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African Union Finally Releases Report on South Sudan Atrocities


Bodies of civilians who were killed in a surge in Unity state last year, lie at the side of the road in the state capital Bentiu.

The African Union on Friday released a long-awaited report into alleged atrocities committed during South Sudan's 19-month-long conflict, but only gave the report to representatives of President Salva Kiir's government.

That drew the ire of rebels loyal to Riek Machar, who insisted that they and the government are equal parties in the South Sudan peace process, and should both be included in any discussions about the conflict or peace.

If they can discuss things in our absence, who's going to speak on our behalf?
James Gatdet Dak, spokesman for SPLM-in-Opposition

South Sudan Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin, who was in Addis Ababa where the report was released, said it did not mention "crimes of genocide," either when fighting erupted in Juba in mid-December 2013, or after violence spread around the country.

"It says there was intensive fighting but it did not amount to genocide, which is what the government has been saying all along," Marial said.

Machar's side has accused government forces of slaughtering members of the Nuer ethnic group in the days immediately following the outbreak of fighting in the capital. Reports by human rights groups that have been released during the conflict also say there have been targeted ethnic killings, and accuse both sides of committing the atrocities.

Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, who led the team that compiled the report, told the United Nations' Human Rights Council in September last year that, while the violence may have been triggered by a rift between President Kiir and Machar, it "quickly degenerated into an ethnic conflict... and it has led, particularly among two major ethnic groups, the Dinka and the Nuer, to a very, very bad situation."

The government, however, continues to insist that the violence, which is still ongoing in parts of the country, is political.

They say you can’t put the cart before the horse. You should have peace first, and accountability will follow.
South Sudan Foreign Minister Barnaba Benjamin Marial​

Dishonest and opaque

Machar's side reacted angrily to being excluded from the meeting in Addis Ababa at which the report was presented to the government.

"This is a serious act of dishonesty and lack of transparency" on the part of the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC), the rebels said in a statement.

"We have asked the PSC to serve us with a copy of the report and asked that we are part of any other discussions on this matter," rebel spokesman Gatdet told South Sudan in Focus.

"If they can discuss things in our absence, who's going to speak on our behalf? Or are they just going to condemn us using whatever the government says?" he said.

Hours after the report was released, Gatdet said the rebels had still not seen a copy of it.

Six-month delay

The report has been ready since late last year and was supposed to be made public in January at an AU summit.

But African leaders decided then to defer discussion of the report, fearing it might upset peace negotiations.

After the peace talks broke down in early March, an alleged leaked version of the report called, among other things, for President Kiir and Machar to be excluded from a transitional government, which was supposed to be up and running by July 9 this year. The AU quickly distanced itself from the leaked version of report, and South Sudanese analysts from both sides in the conflict questioned its authenticity.

Marial said the report released Friday by the AU cites "no individuals or names."

He said, "The intention of this report is to identify what were the reasons of, the genesis of the crisis."

Marial said the report makes "a lot of recommendations" including that institutions in South Sudan need to be strengthened and that peace should be restored before people can be held accountable for alleged atrocities committed during the conflict.

"They say you can’t put the cart before the horse. You should have peace first, and accountability will follow," he said.

The report was released on the same day as negotiators for the South Sudan government, Machar's rebels and former political detainees were handed copies of a compromise peace deal for South Sudan that was hashed out by an international mediation team, known as IGAD-Plus.

The mediators have set August 17 as the deadline for the compromise peace deal to be signed.

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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.