South Sudan Needs Foreign Courts to Bring Justice: HRW

International judges and lawyers should play a role in trials for crimes committed during 12 months of civil conflict in South Sudan, because the domestic legal system would be unable to deal with the cases, Human Rights Watch said.

A hybrid of international and domestic mechanisms or the International Criminal Court may be appropriate to ensure accountability for serious violations by government and rebel forces during 12 months of fighting, the New York-based group said in a report today.

“The unaddressed abuses and bloody cycle of ethnic revenge killings in the South Sudan conflict create an urgent need to hold those responsible for atrocities to account,” said Elise Keppler, associate international justice director at HRW. “But domestic will and capacity to prosecute the cases in South Sudan is not there.”

Conflict erupted in the oil-producing country when a power struggle within the ruling party turned violent. After President Salva Kiir arrested rivals for allegedly plotting a coup and ethnic Nuer accused soldiers loyal to the president of targeting them, commanders rebelled in three states. Riek Machar, Kiir’s former vice president and a Nuer, fled the capital, Juba, and became head of the insurgent forces.

Thousands of people have died and around 2 million have been driven from their homes, according to the United Nations. There’s evidence to suggest both sides have committed crimes against humanity, the UN mission in the country said in May.

‘Important Option’

A hybrid court would probably have to be stationed outside South Sudan and have a majority of international judges, HRW said. The ICC, which South Sudan is not party to, is an “important option” of last resort, it said. South Sudan’s legal system suffers from deficiencies including a climate of intimidation and insecurity for judges and lawyers, weak laws and insufficient witness protection and support, HRW said.

The group also said the African Union should publish a report it commissioned on rights abuses in South Sudan, and push for criminal investigations. The report may be presented to the AU’s security panel at a summit in January, Jacob Enoh Eben, a spokesman for the Union, said by phone today.

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