Johannesburg: South African Indian-origin lawyer and long-time human rights activist Yasmin Sooka has been appointed to chair a UN commission to monitor the human rights situation in South Sudan and make recommendations for their improvement. Sooka, who has vast experience in global human rights matters, will serve together with Kenneth Scott from the US and Godfrey Musila of Kenya on the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, a senior UN Human Rights Council official said.
The UN resolved to establish the Commission following calls for investigation into alleged atrocities by both government and rebel forces before an independent South Sudan was carved out of the larger Sudan in 2011. The Commissioners will provide guidance to the government of South Sudan on transitional justice, accountability and reconciliation issues and will engage with international and regional mechanisms to promote accountability for human rights violations and abuses, the official said.
Sooka is currently the Executive Director of the Foundation for Human Rights (FHR) in South Africa. A leading anti-apartheid activist, Sooka served on the
South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) established by former President Nelson Mandela from 1996-2001, assisting with the final report of the Commission.
She was also appointed by the UN to serve on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Sierra Leone from 2002-2004, as well as advising the UN Secretary General on accountability for war crimes committed during the final stages of the war in Sri Lanka.
The FHR deals with issues of human rights and the legacy of apartheid, during which there were gross human rights abuses, many of which brought Commissioners at the TRC, including its Chairman Archbishop Desmond Tutu, to tears. “At the FHR, we go to great lengths to ensure that we respond in a holistic and comprehensive manner to the issue of poverty, examining closely its linkages to HIV and gender,” Sooka said at a recent conference.
“We explore how rights as set out in the constitution can be used as a tool to address these issues in a holistic manner. We are particularly concerned with helping poor communities to realise their constitutional rights,” she has said.