Davis Polk partnered with the Public International Law & Policy Group, a global pro bono law firm, in researching and drafting the Terms of Reference for South Sudan’s Commission on Truth, Reconciliation and Healing.

After decades of conflict, South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011. A short two years later, civil war broke out between rival factions of the new government. During the conflict armed groups committed grave human rights abuses targeting certain civilian ethnic populations; among the atrocities perpetrated were murder, mutilation, sexual violence and the recruitment of child soldiers. In 2018, leaders of the warring factions signed a peace and power-sharing agreement, ending the worst phase of the conflict. The peace agreement called for the establishment of the Commission “as a critical part of the peace building process in South Sudan, to spearhead efforts to address the legacy of conflicts, promote peace, national reconciliation and healing.”

Truth commissions are often mandated by peace agreements; they facilitate a formal process through which post-conflict countries comprehensively investigate and record past atrocities. With the goal of achieving peace and reconciliation, truth commissions use their findings to make informed policy recommendations to executive and judicial bodies of government, helping to establish a path forward.

Tasked with drafting the South Sudan Commission’s Terms of Reference (its constitutional document), Davis Polk lawyers in New York, Washington DC, Northern California and London immersed themselves in a unique corner of international law and transitional justice. This undertaking required a comprehensive review of relevant treatises and journal articles as well as the precedent terms of reference of other post-conflict nations including South Africa and Sierra Leone. Our team also extensively researched South Sudan’s history to ensure clear understanding of the relatively new nation’s roots.

This effort culminated with the scrupulous construction of the final product—the Terms of Reference that will guide the Commission in ensuring that victims are heard, perpetrators are held accountable and that South Sudan will have a more peaceful future.

The Davis Polk team included Chief Pro Bono Counsel Amy Starr, counsel Jake Tyshow, associates Bex Childress, Kelsey Clark, Kate Monroe Fitzgerald, Brandon Hanley, Esther Lee, Gilbert Lim and Paul Shortell, Pro Bono Attorney for Humanitarian Immigration Matters Nishan Bhaumik, Pro Bono Attorney for Corporate & Transactional Matters Harshil Shukla, law clerks Will Chandler, Michael Cooper, Elizabeth Rodgers, Juan Diego Tibaduiza and Will Urukalo, and former associates Alba Baze and Preeti Grewal.