JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN - Critics are voicing opposition to an effort by South Sudan to block the establishment of a special court aimed at investigating and prosecuting war crimes in that country.
It was announced recently that the government had hired U.S.-based lobbyists to stop the creation of the so-called African Union-South Sudanese hybrid court.
The contract calls for South Sudan to pay Gainful Solutions $3.7 million to "delay and ultimately block" the formation of the court. The agreement was disclosed earlier in April by the U.S. Department of Justice's Foreign Agents Registration Act.
The posted agreement says the consultant services will include, but not be limited to, improving bilateral relations between South Sudan and the Trump administration. It also references political advocacy to persuade the administration to reverse current sanctions and block potential ones.
No comment from South Sudan, Gainful Solutions
Officials from South Sudan and Gainful Solutions did not respond to requests for comment.
The U.S. ambassador to South Sudan, Thomas Hushek, called the two-year contract with Gainful Solutions "very disturbing," saying its aim is to obstruct justice by blocking the hybrid court.
Hushek said formation of the hybrid court is contained in a revitalized peace agreement signed last year by the parties to the conflict that began in 2013 as a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, who was vice president at the time.
Augustino Ting Mayay, an analyst with the Juba-based Sudd Institute, said the lobbying contract is a misplaced priority.
"If they were to have resources to seek institutions to lobby on its behalf, it should focus on programs that do not undercut the most important elements of the agreement. One being the dealing with the atrocities, crimes that were committed during war time and having the hybrid court being set up," Mayay told VOA's South Sudan in Focus program.
He said Juba's move to hire a lobbying firm shows there has been little to no dialogue involving diplomats from both countries, and demonstrates Juba's lack of commitment to implementing the peace deal.
"The government has signed an agreement. That is a commitment. To ask a foreign administration to block what the government has committed to doesn't really take away the responsibility of having signed that agreement already, in addition the moral of doing the right thing by the people to make sure the hybrid court is formed," Mayay said.
South Sudanese human rights activist Kenyi Yasin Abdallah voiced agreement.
"This a flagrant violation of the peace agreement which the people of South Sudan want implemented so that the victims can get justice," Abdallah told South Sudan in Focus.
Juba resident Atem Simon voiced surprise on hearing the government had $3.7 million dollars to pay lobbyists while claiming it had no resources to fund provisions of the peace agreement, such as security arrangements.
"Peace is the only way for strengthening the relations with the U.S.," Simon told South Sudan in Focus.
"If we go with political will and implement the agreement, that is what the U.S. wants from the warring parties to put an end to this senseless war," Simon added.
Separately, Amnesty International's deputy director for East Africa, Sarah Jackson, tells the Reuters news agency, "... It is disgraceful and unacceptable that the government (of South Sudan) is willing to pay millions to avoid justice." Reuters also cited Human Rights Watch as calling South Sudan's move "blatant obstruction."
Hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese were killed and millions of people displaced during the conflict.