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NY Times Op-ed on South Sudan Bylined by Kiir, Machar Skirts Accountability for Atrocities

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NY Times Op-ed on South Sudan Bylined by Kiir, Machar Skirts Accountability for Atrocities

Posted by Enough Team on June 10, 2016
In a recent op-ed, “South Sudan Needs Truth, Not Trials,” South Sudan President Salva Kiir and First Vice President Riek Machar argue that the only way to bring South Sudan together is through “an organized peace and reconciliation commission with international backing.” In this process, they argue that anyone who tells the truth concerning what they saw or did would receive amnesty from prosecution, even if he or she did not express remorse.
Such an outrageous proposal is an attempt to skirt accountability for atrocity crimes committed during the conflict. Most importantly, it does not reflect the will of the South Sudanese people. A recent survey completed by the South Sudan Law Society (SSLS) demonstrates overwhelming support for accountability and opposition to amnesty.  About 93% of respondents to the SSLS survey across the country said culpable individuals on both sides of the conflict should be “prosecuted in courts of law.” Eighty-three percent favor the “involvement of international justice mechanisms.” The Community Empowerment for Progress Organization, a civic non-profit in South Sudan said while peace, reconciliation, and healing are important, they should not be advanced at the expense of justice and accountability. Voice for Change, another civic organization in South Sudan, termed the op-ed “painful,” adding that the failure to hold politicians accountable for their actions is precisely the reason why conflict keeps recurring in South Sudan. Human Rights Watch also criticized the op-ed for propagating the notion of not holding culpable individuals accountable.

As local and international criticism mounted, the question of who authorized the op-ed came to the fore. Through a spokesman, Machar denied writing the piece. But an official at the South Sudan embassy in Washington, D.C said both leaders consented to writing the op-ed, although BBC Africa correspondent Emmanuel Igunza tweeted that he fielded calls from Kiir and Machar’s people “disowning” the op-ed.

The controversy over the authorship of the op-ed highlights the unpopularity of the concept of skirting justice for mass atrocities in South Sudan. However, it offers an opportunity for both Kiir and Machar to disavow the op-ed in the strongest terms possible and reaffirm their commitment to the peace agreement they signed in August 2015.