Transitional Justice in South Sudan: A Case for Sustainable Peace, Accountability, Reconciliation and Healing

The justice versus peace dichotomy or lack thereof has spawned both legal practice and international law literature for decades. As the debate pertains to the application of transitional justice specifically against the backdrop of mass political violence or civil wars, some jurists, legal practitioners and other scholars suggest that, on the one hand, justice and peace are mutually exclusive concepts. This implies that neither peace nor justice can be pursued without adversely impacting or displacing the other. Others, on the other hand, maintain that peace and justice are mutually reinforcing virtues, suggesting that the pursuit of one serves to augment the other. While the third school of thought acknowledges that both peace and justice are indispensable virtues for a dignified human life, it contends that an overreliance on the pursuit of justice at all costs is detrimental for sustainable peace. As well, it argues that justice should not be sacrificed on the altar of peace. In this regard, the third way proposes that the stringent standards of pursuing peace and justice should be relaxed in the interest of a balanced solution. Cognizant of the fact that South Sudan is a deeply divided and polarized country, this piece suggests that the most appropriate vehicle for pursuing transitional justice in South Sudan is in the form of truth, reconciliation and healing (TRH) and, perhaps, compensation but not through criminal prosecutions of the actions of key players in the recently concluded conflict. Failure to observe the delicacy of balancing peace and justice only operates to fester the conflict. That is in part because key actors in a mass political conflict are cushioned by their (ethnic) constituencies and in part because, generally, justice deferred solely for the sake of peace may actually breed more insecurity just as sacrificing peace for the sake of justice only yields incendiary results.