South Sudan: A Human Rights abuser who wants to be a Human Rights judge!

By: Justin Ambago Ramba

November 22, 2013 (SSNA) — Now should be the time to revisit the circumstances that surrounded South Sudan’s bid to secure a seat on the UN Human Rights’ Council (UNHRC).

Fortunately or unfortunately and that depends on which side of the fence you stand, the bottom line is that South Sudan’s  bid to sit in this highly prestigious panel has failed in the face of the country’s  own records.

Of immediate concern now is that although the showdown at the UNHRC was primarily meant to act as a strong message to the government in Juba so that it starts putting its house in order, it is unfortunate that this message is not the magic remedy that we all expect from the United Nations for a situation that has already become the official modus operandi.

Today as can be seen not much has changed on the ground to signify that a new dawn is in sight. While the incumbent leadership continues with its well-rehearsed lip service, the real Human Rights situations all across the country remain as bad as they ever were.

To be precise there were already many events that preceded the last few weeks’ story with the UNHRC. Reflecting on each one of these events drags us to the conclusion that the government of South Sudan has for a long period of time been in breach of its responsibilities in the field of Human Rights.  

The preservation, restoration and any attempts at maintaining the Human Rights of South Sudanese citizens and all those who reside within the country have for a very long time lagged behind.

Even judging by the most modest expectations of the ruling SPLM party’s zealots, the country’s records are in shambles.  

Nevertheless many multi-sourced reports on the country’s appalling Human Rights records including letters addressed to President Salva Kiir Mayardit in person were all meant to draw attention to an already established mess on the ground. At least that was the hope.

But as if charmed by some sort of falsehood that is begotten by permanently living in denial, the leadership in Juba was bold enough to push everything it knows about its actions down into the subconscious mind and it proceeded with its ill prepared application for a seat on the UNHRC.

It indeed surprised everyone and no wonder it quickly received reactions and responses from both the local and the international bodies. Here is a human rights abuser who wants to be a human rights judge! With this kind of thinking still prevalent in Juba, South Sudan is likely to remain unfit for The UNHRC membership for a long time to come.

However for the South Sudanese population at large, the instantaneous criticism that kept pouring on Juba in return, given the country’s long history of the abuses and how the administration has continuously reacted with utter impunity, all of it was long expected.

Many even wondered why it had taken these organisations all this long to just write a letter to President Salva Kiir Mayardit at a time when these abuses are almost becoming the rule in the country and not the exception!

Was the world community only forced to voice its concerns when the South Sudanese leadership sleep walked into the UNHRC seeking membership without the least consideration to the international community’s collective intellect?

Anyway for whatever reasons the administration in Juba by merely assuming that it was fit to monitor Human Rights record at the global level when it has failed to do so in its own backyard couldn’t have gone unchallenged.

And  if the  administration in Juba ever thought that  nobody was monitoring it or  at least was concerned about what its government’s security agents did and are doing in Wau or in Juba or in Pibor or in Rumbek or in Malakal or in Nimule, then they are absolutely wrong ? 

Silence may sometimes be mistaken as sign of acceptance. But for how long will people accept you while you are constantly on the wrong side? This is a question for the administration to contemplate on.

The UNHRC could have been in existence for a long time now since its inception.  It could have been there even during the time when the brutal civil war was ravaging in South Sudan. 

However it is indeed surprising that very little did it do in the past in a way of exposing  to the outside world all the truth about  Human Rights violations that took place  in the by then SPLM/A controlled areas.  

Nor did it do anything to expose or put pressure on the SPLM/A leadership to prevent those abuses from taking firm roots into the governance culture until it has now become the rule and not the exception in a country that came into existence when Man has reached the peak of civilization! What a shame!  

If there is anything to blame, it was this initial indifference from the international community that gave birth to the wrongly held belief that Human Rights abuses are uncontrollable during liberation wars.

The result is today we have a government of Human Rights abusers and under their leadership the vice not only grew bigger, but it has also gone to permanently dehumanize the locals and the foreigners alike.

