South Sudan hired US lobbyists to help reverse US sanctions and stop the establishment of a court to prosecute war crimes, a document showed – a move rights groups said could undermine victims seeking justice.
Under the contract, signed on April 2 and published on the US Justice Department website, South Sudan’s government will pay California-based Gainful Solutions $3.7 million (2.86 million pounds) over two years.
Government and Gainful Solutions did not immediately respond to email and phone requests for comment.
Gainful agreed, among other issues in the contract, to “open a channel of communication between (South Sudan’s) President Kiir and President Trump” and “persuade the Trump administration to reverse current sanctions and further block potential sanctions”.
In another bullet point, Gainful agrees to provide consultant services to “delay and ultimately block establishment of the hybrid court”.
South Sudan seceded from Sudan in 2011 and collapsed into ethnically-charged civil war two years later, in fighting fuelled by rivalry between President Salva Kiir and his deputy Riek Machar.
Under a peace deal with rebels last September, South Sudan’s government promised to set up a hybrid court – staffed jointly by judges from its own benches and from other African countries.
The court is meant to try people accused of war crimes during the conflict that killed hundreds of thousands and plunged parts of the country into famine.
UN agencies accuse troops loyal to both Kiir and Machar of atrocities during the conflict – accusations both sides regularly deny.
“The hybrid court would try those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious crimes,” said Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
“Its establishment is essential for South Sudan to see sustainable peace. It is disgraceful and unacceptable that government is willing to pay millions to avoid justice.”
US-based campaign group Human Rights Watch accused South Sudan of “blatant obstruction.”
“It represents a slap in the face for victims of horrific crimes committed in South Sudan,” said Elise Keppler, the organisation’s associate director.
During fighting Washington imposed sanctions on South Sudanese military and political figures. In it January imposed an arms embargo to halt the flow of weapons, in a bid to bring both sides to the negotiating table.
After a string of failed ceasefires, both sides agreed a deal in September under which the factions are meant to form a unity government by May 12. Machar told Reuters the deadline would be missed because pre-conditions were not met.
The contract between South Sudan’s government and Gainful Solutions was published in the Foreign Agents Registration Act section of the Justice Department website.
The act requires lobbyists acting on behalf of foreign agents in the United States to register the relationship.