By Claire Tisserant, Law & Policy
April 12th, 2013—South Sudan is welcoming President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan to its territory for the first time since it became an independent state in July 2011. The two countries will discuss border security and resumed oil flow, which remain crucial issues to preventing further violence and war. Although these discussions may be a step forward on the road to peace for the two countries after 22 years of civil war (1993-2005), which killed roughly 2 million people, this visit raises many serious questions about South Sudan’s commitment to human rights and international justice.
South Sudan is not yet a party to the Rome Statute, but as a newly independent state, it should make accountability and justice a top priority. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued two arrest warrants for President Bashir (2009 and 2010) for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. By complying with the ICC and assisting in the execution of these arrest warrants, South Sudan had the chance to prove that its government is committed to human rights and international justice and will be a leader in Africa. By not doing so, South Sudan has disappointed many in the international community, especially its neighbors in Darfur, and created doubts about what kind of government it will establish.
South Sudan is today a member of the United Nations and has ratified to the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the additional protocols (a bill was passed by the National Legislative Assembly on July 16, 2012). By signing these Conventions, which establish standards of international humanitarian law, South Sudan seemed to reveal its aspirations for democracy and justice. But with the welcoming of Bashir without any mention of his accountability before the ICC, South Sudan has gravely weakened its pursuit of these aspirations.
For the most part, the visit by President Bashir to South Sudan has been considered by the press (e.g., BBC, Reuters and Aljazeera) as a step forward to more peaceful relations between the two states and to resolving the many outstanding conflicts. Given that Bashir does not have a good record of upholding and executing agreements that he signs, we have many doubts about whether the visit will result in any defined improvements between the countries. It certainly will not result in justice and accountability for the millions of victims.
We regret that South Sudan does not follow Malawi, Kenya, and Zambia, who have all stated that they would arrest Bashir if he were to travel to their countries. South Sudan is sending the wrong message to the victims of the violence of the Bashir Regime—both within its own country where many refugees have fled and in other regions, like Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile.
After 22 years of civil war, on January 9, 2005, in Nairobi, Kenya, a Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed between the South (rebel leaders) and North (government of Khartoum). A referendum was held between January 9 and 15, 2011 and led to the creation of the independent Republic of South Sudan on July 9, 2011 after 98.83% of the population voted for independence. However, despite the peace agreement and the creation of the new state, recognized by Sudan, certain disputes still remain between the two states, such as the sharing of the oil revenues (an estimated 80% of the oil is secured from South Sudan) and the status of disputed border regions, like the Abeyei province.