Who in their right mind isn’t aware that the nascent state of South Sudan has long been taken hostage by the former warlords who take amusement in impunity? Can’t the world do something before another version of Nazi German with its ruthless secret agents is reincarnated in the very heart of the African continent?   

Having said all the above, let us get  down on  the new reality as  South Sudan remains what it was before the bid to join the UNHRC.  And to the relief of many the bid rightly ended in a dustbin somewhere in New York – South Sudan lost it!  

The question now is how are we prepared to put forward questions and try to get answers in the aftermath of what was indeed a dramatic week for all – South Sudanese, the regional players and the world community alike. What does the UNHRC have for a country like South Sudan that once sought its membership but failed to secure it for reasons obvious?

The argument which follows here is that since South Sudan failed the elections as a consequence of its poor, horrible and persistently appalling Human Rights records, one can rightly say that this country should rank the top on the UNHRC priorities.  

It must designate this country as a hot spot for Human Right Abuses and intensify the council’s monitoring activities in it. Again the  search for  the necessary  remedies cannot be over emphasised even if that  means using every article of the UN Chapter VII under which the this county and its neighbour, the Sudan are both placed

On the other hand we have to give a big applause to those local, regional and international nongovernment organisations (NGOs) who undertook the tedious tasks and wrote letters to South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir Mayardit.

They did well to request him to consider reversing the horrible situation in the country well before the now lost elections. Their letters remains as relevant now as it was first written!

What the other players must understand, and here I put especially emphasis on the administration in Juba and indeed the entire leadership of the ruling SPLM party, if any is still left, that they need to stop living in denial of all the Human Rights abuses that unfortunately has tainted their government’s image.  

The bitter fact is that all these dark spots are likely to go down in the history as a reflection of the immediate post-independence era in South Sudan.

As uncertain as life generally is all across South Sudan where the vast majority has to indeed struggle with underdevelopment, illiteracy and ignorance, the same cannot be said of how information travels into and out of the country. News still travels fast here.

What this means is that the entire local, regional and international NGOs, many of whom signed the letters jointly addressed to President Kiir Mayardit can be viewed to operate as a continuum. 

It is an endless chain aimed at exchanging information in and out of the country and possibly relay it to the world’s highest decision making bodies across the seas and the oceans and liaise with them how the current situation in South Sudan can be salvaged.

It is important that a new South Sudan emerges even before the anticipated 2015 general elections.

What the current government in Juba must understand is that even the South Sudan of today is awash with the most advanced in Technologies. With the wide telephone networks in the country and the countless satellites in its skies, no any level of government can succeed to isolate the country from the watchful eyes of the international community.

All the NGOs and many other organisations have had and continue to have a full access to the details of almost everything that happened or are happening all across the country

UNHRC itself a major player in this kind of issues without the least doubt has been tracking Juba’s performance.  It also has the ruling SPLM/A‘s records three decades down the line since the former rebels  first came into being a liberation movement in May of 1983.

To prove this point, there is much information on the Amnesty International’s website. In fact enough to repel away anyone who wants to do business with or invest in South Sudan if the government don’t quickly move to set the records right on the ground.

The people of  South Sudan on the other hand are overwhelmed with questions as to why their country has been left by the international players to degenerate this fast this much.

If on the current tone that the present leadership in Juba shoulders the responsible for the country’s appalling Human Rights records, what then explains its intention to join the UNHRC in spite of being one of the most notorious violators?

Could it have been that the politicians in Juba were overtaken by imbecilic attitudes or naivety that they so highly think of themselves in spite of what they are known for worldwide?

Or was it a search for help and possible redemption?  Or was it yet another way planned to gain more immunity in order to continue with an already entrenched culture of impunity?

There will be two parts to the answer for the above questions. The first would be to assume that the authorities of South Sudan were indeed genuine in seeking membership of the UNHRC for truly what the council stands for.

If this is the case then the government’s leadership is now expected to demonstrate that good intentions by revisiting all the letters addressed to President Salva Kiir Mayardit and start delivering on all the points raised therein.

