WASHINGTON, MARCH 19 2023 (VOA) — A human rights watchdog has filed a case with the prosecution’s office of the International Criminal Court (ICC) against seven current and former high-level South Sudanese officials for allegedly committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The case brought by the Global Rights Compliance (GRC), currently under review at the international court, alleges the seven current and former officials committed widespread and systematic violations of international law, including violence against civilians, the deliberate use of starvation, sexual, gender-based violence and mass forcible displacement in South Sudan.
Kenneth Scott, international human rights lawyer and former war crimes prosecutor in The Hague, said serious crimes were committed during the country’s five year conflict.
“After yearlong investigations, were able to conclude that there is ample evidence, more than ample of extensive crimes against humanity and war crimes in South Sudan,” Scott said.
Scott said the GRC is urging the ICC to open a criminal investigation on the named officials.
He said a detailed 156-page document titled “No Choice but to Flee,” has evidence from highly placed South Sudan government insiders who identified the officials for their roles in the alleged crimes.
“We found a direct link between the mass use of starvation as a weapon against civilians and massive displacement of South Sudanese population. Since the conflict started in 2013, more than 1 million South Sudanese have been displaced from Central Equatoria State into Northern Uganda refugee camps,” he said.
The watchdog has declined to share the names of the accused current and former leaders, but told VOA some very senior military and political leaders are among the seven.
“Our filing with ICC is confidential which is the standard practice. We have shared certain information, limited amount of information publicly because we think it is important for the public to know and the people in South Sudan to know that this is going on,” Scott said.
The South Sudanese government is yet to comment on the submission by the GRC.
South Sudan’s conflict broke out less than three years after the country gained its independent from Sudan in 2011.
The United Nations estimates the violence claimed more than 400,000 lives between 2013 and 2018.
Jok Madut Jok, co-founder of the Juba-based Sudd Institute, said the move by the GRC could help the victims of South Sudan’s conflict get justice.
“Tabling a case against some [South Sudanese] individuals in the ICC is something that we all expected was bound to happen, and if it didn’t, it would have been somehow odd that such crimes take place and the international law is not looking at them,” Jok said.
Scott says as the ICC’s prosecutor reviews the GRC’s submission, it may take up to a year before the court could make a determination.
ROME STATUTE AND REVITALIZED PEACE DEAL
South Sudan is not a signatory to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, a treaty that permanently established the International Criminal Court in 1998 and was entered into force in 2002.
Scott said there are other mechanisms at play to hold perpetrators of violence accountable in South Sudan, citing the displacement of South Sudanese to Uganda, which is a signatory.
“We are saying that because Uganda is a member state, because of the nature of the crime and the mass displacement [of South Sudanese] into Uganda, the ICC does have jurisdictions,” Scott said.
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.
The 2018 revitalized peace deal, signed by rivals President Salva Kiir and First Vice President Riek Machar, calls for establishing a hybrid court and transitional justice, accountability, reconciliation and healing institutions in South Sudan.
Jok said the 2018 peace agreement offered an opportunity for South Sudanese leaders to hold offenders to account.
“The people [South Sudanese leaders] who are in charge of implementing the peace agreement which requires the establishment of a hybrid court are not keenly interested in actually having such a body because it will amount to the leaders themselves setting up a system that will come after them,” Jok said.
He said the signatories of the 2018 peace deal agreed to the proposal of forming a hybrid court to avoid a backlash from the international community, expressing doubt on their handling of issues of justice and accountability.
Jok added that the ICC is the best place to seek redress.
Scott said South Sudanese leaders and the African Union officials have done very little to establish the court.
“While I would like to see the hybrid court established, it doesn’t seem there is real indication that is going to happen anytime soon,” he said.
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