The Truth About the Lies – Women, Violence and the AU Commission of Inquiry Report

By Anyieth d’Awol,

Opinion.

Displaced South Sudanese women walk towards the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) base in Malakal on January 12, 2014. About 32,000 refugees have fled to Uganda and a total of around 10,000 others have gone to Ethiopia and Kenya, while more than 350,000 are internally displaced within South Sudan, the United Nations says.  AFP PHOTO/SIMON MAINA        (Photo credit should read SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images)

Displaced South Sudanese women walk towards the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) base in Malakal on January 12, 2014. About 32,000 refugees have fled to Uganda and a total of around 10,000 others have gone to Ethiopia and Kenya, while more than 350,000 are internally displaced within South Sudan, the United Nations says. AFP PHOTO/SIMON MAINA (Photo credit should read SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images)

April 4, 2015(Nyamilepedia) — ‘Women are the pride of our families and societies,’ we were told. ‘Many cows will be paid for you’. It is said with pride – the way it has always been and the way it must be.

The intention is for the cultural systems to link families and communities together and ensure a girl is married into a family that will value her as much as hers. It is said that the culture is unchangeable and where it has been transformed, it is blamed on war but still, it must be respected.

Rape, sexual harassment, forced and early marriage and exploitation have become so common that the things we have been told about how special we are must be a lie. The reality is that today a girl is monetized before marriage and treated like property after it. In times of conflict, being considered precious by our tribes only makes us targets, a means to inflict pain on the perceived other.

In the end, it is everyone who loses. Men, women and the children we bear, our cultures and the country we all share.

As a human rights activist in South Sudan since 2005, I have heard countless accounts of inter-community violence, human loss and sexual violence. Cruelty has become the accepted culture and the only remedies are tolerance or violence. They were called remnants of war and its effects on culture and time will heal all.

Of course, the issues never faded and time did not heal. Undeniably, it is ignoring the violence that is costing South Sudan its future, the regional its stability, and the world its newest nation.

During the second war (1983-2005) between South Sudanese and the government of Sudan, women were kept from the frontlines. Instead, it was decreed that they were to have children to replace the millions being killed as a result of the war.

This created vulnerabilities for women, as the duty to procreate was now part of the war efforts. Women were killed and many suffered rape at the hands of both enemies and their own communities.

This mentality carried on after the war. Throughout the relative peace between 2005 and 2013, sexual violence only increased in frequency and intensity.

“I want to go home” said Sarah, a 13-year old girl, as she stared through the bushes and trees towards her father’s home. Sarah’s neighbour had just raped her when she got home from school while her mother and father were out.

After hearing her ordeal, I walked over to talk to her mother. “This is how it is and how it was for me too.” She said, crying helplessly. When her father had arrived home, he beat Sarah for being raped and dragged her to the neighbour’s house. He demanded a settlement for her dowry. Sarah’s feelings and her justice were not a consideration.

This was one of the first sexual violence cases I saw in South Sudan in early 2006. In many of our cultures, raping a girl would be considered a legitimate way to marry. For Sarah, that was the start of her marriage and the rest of her life.

I do not know what became of her, how many children she has, but hers is the story of many women. Cultures can become depraved when the central values are lost.

Women, culturally held dear, are degraded, in order to uphold the same culture. The humiliation results in women reconciling to their fate, running away or killing themselves – the way it has always been, the way it must be.

This is the same logic applied to the crisis facing the nation. Those who created the conditions and executed the war, guided by personal needs and grievances rather than the values of leadership, are the ones that can resolve it, exclusively.

When the political disputes between the President and the former Vice President erupted on 15 December 2013, the violence between the military quickly assumed ethnic overtones and spread across the country within days. Targeted killing of Nuer citizens in Juba started a wave of revenge killings of citizens in Bor, Malakal, Bentiu and elsewhere.

This current conflict, described as senseless even by the warring sides, does not spare women or girls – they have been specifically targeted. Killings and rapes are repaid with killings and rapes. Sexual violence has been inflicted on a scale unseen even by the brutal standards of previous wars.

Victims range in age from young girls to elderly women, some in their 80s. Many stories tell of women given the option between rape and death. Women who refused to be raped were penetrated with sticks, guns and other objects and bled to death. Those who chose rape were gang raped, many not surviving the brutality. Pregnant women had their babies ripped out of them.

Knowledge that justice will never come motivates the revenge killings. Perpetrators of violence are acting to destroy everything, even our elders and our babies, our history and our future. The brutality inflicted ensures the pain is deeper, lasts longer and is never forgotten.

The question is: are the issues at the root of this conflict even being addressed?

The answer is no. The culture of violence and abuse is brushed off as a by-product of bigger problems, rather than the problem. Indeed, fear and threat of violence is what makes the powerful, powerful.

The need and urgency to address the violence is treated as inopportune and the argument is that accountability will cause more violence. We are persuaded that accountability is less important than peace. But, what is peace when there is so much violence? And what is a peace that does not address all this violence?

From my experience, time alone cannot heal all, especially that which is repeated. During the latter part of 2014, many of us held onto the hope that the African Union Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan report would be released. It would reveal the full scale of what our people have suffered over the last year and name those responsible.

Signed agreements between the warring parties promised an inclusive process to address the root causes, ensure justice and accountability and guarantee those responsible would be excluded from any future government. In late January 2015, Africa’s leaders decided that the report was untimely because it might derail a peace agreement and postponed the consideration and release of the AUCISS report.

The March 5 deadline for the warring parties to sign the peace deal came and went and we do not have peace, nor reasonable prospects for it. The violence simply continues. African leaders took a huge gamble that the parties would sign a peace deal.