The fact that South Sudan lost the bid for membership of the UNHRC just a few weeks ago makes the move to demonstrate this good intensions even the more relevant.

As for the UNHRC, it undoubtedly has a moral obligation to convey the right messages to Juba, especially now that the latter is nursing its self-inflicted wounds which led to the loss at the votes.

UNHRC must take South Sudan as a serious case worth giving the Organisation’s top priority for action. It must immediately start to engage and dialogue with the administration in Juba on how an improvement to the country’s current Human Rights stand can be envisaged while the enthusiasm is still there.

The UNHRC should not assume that Juba knows its own responsibilities and should be expected to act on correcting its nasty past single-handed.

 There is no way that such an expectation can come to fruition given the country’s present chaotic political environment.

On an equal tone is the acknowledgement, though not a blank sheet for excuses.  South Sudan had been through a lot already during the Bush War days.

The very vision of conserving Human Rights of South Sudanese, a topic which was in the centre of the rebellion war against Khartoum even was quickly compromised once previous comrades turned into political rivals.

Egalitarianism another much talked about slogan also received an equally dim attention  and everything actually  got mixed up as the war went on to devour lives after lives and ended up destroy an entire social fabric  that held together what was at its best a mere conglomeration of largely antagonizing tribes!

Even after winning independence from Sudan, the administration in Juba has on several occasions slipped back to the old dark days of the SPLM/A liberation war.

Two big events that took place in the Greater Bahr Ghazel are all proofs of the fact that the SPLM leadership isn’t so much committed to the basics of democracy and the much talked about Human Rights.

The leadership in Juba has over the last few months, succeeded to return the new country a couple of steps backwards into the dark days when it by chose revisited the use of the infamous “Jungle Justice”. 

It first came to the world’s attention when on 09/12/2012 government security forces killed those peaceful demonstrators in the city of Wau. This was soon followed by the state government’s clampdown on its critics, including MPs and youth activists.

Early the following year on 21/01/2013  another gross reverse to jungle days again happened when president Salva Kiir  overturned the people’s choice by dismissing a popularly elected governor in Lakes State for no apparent reasons and replacing him by a military caretaker who as we discuss is now overdue in the State’s highest office per the country’s constitution.

Following the above mentioned events, everything that followed from there was in consistency with a tendency to entrench a one man rule in a country that many thought would become a model of thriving democracy in 21st century Africa.  From thence every day that came was no different to the one that preceded it.

The Lakes State’s military caretaker governor not only has continuously resorted to militarism while dealing with civilians, but in the report released by the Human Rights Watch, Lt. General Matur Chut Dhuol has even established his own version of Guantanamo prison.

In Rumbek this notorious prison is known as  the Langchok military prison where arbitrarily arrested young men are kept under the worse of environmental conditions and without access to legal representation.

Of course there are others who would want the international community to believe that the Human Rights situation in the nascent country of South Sudan hasn’t’ been too bad or for that matter is even getting better.

However in the background of every existing document that is available, it demonstrates  without the least doubt that until the last announcement of vote results in the UNHRC, the incumbent government of South Sudan was nowhere from being good on its Human Rights records.

Looking at it to assess the impact of the humiliating failure to win the UNHRC membership,   it is yet to be seen how much the  government of South Sudan and its security agents have stopped being heavy handed towards Human Rights activists, journalists and its critics.

Amnesty International has in the past documented several incidents of journalists that have faced intimidation, harassment and unlawful detention by the National Security Service and SPLA, for carrying out their lawful work.

But can the newly elected UNHRC work to see that South Sudan starts to delivery by behaving like country ruled by a civilized government?

Among many others things people generally hope that for the UNHRC to be a credible organisation it must a least see to it that a program is in place to seriously persuade the authorities in Juba to consider taking Justice seriously.

They must hold all perpetrators, including members of the security forces, to account for abuses committed in accordance with international standards. Until then this country under what is now a totally unpredictable leadership will remain locked up in SPLM/A’s exclusive world of experimenting with human lives.

Dr. Justin Ambago Ramba is reachable at: [email protected].

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