Thousands of civilians are dying at the hands of rebel groups, cattle raiders, political activists and community fighters, but the government has failed to carry out adequate investigations into the killings. The punishment of law violators and maintenance of impartial justice for all is what the South Sudanese need now. How can victims of the rebellions, corruption and community conflicts feel when perpetrators are freed without punishment?
The serious inter-community conflicts and operations of rebel groups in Jonglei have claimed thousands of lives since the declaration of South Sudan independence on July 9, 2011. The clash of retribution and cattle raiding amid the Lou Nuer, Murle and Dinka communities in Jonglei has become unbearable. These inter-community conflicts have claimed the lives both of civilians and army personnel in Walgak Payam, Akobo and Pibor in Jonglei.
Historic grievances continue to affect relations between communities and individuals and also new tensions emerge from old wounds. The ongoing aggression and incidents in Wau, Yei, Jonglei, Rumbek and inter-community clashes in Pibor are less investigated. The main responsibilities for the protection of civilians remain without definition.
The situation has threatened to reverse all the efforts that have been made to achieve peace and stability in South Sudan. The demand to identify and bring those who threaten peace to justice across South Sudan to justice is long awaited by the civilian population. The South Sudan authorities have failed to carry out adequate investigations into the killing of peaceful protesters in December 2012 by government security forces in Western Bhar El-Ghazel state. On December 9, security forces opened fire on a peaceful protest, killing six people on the spot. Two more protesters died later in a hospital. The protest had been triggered by the killing of two men during an outbreak of violence between youth and security forces the evening before. Eight peaceful protesters are dead in South Sudan at the hands of security forces and apparently no one has yet been charged or prosecuted.
The failure of the government to investigate has set a dreadful precedent for a new country and undermines freedom of expression and peaceful assembly across South Sudan. The Wau protest was sparked over a decision to move a county administrative headquarters outside the town. South Sudan are still waiting to see that the government ensure full, effective and impartial investigations leading to the prosecution of those responsible for the killings in Wau. The right to peaceful assembly and association as well as the right of freedom of expression is protected by South Sudan’s transitional constitution under a bill of rights. In order to protect every person’s right to life and security of person, law enforcement officials must, as far as possible apply nonviolent means. The security forces made no efforts to manage or scatter the crowds with nonviolent or less than lethal means before opening fire on the protesters. They gave no warnings of their intention to use firearms, and they made no attempts to prevent or minimize death or injury.
Under the South Sudan Transitional Constitution, the security forces have a duty to protect lives and uphold the rule of law. It is therefore completely unacceptable for them to use live bullets against peaceful protesters. Under international standards, every use of lethal force in law enforcement operations, including those that are allegedly accidental, must be subject to an independent and impartial investigation, but no adequate investigation has been carried out and the identity of the individual officers within the security forces responsible for the killings remains unclear.
Suspects arrested during the Wau crisis were held without charge for months, in many cases in unofficial detention sites including the offices of the police’s Criminal Investigation Department and the Nation Security Service (NSS), before being transferred to Wau Prison and charged. At least seven journalists were also detained, some for more than two weeks, before being released without charge. Under South Sudanese law, detainees are to be charged or released within 24 hours.
Why not pardon them?
The decision to pardon war criminals, law breakers, corrupt officials, and enemies of peace in South Sudan is unlawful. In most cases wrong doers are pardoned, but it is neglecting the rights of the affected population who are always looking for justice. The call for rule of the law in South Sudan is gathering urgency. South Sudanese don’t wish to see wrong doers freed without trials, rather they wish to see that them undergo justice. The political activists think differently. They argue that the decision to release war criminals is a sign of binding the country together, and the start of a national political dialogue. But this leaves one question unanswered: where is the rule of law if criminals are freed?
Pro-government activists are running on the streets saying that the procedures regarding war criminals are a sign of national reconciliation, but they did not feel the harm these people caused.
The government initiative to launch a process of national reconciliation and healing has great potential when it comes to nation building; it will create a space to deepen understanding, trust and respect among communities. It is essential, therefore that the process is inclusive and broadly owned by all stakeholders and community leaders and community members.
So, there is need for maximum restraint to end the cycle of violence. There is a deep need to establish mechanisms to increase the efforts that have been made to achieve peace and stability in the nation. Everything must now be done to prevent the destabilization of peace.
There is a need to retrieve the stolen cattle, abducted women and children. There is a need to deploy national forces in areas most at risk and a need to investigate the root causes of inter-community conflicts, to identify appropriate solutions to them.
But the whole idea of pardoning the enemies of peace and granting them instead, places of high privilege in our government, can only encourage others to take up arms so that they win similar high profile positions. This is not just and it will not lead to a just future.