Survey reveals South Sudanese views on truth, justice and healing

Jan 28, 2016

A groundbreaking survey in South Sudan seeking views on how to deal with the country’s violent past has found significant support for perpetrators of violence to face trial, and for those missing or killed to be honoured publicly.

The survey, Search for a New Beginning: Perceptions of Truth, Justice, Reconciliation and Healing in South Sudan, was carried out by the South Sudan Law Society and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), with support from the Netherlands.

1,525 people, half of whom were female, were interviewed across six of the country’s ten states and Abyei region, over a six month period from October 2014 to April 2015.

The survey finds that two thirds of those interviewed supported the trial of perpetrators while the granting of amnesties was met with overt opposition. An overwhelming 90 percent of respondents endorsed measures to honour those missing or killed due to conflict, while 81 percent support reparations for survivors by the state.

Truth-seeking efforts enjoyed wide support, with nearly three-quarters of those interviewed saying that if provided the opportunity they would be interested in speaking publicly about their traumatic experiences. However, more men (80 percent) were willing to do so than women (66 percent). High rates of exposure to sexual violence are noted in several of the survey locations, and it is possible that stigma could be a deterrent to speaking out.

“In view of the widespread demand for truth and justice, a justice and reconciliation programme should aim to document violations, pursue criminal prosecutions, facilitate reparations to survivors and honour the dead,” says UNDP South Sudan Country Director Balazs Horvath of the survey’s recommendations. “It is important to note that this process should be centered on local ownership, and be led by the people of South Sudan.”

In addition to gauging people’s views on transitional justice, the survey further exposed the human toll of years of violence and conflict.

41 percent of respondents presented symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder, a rate comparable to that of post-genocide Rwanda. 63 percent of respondents said that a close family member was killed at some point in their lives, while 41 percent said they have witnessed a friend or family member being killed.

Establishing a national day of remembrance, the creation of memorials and the development of teaching materials for schools were indicated as ways for the victims of violence to be honoured.

Violent conflict erupted in South Sudan in December 2013 and a peace agreement was signed in August 2015. Conducting the survey as the crisis unfolded aimed to secure information capable of shaping forward-looking and victim-centered responses once peace was restored.  

The findings were released in October 2015, following the signing of the Addis Ababa peace agreement, to stimulate national debate on the transitional justice processes envisaged by the agreement.


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