The Main Findings: The African Union Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan

4 November 2015

On Wednesday 28th the long-awaited report from the African Union (AU) on South Sudan was publicly released. The Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan (AUCISS) was established in December 2013 to “investigate human rights violations and other abuses” in light of the South Sudanese crisis. The final report of the commission has been delayed numerous times. Some have suggested that the release was held back so it did not interfere and create controversy with the precarious peace agreement that was eventually signed at the end of August.

The report has found evidence of widespread human rights violations, committed by both the government and rebels. Crucially , the report also determined that the “manifestation of the conflict” would not have succeeded “without concerted efforts from various actors in the military and government”. Therefore, some of the violence is result of systematic “state policy”.

The report also investigated the events surrounding the start of the conflict in December 2013. The AUCISS concluded that there had not been an attempted coup lead by Machar (a claim made by Kiir and the government) but the “initial fighting” had been a result of disagreement within the Presidential Guard over “the alleged order to disarm Nuer members” (this section has not been included in the summary below, but can be found in the download of the full report at the bottom of the page).

In terms of South Sudan’s institutions, the President has been found to exercise an extreme amount of power, with little to no accountability. This is emphasised by a lack of a multi-party democracy, with the SPLM dominating and no room allowed for alternative views. The lack of checks and balances is also prevalent in the Judiciary, with the vast majority of the population evading any influence of the law. Significantly, the AUCISS also stated that the military has “pervaded nearly all spheres of life in South Sudan”. This includes politics, the police, governance and the public.

Despite these damaging findings, the release of the report has brought hope to improve the situation and set South Sudan on a more determined path to peace and stability. The AUCISS has given a number of recommendations to begin this process and to bring those who have committed the crimes to account. They have suggested the implementation of an African ad-hoc legal mechanism to deal with the accusations. It has also raised the importance of civil society in improving accountability and cultivating an interest amongst citizens in helping build the South Sudan they want to see.

The reaction of the South Sudanese government has been mixed. A spokesperson said those who had committed the crimes should be brought to justice, but then said the evidence of the government’s involvement in these atrocities was “inconclusive” and denied the allegations. The SPLM-IO, led by Machar, has welcomed the report, especially the conclusion that there was no attempted coup and the massacre of Nuer ethnic group was ‘state policy’.

The South Sudan Human Rights Body for Advocacy (SSHRBA) said that the report’s release is “momentous” for the implementation of the peace agreement. The report could have a significant impact on the South Sudan crisis. If the recommendations are carried out those who have violated human rights will be made accountable to their crimes and the process of reconciliation can begin.

Below is a summary of the 300 page report. It includes findings and recommendations on institutions within South Sudan, human rights violations and the process of healing and reconciliation:


  1. Institutions in South Sudan

Context of reforms

Recent attempts at state and capacity building have failed due to low levels of literacy, skilled cadre, economic development as well as ‘taking on too much at once’.

Recommendations: Government and other actors should invest in education, develop the agricultural sector and humanitarian and development donors should better coordinate their activities.


System of government

The national government has unconstitutionally intervened in the functioning of state and local governments. Thus local governments have lacked the capacity to deliver services due to financial, human and physical resource constraints.

Recommendations: Political actors should commit to the constitution. Provisions that have given the President strong powers over legislatures should be repealed.


National and State Executive

The executive is overly powerful. This includes the power to remove state officials without proper accountability.

Recommendations: A separation of powers with a system of checks and balances should be established within the future Constitution. This can be achieved by empowering the capacity of legislatures.


Army (SPLA)

“The influence of the military appears to pervade nearly all spheres of life in South Sudan, including politics, governance and public life”. Furthermore the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programme has inadequate funding and lack of political support.

Recommendations: Separate the army from the SPLM, reduce numbers, develop a more professional armed force and prioritise the DDR. Actors and institutions should cultivate political will to transform and implement programmes that will offer alternatives to conflict for young people.


National Police Service (SSNPS)

The SSNPS has a history of violation of human rights, and is directly influenced by the military. Women in the service make up only 25% and are often demoted to lower admin roles. 80% of the SSNPS budget goes to salaries and conditions of service.

Recommendations: The current SSNPS reform program should be supported and the services’ legal framework reviewed. Foundational training on human rights should be provided for police along with a vetting program for compliance.


Financial Management and Strategic Resources

“Struggle for political power and control of natural resources revenue, corruption and nepotism” are key factors leading to the crisis in 2013. There is concern over corruption, inequitable resource distribution and lack of accountability.

Recommendations: Renew commitment to the Petroleum Revenue Management Act and create a national strategy with input from ministries, affected communities and civil society. A portion of revenues should be set aside for education and empowerment of women.


National and State Legislatures

The separation of powers is significantly weak, resulting in more Presidential power and a weaker legislature. The ruling party has “near total control of the legislature”.

Recommendations: The future Constitution must provide for a separation of powers, with increased independence of the legislature and the strengthening of oversight mechanisms.


Judiciary and Justice Delivery System

The independence of the judiciary is severely undermined, with the militarisation of public life a serious constraint. There is legal pluralism between the formal and customary courts in South Sudan. The justice system’s limited capacity means that many live “beyond the reach and protection of the law”.

Recommendations: Respect for the judiciary must be cultivated, formal and customary courts should be unified, and chiefs and adjudicators in customary courts should be trained.


Political Parties

Opposition political parties are weak and lack a national presence due to lack of resources. There is a significant degree of militarisation within South Sudan’s “shallow political culture”.

Recommendations: Alternative views should be accommodated, multiparty democracy strengthened, and the leadership should commit to principles of accountability and transparency.


Civil Society and the Media

The role of civil society in South Sudan’s future is key as it occupies the space between the state and the individual and can galvanise citizen participation. The media also plays a crucial role but operates in an “environment where debate has been stifled”.

Recommendations: Practices that impede free operations of civil society organisations should be removed and donors should consider supporting initiatives aimed at increasing their capacity.


  1. Examination of Human Rights Violations and Other Abuses During the Conflict

“There are reasonable grounds to believe serious violations of human rights occurred and that serious violence of other abuses have also occurred, which, given the context in which they have occurred, may amount to violations of international humanitarian law.”

  • The crimes involved governmental (and allied forces) and SPLM-IO forces.
  • There is evidence that some of the violence carried out was a result of state policy.
  • There are no reasonable grounds to believe that the crime of genocide has occurred.
  • Atrocities were carried out against civilian populations, with reported killings, abductions, disappearances, rapes, beatings, and people being forced to eat dead human flesh.
  • Found cases of sexual and gender based violence and extreme cruelty exercised through mutilation of bodies, burning of bodies, and draining of human blood from people who had just been killed.
  • Indications of possible conscription of children under 15 years old.

Recommendations Relating to violations of Human Rights and Other Abuses

  • There should be an establishment of an ad hoc African legal mechanism under the AU which is Africa led, Africa owned, Africa resourced with the support of the international community.
  • Long-term judicial reform is also necessary.
  • The creation of a national reparations fund and programme to benefit the victims of human rights violations.


  1. Healing and Reconciliation

Due to damage to communities and massive displacement of people, a structured process, which is gender-sensitive and includes women as key-stakeholders, should be established to engage with South Sudan’s history, to discover the truth about the conflicts and construct a common narrative with which a new South Sudan can base its future.


Full report:

Executive Summary:

Disclaimer: This blog is a space for discussion and personal reflection. Any opinions expressed within the blog are those of the author and are not necessarily held by HART. Individual authors are responsible for the accuracy of statements made within the blog.

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