Three day conference on truth, justice, reconciliation and healing in South Sudan

Nov 12, 2015

"The conference drew upon the expertise of South Sudanese, regional and international experts and stakeholders to generate consensus on the mechanisms of transitional justice and national reconciliation."

The South Sudan Law Society, supported by UNDP, held a three-day international conference entitled “New Beginnings: The role of truth, justice, reconciliation and healing in promoting sustainable peace in South Sudan.” The conference drew upon the expertise of South Sudanese, regional and international experts and stakeholders to generate consensus on the mechanisms of transitional justice and national reconciliation. This is in light of the Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan and build on the findings of the recently completed perception survey on truth, justice, reconciliation and healing.

Opening the conference, South Sudan Law Society Secretary General Issa Muzamil noted that “we keep throwing the ball to others, but the agreement belongs to South Sudanese and we have to work on it.”

Moderator Priscilla Hayner, author of a book, “Unspeakable Truths” and advisor on transitional justice, referred to the conference as an “opportunity to contribute and exchange. It is not possible for the agreement to capture all details and the text of Chapter Five has many questions left open. The answering of these questions, such as what the relationship between the three mechanisms is, still requires input and has to be based on the realities and opportunities for South Sudan.”

UNDP, Chief Technical Advisor to the Ministry of Justice and the Judiciary of South Sudan Rowland Cole said “designing a roadmap regarding the implementation of the peace process requires careful consideration, full involvement and ownership of South Sudanese stakeholders and coordinated support from the international community. It has always been our conviction that this process should be nationally-led and tailor-made to the South Sudanese context.”

Reminding the participants of the South Sudanese context, University of Juba Deputy Vice Chancellor Alfred Lokuji explained that in South Sudan “you cannot be forced to be a witness against one of your own. That context is very vibrant in the South Sudanese society. It is inconceivable that my clansmen and fellow tribesmen will bear witness against each other. In your discussions, remember that we are not doing an academic exercise, but we are making a recipe that has to be carried out.”

Embassy of the Netherlands First Secretary for Political Affairs, Security and Rule of Law, Martijn Beerthuizen referred to South Sudan as “a patchwork nation, made up of many different peoples, with many different views and many different stories.” Addressing the participants, UNDP Country Director Balázs Horváth noted; “in an area characterized by such great ethnic and cultural diversity, listening becomes a valuable skill.” He continued by expressing his “respect and admiration for those who dedicate their precious time and energy to advance these issues in the interest of sustainable peace in South Sudan.”

Ministry of Justice Undersecretary Hon. Jeremiah Swaka Moses Wani explained that the Ministry of Justice has “held workshops on transitional justice in collaboration with UNDP in the past, with the idea to sensitize ourselves and the South Sudanese people on the importance of transitional justice and issues of healing and reconciliation.” Addressing the audience, he said; “I know that many of you know what transitional justice is, but we have not experienced it as South Sudanese. Overall, we believe that the institutions in Chapter Five are going to be made. Unfortunately, we are behind time on the implementation of the agreement.” He urged the participants of the conference to “please take the context of South Sudan seriously. Although the experiences of Rwanda, South Africa, Kenya, South America are informative, we have our own peculiarities and cultures. Without transitional justice, people will remain with wounds and we will not achieve peace.”

Over the course of three days, the participants discussed questions related to the sequencing of transitional justice interventions, the legitimacy of the process, the legacy of the transitional justice mechanisms foreseen in Chapter Five of the peace agreement, and the importance of community-level consultations and memorialization initiatives. The conference generated a series of key issues that need to be taken into consideration in the design of the institutions, such as appointment procedures, incentives for truth-telling, methods of documenting stories, and the role of customary mechanisms in advancing accountability and reconciliation. The conference mapped out a way forward that consists of both short- and long-term actions. It was resolved that the transitional justice working group – a coalition of civil society organisations working on transitional justice initiatives – will develop a strategy for coordinating and advancing transitional justice in South Sudan. Efforts will also be geared towards influencing and supporting the drafting of relevant legislation; advocating for national consultations regarding the design of the institutions; documentation of violations; as well as further research and much needed community-level consultations.  

The conference was funded by the Government of the Netherlands and UNDP’s Bureau for Policy and Programme Support.

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