission is to be established in consultation with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and other AU entities, and the PSC requested that the commission report back within a three month period, by March 30, 2013.

We believe investigation with a view to promoting accountability is crucial to long-term peace and stability for South Sudan. Justice will only be one part of a comprehensive response and should operate in parallel to other efforts, such as peace negotiations. But experience has shown that impunity too often fosters further abuses, while fair, credible trials of those implicated in the gravest crimes helps build respect for rule of law and lay the foundations for a more durable peace. Indeed, the lack of justice for grave crimes during Sudan’s long civil war appears to have contributed to South Sudan’s current crisis. 

Timely investigation and public reporting on abuses committed could increase the prospect of preventing further abuses.

According to available information, the AU commission of inquiry on South Sudan has yet to become fully operational. With little more than a month before the reporting period ends and the ongoing risk of evidence being destroyed unless it is properly collected, immediate action is needed. Below we highlight several issues we believe should be taken into consideration as the commission moves forward to ensure it is able to operate effectively.

·         First, the commission’s ability to produce credible results will depend on its perceived and actual independence and impartiality, and steps should be taken to insulate the commission from any interference by other parts of the AU and governments. The commission’s findings should also be made public, while the confidentiality of victims and their families should be assured. 

This will further bolster perceptions of the commission’s independence and impartiality.

·         Second, inquiries into serious crimes involve knowledge of specialized areas of law and fact-finding, and should be supported with relevant expertise. Adequate staffing by experts in international human rights and humanitarian law, sexual and other gender-based violence, forensic investigations, ballistics, reconciliation and healing, and other relevant fields is needed.

·         Third, the United Nations has accumulated extensive experience in operating these types of commissions over many years and best practice for commissions of inquiry has been developed. Such experience should be drawn on throughout the commission’s work. This includes with regard to working methods and strategies, and identifying relevant experts. 

·         Fourth, immediate action should be taken—in cooperation with the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and other relevant agencies—to ensure the security of witnesses, victims and intermediaries, and the integrity of evidence which may be of use to the commission of inquiry. 

·         Finally, the commission should be supported by sufficient financial and human resources.

The stakes for a successful commission are high. Much of the progress made in peacetime South Sudan stands to be lost. The major towns of Bentiu in Unity State, Malakal in Upper Nile State and Bor in Jonglei State all have suffered severe damage, including massive looting and burning of civilian property, at the hands of forces fighting for and against the government. Rural areas in all these states have also been devastated in the fighting.

In areas most heavily impacted by the fighting, including in the capital Juba, civilians have been targeted and killed including purely because of their ethnicity by members of South Sudan’s security forces and fighters from the opposition forces.

We strongly encourage the South Sudanese government to investigate abuses and to hold those responsible for the crimes to account credibly in accordance with international fair trial standards. Opposition forces should also end abuses by their forces and discipline those who are abusive in accordance with international fair trial standards.

However, the complex nature of this conflict highlights the importance of an impartial, independent inquiry to fully shed light on the nature of violations and to ensure accountability and healing for the crimes.

Finally, we would like to encourage the commission of inquiry to consult with affected communities and civil society to ensure that the desire by South Sudanese for accountability is fully reflected in the commission’s report.

We look forward to hearing from you on the progress of the commission of inquiry and next steps in the process and stand ready to provide further information and analysis that may be helpful to this effort.



Alliance for South Sudanese in Diaspora

Assistance Mission for Africa (AMA)

Citizens for Peace and Justice (CPJ)

City FM

Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO)

End Impunity Organization

Equatoria South Sudanese Community Association USA (ESSCA-USA)

Equatoria Rehabilitation and Development Association (ERADA)

Generations for Peace

Global Partnership for Peace in South Sudan

Greater Upper Nile, Bahr el Ghazal and Equatoria Youth Association (GUBEYA)

Gurtong Trust - Peace and Media Project

Jonglei Peace Initiative, North America (JPINA)

Juba Engagement Civic Center

Kush Center for African Studies

Lost Boys Center for Leadership Development (LBCLD)

My Sister’s Keeper

Nile Hope

Nuer Peace Council

The Rally for a Peace and Democracy (RPD)

South Sudan Action Network on Small Arms (SSANSA)

South Sudan Friends International

South Sudanese Professionals in Diaspora

South Sudan Healthcare Organization (SSHCO)

South Sudan Institute

South Sudan Law Society (SSLS)

South Sudan Women Empowerment Network (SSWEN)

South Sudan Women Lawyers Association (SSWLA)

Sudan Sunrise

Sudan Unlimited

The ROOTS Project

Refuge Point

Universal Intervention and Development Organization (UNIDO)

 Voices for Sudan


With support from:

Africa Center for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS)

Amnesty International

Blue Nile Center for Human Rights and Peace (BNCHRP)

Darfur Bar Association (DBA)

The Enough Project

Human Rights Watch

Humanity International

International Federation for Human Rights-FIDH

The International Crime in Africa Programme of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS)

Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA)

Zarga Organization for Rural Development





Skye Wheeler

Researcher, Sudan and South Sudan

Africa Division, Human Rights Watch

KENYA: +254 705557017

SOUTH SUDAN: +211 927091286 and +211 954855450

US + 1 646 203 2539

Skype: skye.wheeler


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