January 28, 2014 (SSNA) — We, the undersigned African civil society organizations, welcome the decision of the African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) to establish a commission of inquiry to investigate human rights violations and other abuses committed by all sides during the armed conflict in South Sudan. According to the AUPSC communiqué of 30 December 2013, the commission of inquiry will make recommendations on the best ways to ensure accountability, reconciliation and healing among South Sudanese communities.
This commission of inquiry is an important first step towards understanding the nature of the atrocities committed during the conflict and can help set the stage for future efforts to secure justice and accountability through national, regional or international mechanisms.
We therefore urge the AUPSC to take into account the following recommendations with respect to the formation of the commission of inquiry, the development of its terms of reference, and the implementation of its mandate:
1. Move quickly to develop the terms of reference for the commission of inquiry, appoint its members and ensure that it commences work immediately. The AUPSC should proceed with the creation of the commission of inquiry irrespective of the status of the ceasefire agreement signed on 23 January 2014 and of any future negotiations between the parties.
2. Mandate the commission of inquiry to investigate violations of international human rights and humanitarian law; seek to identify those responsible for crimes with a view to ensuring they are held accountable; document events; and provide recommendations for holding perpetrators accountable and for providing justice and truth to victims. These are all essential elements for fostering national reconciliation.
3. Consult civil society on the establishment of the commission of inquiry, including its terms of reference and membership. The commission of inquiry should be required to consult regularly with civil society and other stakeholders on the implementation of its mandate.
4. Seek technical assistance and cooperation from the United Nations (UN) Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in drafting the terms of reference; in identifying and recruiting experienced staff; and in developing modalities for information sharing on human rights violations, including information held by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
5. Ensure that the membership of the commission of inquiry is composed of persons of known independence, impartiality, integrity and competence for the task, and that it is adequately supported by country experts and experts in international human rights and humanitarian law, sexual and other gender-based violence, forensic investigations, ballistics, reconciliation and healing, and other relevant fields.
6. Require all parties to the conflict to publicly endorse and fully cooperate with the commission of inquiry.
7. Provide the commission of inquiry with sufficient time to carry out its mandate, given the complexity of context in South Sudan, the scale of the violence and logistical challenges associated with operations in rural parts of the country.
8. Ensure that the commission of inquiry enjoys full independence and can work without interference from the authorities or other bodies under investigation; and that it is provided with sufficient security to carry out its task, but not so as to restrict its freedom of movement and inquiry.
9. Ensure that the commission of inquiry acts in accordance with best practices for investigations into serious crimes under international law; that it has powers to compel attendance and cooperation of witnesses; and that its reports are promptly made public.
10. Ensure that the commission of inquiry is supported by sufficient financial and human resources to fully carry out its mandate.
11. Immediately undertake actions, in cooperation with UNMISS, OHCHR and other relevant agencies, to ensure the security of witnesses, victims and intermediaries, as well as the integrity of evidence which may be of use to the commission of inquiry.
We hope that the AUPSC will consider these recommendations in its deliberations regarding the commission of inquiry. We look forward to supporting the work of the commission of inquiry once it is established.