Missed Truths, Misinformation and Propagandised Accusation of UN Mission in South Sudan

By Magok Alier Akuot

"Naturally the common people don’t want war: Neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. … Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” [[1]]

January 26, 2014 (SSNA) — Today, South Sudanese politics is clothed with veils of propaganda and misinformation suggestive of Goering’s reasoning. In particular, the polity of distortion, exaggeration and mind games has widened in the face of the crisis-logic and reason do no longer appeal since the nation’s leadership is housed in a premise of masked lies. But whatever the motivations may be, this state of affair is self-defeating and does not envisage any solution. And like the heading suggests, let’s get to mental work.

Two years ago, at the birth of our state, the UN Security Council acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, adopted Resolution 1996(2011) [[2]] establishing the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). The UN Secretary-general appointed Hilde F. Johnson, as Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG), [[3]] and Head of UNMISS. The resolution provides for mandate of UNMISS which is to support the government in consolidating peace and security as well as establishing conditions for development in the Republic of South Sudan with a view to strengthening their capacity. In particular, section 3 of the resolution provides support for the Government of the Republic of South Sudan (GRSS) in exercising its responsibilities for conflict prevention, mitigation, and resolution and protect civilians through:

(i) Advising and assisting the GRSS including military and police at national and local levels appropriate, in fulfilling its responsibilities to protect civilians, in compliance with International humanitarian, human rights and refugee law;

(ii) Deterring violence including through proactive deployment and patrols in areas at high risk of conflict, within its capabilities and in its areas of deployment, protecting civilians under imminent threat of physical violence, in particular when the GRSS is not providing such security;

(iii) Providing security for UN and humanitarian personnel, installations and equipment necessary for implementation of mandated tasks, bearing in mind the importance of mission mobility, and contributing to the creation of security conditions conducive to safe, timely, and unimpeded humanitarian assistance.

Whether UNMISS has acted in fulfillment of its mandate is subject to academic debate which is not the gist of this article but the overall impression seems to suggest UNMISS has and is acting in fulfillment of its mandate. And some of the perceived failures are understandable given the limited number of personnel involved coupled ethnic conflict and inaccessibility in some areas such as in Jonglei where there are no feeder roads linking counties. Other perceived failures of UNMISS are general failures of UN system and lack of knowledge of UNMISS mandate. Precisely, section 4 of the resolution “demands that the GRSS and all relevant parties cooperate fully in the deployment, operation, monitoring, verification, and reporting function of UNMISS, in particular by guaranteeing the safety, security, and unrestricted freedom of movement of UN personnel, as well as associated personnel throughout the territory of the RSS.”

The UNSC further adopted resolutions 2057(2012), [[4]] 2109(2013), [[5]] and 2132(2013) [[6]] respectively. The first two resolutions extended the mandate of UNMISS while the last resolution increased the number of military component up to 12,500 troops of all ranks, as well as a police component up to 1,323, including appropriate Formed Police Units. This last resolution was adopted prior to Secretary-general’s letter [S/2013/758/] sent to the 15-member UN Security Council following the ensuing of the violence.

On 19 December 2013, the Lou Nuer youth attacked UN Compound in Akobo County in Jonglei state demanding that the UN Peacekeepers surrender the Dinka civilians who had gone for refuge but the peacekeepers refused. The said youth randomly fired bullets killing two Indian peacekeepers and injuring another as well as at least 20 individuals of Dinka descent seeking protection. In the preamble of resolution 2132(2013), the Security Council “condemned in strongest terms attacks on and threats made to UNMISS personnel and UN facilities, demanding that all parties respect the inviolability of UN premises and to refrain from any violence against those gathered at UN facilities and in this regard reiterating its condemnation of the attack on UNMISS camp in Akobo, on 19 December, which resulted in the death of two Indian peacekeepers and the wounding of another, as well as at least 20 other casualties of individuals seeking UNMISS protection.”

On 8 August, 2011, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Deng Alor Kuol on behalf of the GRSS signed the Status of Force Agreement (SOFA) [[7]] with UNMISS. The SOFA is a binding agreement between UNMISS and the GRSS since it provides and limits responsibilities of both parties. On his part, Deng submitted: “This agreement between us is very important because it regulates work between the government of the Republic of South Sudan and the United Nations. And it organizes the relationship between various government institutions and UNMISS ….We are going to mobilize our people and enlighten them so that they understand this agreement between us and the mandate of the mission.” But the reigning culture of impunity proved the contrary.

