Truth and Reconciliation the Way to Chart South Sudan’s Path Forward

A jubilant crowd at the referendum results announcement event in Juba in 2011. Photo: Marcin Suder/UNDP

On July 9, 2021, South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, celebrates its 10th anniversary of independence.

An occasion of immense pride to South Sudanese, then-UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon captured the spirit of solidarity from the international community at the time, saying: “We will work with you to realize all the hopes and dreams [the South Sudanese flag] represents. We wish you justice, peace, and prosperity. We will stay with you on the long road ahead.”

A woman casts her vote in the referendum for South Sudanese independence in Juba in 2011. Photo: Marcin Suder/UNDP

We find ourselves ten years down this road, reflecting on those hopes and dreams – largely deferred. Bringing us to this important milestone, 2020 was especially hard. Last year brought forth historic flooding, persistent localized conflicts, and the onset of a global pandemic with devastating impact on South Sudan’s fragile economy. These challenges came on the heels of relative political stability – the formation of the Reconstituted Transitional Government of National Unity (R-TGONU) took place in February 2021 and implementation of the Revitalized Agreement on the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS), however slow, has continued.

While the country garners less global fanfare than it did a decade ago, we are at a critical juncture. As the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, increasingly extreme climate change, and newer or more novel conflicts, what lies on the road ahead in South Sudan?

Over the years, we have learned how crucial it is for truth, reconciliation, and healing to take place if a country is to recover and re-emerge on the path to unity and sustainable peace. The R-TGONU has indicated its commitment to re-constituting the national Commission on Truth, Reconciliation, and Healing (CTRH). The process will start with a consultative phase in which South Sudanese, regardless of their gender, age, education as well as political, religious, and ethnic affiliation can provide their views on the formation of an institution that should be representative and can enable everyone to participate.

The author, UNDP South Sudan Resident Representative Samuel G. Doe, delivers remarks at the launch of the consultative process for the formation of South Sudan's national Commission on Truth, Reconciliation, and Healing (CTRH) in Juba on 30 June 2021. Under the leadership of the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, with support of UNDP and funding from the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the process has resumed and will seek to develop a law on the Commission using a participatory and consultative approach. Photo: UNDP

By its very nature, the CTRH will enable the country to acknowledge its past violence; help the truth to be known publicly; enable justice to be done; and support victims and the society to move beyond the painful past into a united and peaceful future. In turn, it will signal the way forward to ensure grave violations of human rights never happen again.

As part of our broader support to transitional justice processes, UNDP helps countries to address such issues, ensuring reconciliation is driven and owned by the people; that it is victim-centered and that it has the courage and capacity to address all grievances to pave the way for a reconciled and healed society—one that is resilient to future stresses.  

For UNDP, we envision the CTRH as a path to societal transformation, one that will lend itself to a vision of a post-conflict society—how society should be structured and how it should address and memorialize its past. With the generous support of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and working in collaboration with the rest of the UN system, we remain firmly committed to assisting the R-TGONU in establishing the CTRH through a process that is legitimate in the eyes of the South Sudanese people.

For the people of South Sudan, reconciliation can be restorative and empowering; it brings out the best in people, communities, and societies. From a place of truth, rifts can begin to heal, and we can look towards the South Sudan we want to build together in the years to come.

A Gogrial dancer holds up the South Sudan flag at the referendum results announcement event in Juba in 2011. Photo: Marcin Suder/UNDP