South Sudan signed a second contract with a US lobbying firm, after cancelling an earlier deal with the same company that drew criticism from rights groups over its aims, documents showed.
Lobbying including lifting US sanctions and avoiding establishment of a court to try war crimes was part of the brief in the original $3.7 million, two-year contract government signed with California-based Gainful Solutions on April 2.
The new document was signed on May 3 and published on the US Justice Department website. It did not specify a fee.
Its stated aims are to improve economic and political relations between Juba and Washington, but regional observers are sceptical the essence of the contract has changed.
“I’m doubtful the revised contract means any substantive change to the lobbying deal,” Klem Ryan, former co-ordinator of the UN Security Council Panel of Experts for South Sudan, told Reuters.
“The rewording seems to be a response to negative publicity both the South Sudanese government and those associated with Gainful Solutions received, but not a rejection of lobbying efforts.”
Rights groups accuse government of paying to avoid justice. The new contract is “a slap in the face of victims of the horrific crimes committed in South Sudan,” said Elise Keppler, associate director of US-based Human Rights Watch.
Government did not respond to requests for comment on the old or new contract.
Gainful Solutions, which lists former US ambassador Michael Ranneberger as a partner, said “the scope of work and priorities” were not accurately addressed in the original contract.
Washington slapped sanctions on individual South Sudanese military and political figures and imposed an arms embargo in January.
The US Justice Department requires lobbyists acting on behalf of foreign agents to register the relationship.