Honourable Makuei Lueth acted to the contrary by engaging in an unjustified dispute with UNMISS team leader in Bor. On 19 January 2014, he demanded forced entry into UNMISS Bor compound with armed SPLA bodyguards. This act was in violation of the SOFA. And his argument may be inferred as ignorance or willful violation of the terms of the said agreement. It may also be inferred as an excuse for searching UNMISS premises. But in doing so, the minister squarely failed to recite the provisions of sections 16 and 19 of the SOFA. Accordingly, section 16 provides “…….. Without prejudice to the fact that all such premises remain territory of South Sudan, they shall be inviolable and subject to the exclusive control of the UN.” This is supplemented by section 19 which provides “the UN alone may consent to the entry of any government officials or of any other person who are not members of UNMISS to such premises.” It has been a known practice [before the violence] UNMISS and indeed all UN agencies do not allow entry of any armed personnel into their premises. One is therefore in criticising the Minister for his act. However, “politics is about mood as much about policy….” [[8]]

In response to this disturbing act, the UN Secretary-general reacted in defense of UN personnel and in condemnation of the act of threat made against the team leader. The statement issued by his spokesperson read: “The Secretary-general condemns the threats made against UN personnel and demands that all parties to the conflict respect the sanctity of UNMISS protection sites.” [[9]] This statement is threefold. One, it reveals the truism UN premises are not under the control of national authority which justifies the need to seek entry without guns-no excuse for forced entry. Two, threats against UN personnel is a breach of SOFA since the government is to ensure the safety and security of UN personnel and associated persons. Three, it is polite in the sense that it requires all parties to the conflict to respect the terms of SOFA.

Sometimes, we fail to understand the reasoning of our leaders. For goodness sake, one would simply use logic and good judgment in this situation and condemn honourable Makuei Lueth for his actions but propaganda was candidly exploited and UNMISS became a victim in the reasoning of our president. The overture of his tone revealed the reticence of his political tact. He resorted to unconvincing criticism: “I think the UN want to be the government of South Sudan and they felt short of naming the chief of UNMISS as the co-president of the Republic of South Sudan ….. And if that is the position of Ban Ki-Moon, they should make it clear that the UN wants to take over South Sudan.” [[10]]

First, this statement is unhelpful. Secondly, it doesn’t make sense in any way and is shortsighted, and thirdly, it fails to consider in the three basic principles of UN peacekeeping namely Consent of parties, impartiality, and non-use of force except in self-defence and defence of the mandate. The president seems not to know that the lives of UN peacekeepers rests on the shoulders of UN Secretary-General and that he is accountable to the Security Council in such situations. He has legitimate reasons to bring to the attention of South Sudanese leadership that acts of threats for whatever reasons are intolerable. Even under our normal national laws they are severely sanctioned and I wonder why my learned Minister cannot use his legal background to rebuke those who threatened the Bor team leader.

Kiir along with those who think they are justified in their criticisms ought to note the fundamental functions of a Peacekeeping Operation are: maintenance of peace and security, facilitating political process, protecting civilians, assisting in disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants, supporting the organization of elections, and protecting and promoting human rights and assisting in restoring the rule of law. From Former UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) to UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), the principal objective mentioned above have not been compromised and most importantly the issue of civilian protection has exposed UN peacekeepers to adverse effects including claiming their lives during SPLA fighting against David Yau Yau and his supporters in Jonglei State.

The president, in making this reckless statement, failed to note the numerous occasions UNMISS has suffered in fulfilling its mandate of civilian protection. But history is a good judge and remains unbiased consultant during moments when we can no longer remember our past. Just to mention two of those tragic episodes, five Indian Peacekeepers were, on 9 April 2013, killed in an ambush near Gumuruk while escorting UNMISS convoy [[11]]. Eight months later, another two Indian peacekeepers were killed in Akobo when about 2,000 rebels ransacked their temporary base in Akobo. The rebels asked for the surrender of the about 30 civilian South Sudanese who had sought refuge in UNMISS compound but the peacekeepers refused at which point the rebels shot indiscriminately killing two Indian peacekeepers and injuring another. [[12]]

