South Sudan: Policy Brief: Transitional Justice for Stabilizing South Sudan: Lessons from Global and Local Contexts

Publication Summary

The Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCISS) contains important provisions on transitional justice, including a mandate to put on trials those responsible for masterminding atrocities during the 2013-2015 war. The move has been welcomed by human rights and justice advocates as a victory for the victims, and a strong statement towards ending impunity in South Sudan. Using literature on global application of transitional justice and key informant interviews with local traditional justice experts, this paper explores relevant local and global transitional justice practices and lessons to effectively inform the implementation of the transitional justice in South Sudan.

We draw from a number of experiences. First, countries in transition from civil war to peace rarely put on trials suspects in government and in armed rebellions (Reiter et al., 2013, Olsen et al., 2010, Sooka, 2006). Instead, they mostly prosecute defeated rebels or officials of former regimes. Because of potential for such attempts to meet resistance that are likely to jeopardize transition to stability, countries in transition prioritize peace and stability over punitive justice (Fletcher et al., 2009, Leebaw, 2008). Second, authorities apply an appropriate mix of transitional justice mechanisms. For example, a combination of trials and amnesty or trials, amnesty and truth commissions has proved effective in several contexts. Third, the single most important lesson from local justice practices is looking at justice as a compensation for lost life and property, injury, and abuse (Personal Communication, November 2015, Jok et al, 2004). Revenge is an act of desperation, a last resort when the delivery of justice is inadequate. From a traditional justice standpoint, death or life sentence offers little justice, as it does not necessarily reimburse the aggrieved party.If there is no material reimbursement for the loss, victims can still feel the need for justice, consequently continuing to generate a feeling of vengeance.

Thus, South Sudan should sequence the transitional justice delivery by prioritizing stability, TRHC to provide truth and reconciliation, CRA to provide compensations, inclusive constitutional making process to produce a good constitution and build strong, transparent, accountable, and democratic institutions before the next elections.The TGONU should appropriately design and use reparations to address the country’s unique context of traditional justice, which on its own can meet most of the justice needs for atrocities committed during the conflicts. The TGONU should as well put a high premium on community-to-community dialogue & reconciliation, and a political dialogue & reconciliation.

Nhial Tiitmamer's Biography

Nhial Tiitmamer is Programme Manager for environmental, energy and natural resources research and as well the Institute’s Focal Point on Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED), a climate change resilience programme being implemented in South Sudan by a consortium composed of The Sudd Institute and five international organizations. Nhial holds a Bachelor’s Degree and a Master of Science in Environmental Studies and Sustainable Energy from the Universities of Alberta and Calgary in Canada where he spent stints as an environmental consultant and research associate in environmental studies. Nhial is the co-founder of the and has extensively commented and written on issues about South Sudan.

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