It is questionable whether either party has the will or the power to bring peace to South Sudan, put it on the path to prosperity and reconcile the people. Signing a peace deal for fear of the truth will not bring us the peace we need. Rather, confronting the truth will be the first step towards forging the peace we must have if this nation is to emerge from this dark period.

On March 5, a draft of the AUCISS was leaked. The African Union’s response, on March 16, stated ‘categorically that the so-called ‘report’ … is not that of the Commission of Inquiry.’ The claim of ignorance is degrading to those who died, those that continue to suffer and those who spoke to the Commission.

It is clear the document is unfinished but people have been quoted, others named and incidents described. In light of its content and what we already know, the decision to indefinitely postpone the consideration and release of the report is shocking. But the problems we face are clear and the opportunities to rectify them exist.

With honesty and a chance of a future that is different from what we have had, we may start to live by the values that actually matter and end the violence. Nearly four years ago, the people of South Sudan celebrated independence peacefully and united with extraordinary joy. That is the nation we want.

The prospect of a real future has been our most tested route to silencing the guns. The final and official AUCISS report should be released if the intention is to end the war and the culture of violence. From that point, we may find our path to a more hopeful future.

Anyieth D’Awol is a human rights activist and Founder and Director of the ROOTS Project, a civil society organization based in Juba, South Sudan

2 comments

  • Anyieth,
    Thank you for writing this piece. Alas, I must admit that the reason that why so many who comment here never did so is because what you are addressing is at the heart of the analysis of South Sudan conflict: rape, killing, impunity, etc, are at the heart of the war in this country and I agree with you in every aspect you presented above regarding sexual and gender based violence against women and baby girls.

    My response would be on the later part, which deals with AU Commission of Inquiry Report and accountability. First, South Sudan is now encircled as a nation…and I want everyone to understand that.,,,whether rebel, government or activist of South Sudan origin. We are now in the state of war with the international community. While one can argue that it is our making that cause them to come, it is important to mention that the West made a decision since 2012 that they wanted to change the rule of the SPLM and for that matter, the regime. It was the reason why they pushed those they considered as possible alternatives to make a roar in the party to run for the chair by starting campaigns before the due date ( Riek, Pagan, Nyandeng). When the violence of December 15 resulted in the death of tens of thousands of Nuer in Juba, it really was what they were looking for to change the regime.
    If you remember, the whole world was in shock and awe by the reaction of certain people of Dinka origin in Juba to kill the Nuer. The West decided then that Kiir and his regime of SPLM must go. But the West changed their mind when they saw the mother of all revenge killings and destruction the World has ever known launched by Nuer supporters of Riek killing people in Bor, Akobo, Bentiu, Malakal, etc and nothing holy was left untouched. Then the West understood that Riek and Salva are not different after all. That removing one and putting the other is like turning the same coin over.
    So, the shift in policy was that the Nuer must not be allowed to enter Juba. US notched Uganda to come and assist to protect Juba from Marauding Nuer white Army. If Uganda didn’t come, the US Marines would have come. In fact, they were here in Juba and Bor when they came to evacuate their citizens. In fact, they exchanged fire with the Nuer in Bor and one of them was shot in their helicopter. Hence, there goes the story of cluster bombs pounds which the international community exposed, but got silenced about when they knew where it came from. You all know that Uganda does not possess such ordinances and neither does the nascent SPLA.
    Thus far, the West made a decision to remove both Riek and Salva, their only problem is who is the best replacement to run the country. They know fully well that their friends the G-10 have no support in South Sudan since they were the looters of our resources. And they of all the people know fully well because they have access to their bank accounts. That was why they asked kiir in 2012 to either take them to court or sack and bar them from any future government. Kiir as usual refused ending up writing letters which could not be honoured by his colleagues. The West is still searching for a leader….they know that Lam Akol is a talker, but if he is given South Sudan, he will have difficulty putting the Nuer and Dinka under his wings. He would need big wings for that.
    Even with the pressure of sanctions at the UN, forced leak of the AU report, etc are done to cow our leaders to accept peace. We believe that if the AU report is released now and it names the culprits, we will have a protracted crisis in our hands. No leader will want to stop fighting and face ICC as Kenyatta did. Continous fighting will be their strategy to survice. Look at what Beshir is doing, he will leave office for his death bed. That is exactly what would happen to South Sudan. There is no need to belabor this, you already understand whether our leaders are nationalist who could care about our people or their own welfare. That is why I agree with AU that report should not be released now. Justice delayed for saving the lives of those who are still alive, is not justice denied. Justice does not rot…it is preserved.
    Now, the West is for a compromise that Kiir and Riek should return to the government which must be inclusive of all with the hope that the two would manage to reconcile the Nuer and Dinka and once that is done, it is hoped that both leaders should not context for presidency again. They assume that South Sudanese would be wise enough to exclude them.
    I also want to bring it to your attention that President Kiir is under tremendous pressure from the world that he must end the war. He wants to end it, but he is also under pressure from Equatorians that he should not end the war by giving away the position of Vice President. And rightly, he should not betray those who stood with him at his darkest hour. That would be a political suicide. Now, the key to peace is in the hands of Equatorians, particularly, people like Martin Elia, who spoke during the President’s political rally and I quote, “We will accept the position of Wani Igga to be given to Riek Machar…we will resist it, we will resist it and we will even fight it”.
    I know that Equatorians will rebel when the Nuer accept peace. That is a fact. However, there are very few Equatorians including Wani and few governors who believe that giving away VP position to Riek is not a reward for rebellion. They see it as a way stop the bloodshed in the country. if those voices become many in Equatoria community, peace may come especially if they do this they will win: take the position of 2nd VP, Keep Ministry for Cabinet and take position of Speaker. Those are more powerful than First VP, which literally has no job, but delegated powers of the president.

  • We love South Sudan physically but not spiritual