While president Kiir and Honorable Makuei have had a big share of propagandized politics, others such as SPLM Secretary for External Affairs and SPLA Spokesperson deserve mention. The former, Suzanne Jambo, crossed the thin line for whatever justification, one cannot understand her reasoning but she submitted “The UN should allow the government to search for guns among those seeking shelter in the camps. How on earth can anyone explain to us, South Sudanese, that some armed soldiers who defected from the SPLA and entered into the any UNMISS camp with guns and military uniform yet the UNMISS says it is protecting civilians."[[13]] This same reasoning was echoed by SPLA spokesperson, Philip Aguer, who queried “what was inside that UNMISS Compound] which they did not want the minister of the incumbent government to see.”[Op cit. [9]]

It has also been submitted that UNMISS gave its vehicles to rebels to fight the government forces. This could be true. If the rebels could enter UNMISS compound in Akobo and killed two peacekeepers and civilians, then they can as well forcefully take UNMISS vehicles. Does this justify that UNMISS is citing with the rebels? No I don’t think it does.

First, to think that rebels and UNMISS are of the same feathers is totally a propagandized lie aimed at winning public support. And just to borrow Suzanne’s words, one would as well ask “how on earth would UNMISS allow rebels [who had killed their colleagues] enter UN premises with guns?” But the principal object of any propaganda is not how truthful it sounds but what impact it draws from the public. Exactly, it does reap good fruit which is why the youth in Juba went to the streets demanding that UNMISS leave South Sudan. They were convinced their government and indeed the Minister of Information said it all and to them UNMISS is their biggest enemy. This is unbelievable given the fact that UNMISS has sheltered innocent men, women and children in places such as Juba, Bor, Malakal and even Akobo although the peacekeepers were outnumbered and could painfully not provide protection.

As to the last question of Aguer, there is nothing that UNMISS does not want the Minster of incumbent government to see, but the minister is not allowed to enter into UN premises with armed bodyguards. Sometimes, we tend to be naïve during crisis and think that everyone has to do away with binding laws, unfortunately it is not the same with everyone. UNMISS simply stuck by SOFA while the government simply refused under the illusion that rebels entered UNMISS premises with guns. If surely they did, then they would have killed civilians of rival ethnic tribes since the conflict lost track from being political to ethnic conflict. But like most will not understand, the propaganda is only aimed at targeting majority of us who lack good reasoning and judgment. I am sure both Aguer and Makuei must have had relatives who were protected by UNMISS in Bor and if rebels did enter with guns into UNMISS Bor compound, then they would have been killed. Let’s be logical and rational in our analysis not to deceive the nation with cheap propaganda.

But if I can assume that the suspicion is right then let us imagine the rebels entered UNMISS compound with guns having guised themselves as civilians seeking protection. Imagine that the government has knowledge these rebels are hiding with guns in UNMISS compound(s) as a mix of individual civilians. And if we could venture and ask a logical question: was Honourable Minister [Makuei Lueth] going to disarm or fight the rebels who are with civilians? And even if he were going to disarm or fight them how would he know they are not just civilians since they had hidden their guns? And even if he were to identify them and immediately they pulled out their guns and fought back how would he protect innocent men, women and children supposing his bodyguards would fight back in self-defence and indeed in protecting him? Did he and the rest think clearly of the consequences involved in choosing that approach?

In any violence I know one or the other party is going to point fingers of accusation at a neutral body. It is a normal state of warfare which has long history and does not just start with South Sudan. But how to deal with your accusation in finding out the truth and justifying it is more important than the accusation itself. The best approach would be to sit down with UNMISS and discuss how to track down the alleged rebels who are suspected to be hiding in UNMISS premises with guns. Both the government and UNMISS must agree on a mechanism which will not expose innocent civilians who are seeking protection in those camps to risks. There is no need for forced entry or search. It doesn’t help either the government or UNMISS, but the risks associated are more harmful than the expected outcome. A compromise in relation to SOFA should be sought if the government is fully convinced of its suspicion but what is more important is the safety of civilians.  

