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African Union Welcomes South Sudan's Move to Create Hybrid Court

FILE - Judges sit in the courtroom during a trial at a court in the capital Juba, South Sudan, May 30, 2017. The country has announced plans to create a hybrid court to deal with atrocities commited during its years of conflict.

African Union Commission chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat says he welcomes a decision by South Sudan’s Transitional Government of National Unity to establish an AU Hybrid Court for the country as required by a peace agreement signed in 2018.

Amid reports of widespread human rights violations after conflict broke out in 2013 in South Sudan, the African Union mandated the creation of a Commission of Inquiry headed by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo. The final report of the commission was submitted in October 2015.

In statement released Sunday, Mahamat said the decision “puts an end to the delays in establishing the court, transitional justice, accountability, reconciliation and healing institutions in order to bring justice and healing to all South Sudanese.”

The transitional government in Juba included the findings of the Obasanjo commission’s report in the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan. But it was slow to form the hybrid court on bringing to justice individuals or groups who committed crimes during the country’s conflict.

Nyagoah Tut Put, a Human Rights Watch researcher for South Sudan, says the move by the South Sudanese government should be watched with caution.

“With victims in South Sudan having suffered brutal crimes with impunity for far too long, the announcement of the government's approval for the hybrid court to be established could be quite significant,” she said. “Yet the key will be whether concrete steps to operationalize the court are finally unblocked. In particular, a draft memorandum of understanding with the AU on the court has been pending for four years and should be concluded immediately.”

Michael Makuei Lueth, the information minister and a government spokesperson, told reporters after a weekly Cabinet meeting Friday that the Council of Ministers has authorized the justice minister to start the process of establishing all these institutions in accordance with the 2018 agreement.

The peace deal, signed by South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and First Vice President Riek Machar, calls for establishing a hybrid court, transitional justice, accountability, reconciliation and healing institutions.

Mahamat says he looks forward to working with the government of South Sudan to ensure that a memorandum of understanding on the court’s establishment is signed at the earliest opportunity.

The AU chairperson says his office stands ready to continue supporting the government and people of South Sudan in their search for lasting peace and security. The 5½-year conflict in the world’s youngest country was sparked by a power struggle between Kiir and Machar. According to the United Nations, the conflict killed hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese and forced millions to flee their homes.

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    John Tanza

    John Tanza works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters and is the managing editor and host of the South Sudan In Focus radio program.