Catastrophic events are not uncommon in the history of nations and countries. We have lived through multiple horrible events albeit not of such magnitude in terms of the number of victims and the level of savagery involved. To the older population of Juba, the events brought back memories of days in August 1965 when the Sudanese army committed a massacre against the citizens of Juba. People were hunted down from house to house and shot dead or burned inside their homes. There are similarities between the events in the past and what took place in Qudele and Mia Sabba residential areas in December 2013. The difference though is that the perpetrators in 1965 were Mundukuru soldiers targeting all the South Sudanese citizens of Juba and not a single tribe. At any rate, the events that started on the15th of December 2013 remain puzzling to a great number of citizens and observers. The reason is that, if there is anything that properly fits the definition of a man-made catastrophe, it must be what befell the republic of South Sudan on that day. There can be no logic or wisdom that could justify what happened.
The country has just arisen from a long and painful war and was well-received into the league of nations. Expectations were quite high both from the citizens and from friends and well-wishers. It seemed logical that South Sudan was destined for rapid growth and prosperity taking full advantage of its huge natural resources and the unprecedented support from the international community. The threat to nationhood was never perceived by South Sudanese to emanate from within but was and is still believed to come from the north. To the layperson, the Juba massacre was a startling realisation of a scenario that was unthinkable prior to its occurrence. To a keen observer the trajectory was long pointing towards the direction of violence since the president settled to forming his tribal militia.
It’s the first major catastrophic event that happened to us as South Sudanese. All the other atrocities occurred while we were considered Sudanese citizens hence foreign involvement even if minimal cannot be discounted. There can be no doubt about whom to blame for this massacre. The responsibility rests squarely on the regime’s head. The brutality of the events transpires that something deeply troubling has come into being amidst our populace. Grotesque acts like forcing victims to eat burned human flesh and drink human blood can only mean one thing that is extreme hatred that has taken full control of the perpetrators. They have been trained and brainwashed by the real criminals at the top of the regime. In essence they were used as tools to execute a satanic plot.
December 15/2013 also tells us about what irresponsible and short-sighted leadership could do to peoples’ lives. Up to the day before the events, all South Sudanese communities were living in harmony save the long-standing cattle rustling and pastoralists’ attacks in Equatoria. People were aware of a conflict within the SPLM leadership and that the president and his deputy were embroiled in a power struggle. The laypeople paid little attention to what was going on as they were busy in the pursuit of their daily livelihood. It was the regime’s irresponsible acts that pitted communities against each other culminating in the outburst of violence all over the country.
In these difficult times, the south Sudanese people regardless of their ethnicities should be supportive and lend a helping hand to the families of the victims. One would have expected the government to issue a statement about the December 2013 events as a sign of good will and readiness to lead the reconciliation process. It will also be seen as an acceptance of responsibility and that it cares about the victims’ families. I would have expected our national flag to be flown at half-mast in remembrance of the victims like the rest of the civilised world. The victims’ widows and families would have wanted the government to designate one of the days of the massacre as a national day of commemoration. In fact all the major events that include the Juba massacre, the Wau shooting and the Bor massacre should have designated days for commemoration. Unfortunately nothing of that sort is forthcoming from the regime so far. On the contrary; a futile attempt is underway to downplay the Juba massacre into oblivion.
It’s troubling that many supporters of the regime never condemned the Juba atrocities but tend to refer to the 1991 Bor massacre whenever the issue of accountability is discussed. It is clear to everyone that heinous crimes were committed in Bor town in 1991, but those crimes by no means justify the December 2013 acts. There is a principle in law that a person can not be tried twice for the same crime. And by the same token a person cannot be pardoned twice as well. Thus if Dr Riek Machar has accepted responsibility for what people under his command did in Bor town in 1991 and sought pardon from the Bor community which reportedly was granted to him, then it must be assumed that a new page has been opened. Also his return to the SPLM/SPLA and being given the third top position in the leadership hierarchy, leaves us with the assumption that he has been fully rehabilitated. The regime supporters’ position becomes quite weak when faced with the fact that Dr Riek Machar was the vice president and the deputy chairman of the SPLM party for 8 years. Why did they put up with a ” criminal ” at the top of the government and the party all that time? Liability is not an on and off situation in the sense that If someone is considered a criminal he remains as such until his name has been cleared. Moreover it’s ridiculous to accept someone as your vice president for 8 years and then when things go wrong, you go back to your old books and demand his trial for crimes committed almost quarter a century ago.
The regime supporters tried to sell to the public the coup d’etat narrative in their struggle to justify the Juba carnage. It turned out to be nothing but thin air and was rejected by the whole world including president Museveni, Kiir’s only ally. If they were to be true nationalists, they would have stepped back after realising that they have been misled by the regime. They would have let themselves be guided by their conscience and moral values that we ought to assume they do possess them. Instead we witnessed vigorous attempts to defend the indefensible and malicious efforts to create divisions within communities. They were quick to condemn the revenge attacks against civilians in Bor , Akobo and other towns but never did the same to the Juba massacre or the attacks against the Nuer civilians inside UNMISS camp in Bor town. It turned out that blind tribalism and material gains have trumped their conscience and moral values.
The December 2013 Juba massacre and the revenge attacks that targeted civilians in Bor and other towns are all war crimes under the international law. All the perpetrators whether from the government side or from the opposition side should be brought to justice. It should include the top leaders and no one should be above the law.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org