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South Sudan: Pope Francis Should Call on Leaders to Address Impunity

Pope Francis holds his pastoral staff as he celebrates Mass marking Sunday of the Word of God in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Jan. 22, 2023. The pope at the Mass formally installed lectors and catechists. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Responding to the news that Pope Francis will begin a 6-day visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan, Tigere Chagutah, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa has called on the leader of the catholic faith to challenge leaders to end impunity.

“During his trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, Pope Francis should publicly call on the countries’ leaders to take concrete steps to end impunity for crimes under international law. Improving the human rights situation in each country will not be possible without criminal accountability for atrocities committed amid the armed conflicts,” said Tigere.

“While the DRC authorities initiated a “transitional justice” process, their efforts to actually achieve accountability and justice have proved half-hearted and hesitant. Meanwhile, South Sudanese authorities have failed to prosecute perpetrators of crimes under international law, or to establish the AU-backed Hybrid Court for South Sudan, despite provisions in two peace deals. Instead, they appear to prioritize truth over trials,

“It is essential that the authorities in each country take urgent steps to address rampant impunity for the atrocities committed during armed conflicts, which have ravaged the countries in recent decades,” he added.

Pope Francis will visit the DRC from 31 January to 3 February and South Sudan from 3 to 5 February. The last visit by a pope to the DRC — Africa’s largest Catholic nation — was 38 years ago. Pope Francis will be the first pope to visit South Sudan.

For over 25 years now, armed conflicts in the DRC have claimed millions of lives, yet both Congolese and foreign perpetrators of these crimes have largely remained unpunished. Earlier this year, a government-appointed committee submitted the first version of a “national transitional justice strategy”, which could take years to finalize and translate into action.

In 2015 and 2018, parties to South Sudan’s latest conflict committed to setting up an African Union-backed Hybrid Court for South Sudan (HCSS) to investigate and prosecute war crimes and other human rights violations committed in the conflict since December 2013. But the creation of the HCSS has been delayed, leaving little to no prospects for accountability for crimes under international law for millions of survivors and victims.

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