Honourable Makuei, instead chooses to ask for a written apology from UNMISS failure of which invites further action to be taken against UNMISS Bor team leader and the SRSG.[14] He has not justified why this apology must be written and on what basis must UNMISS apologise. It is sometimes laughable when you read statements our leaders make. It is as if they jump out of their beds full of emotions and not knowing what to say, and finally find themselves talking loudly without hearing themselves talk. Since this is a legal dispute, it would best be addressed in accordance with the provisions of the SOFA. Accordingly, section 57 of the SOFA, 2011 provides: “any dispute must be by arbitration of three arbitrators-one representative from the government and one appointed by the Secretary-general and a chairman to be appointed by both the government and the UN, the decision of the arbitration shall be binding and final”. So you see, there is nothing like what the honourable Minister insinuates. No need for forced apology nor sanction for failure to apologise-relevant application of law is required here. It is high time honourable Makuei revisited assigned Ministerial portfolios and spare the nation of this scandalous misinformation. Kiir must not be supportive of all sorts of falsity in order to justify political inaction. This is totally embarrassing which needs serious sanctioning.

One thing I have clearly understood in this accusation is the fact that the government wants to part with UNMISS because of the on-going investigation into the violence. The government knows its mess will be uncovered by UNMISS report. The accusation is meant to discredit any UNMISS report under the guise of having cooperated with rebels. It is meant to shelter the government with a view to politically proving innocence in the face of civilian massacre. Yet, crimes of international nature won’t and do not go unpunished. International criminal law jurisprudence has rich precedence against impunity. It is high time the leadership backed on genuine political communication avoiding missed truths, misinformation and propagandized accusations which are hefty manifest of inherent weaknesses and lack of political direction.

Magok Alier Akuot is a South Sudanese Master of Laws student at the University of Sussex. The views expressed herein are entirely his and where appropriate reference has been made. He can be reached at: [email protected]

[1] On 18 April 1946, General Herman Goering, President of German Reichstag and Nazi Party, Commander of Luftwaffe during World War II posited [This quote is said to have been made during the Nuremburg Trials, but in fact, while during the time of the trials, was made in private to an Allied intelligence officer, later published in the book, Nuremburg Diary]. (Available at: http://www.globalissues.org/article/157/war-propaganda-and-the-media). [accessed: 25/01/2014].
[2] S/RES/1996 (2011). Available at: http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/1996(2011) [accessed: 26/01/14].
[3] SG/A/1299. Secretary-General appoints Hilde F, Johnson Special Representative of the Republic of South Sudan. 8 July 2011, available at: http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2011/sga1299.doc.htm [accessed: 26/01/14].
[4] S/RES/2057 (2012). Available at: http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/2057(2012) [accessed: 26/01/2014].
[5] S/RES/2109 (2013). Available at: http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/2109(2013) [accessed: 26/01/14].
[6] S/RES/2132 (2013). Available at: http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/2132(2013). [accessed: 26/01/14].
[7] Relief Web. South Sudan and UNMISS signs Status of Forces Agreement. http://reliefweb.int/report/south-sudan-republic/south-sudan-and-unmiss-sign-status-forces-agreement. [accessed: 26/01/14].
[8] Searle, G.R. (1995). Country Before Party: Coalition and the Idea of ‘National Government’ in Modern Britain, 1885-1987. (London, New York).
[9]New York, 19 December 2013, Statement Attributable to the Spokesperson of the Secretary-General ON South Sudan. Available at: http://www.un.org/sg/statements/index.asp?nid=7407  
[10] Sudan Tribune. South Sudan’s Kiir criticises UN over Camp access dispute. Available at: http://sudantribune.com/spip.php?article49659 [accessed: 23/01/14].
[11] The News Tribe. 5 Indian Peacekeepers killed in South Sudan. (09/04/13] available at: http://www.thenewstribe.com/2013/04/09/5-indian-peacekeepers-killed-in-south-sudan/. [accessed 26/01/14].
[12] Sudan Tribune. Two Indian Peacekeepers killed in Jonglei’s Akobo Attack. Available at: http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article49260. [accessed: 20/12/2013].
[13] Sudan Tribune. South Sudan Warns UN of Meddling in Internal Affairs. Available at: http://sudantribune.com/spip.php?article49674 [accessed: 25/01/14)]
[14] Sudan Tribune (2014). S. Sudan demands apology from UN over Bor Camp access dispute. Available at: (http://sudantribune.com/spip.php?article49684). [accessed: 22/01/14].
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