Guns and the Stability of South Sudan

The Broken Society and the peace deal

Written by James Tot Mathiang

A heavily militarized South Sudanese capital marks the "SPLA anniversary" in Juba, 2012(Photo: Waakhe Simon Wudu)

A heavily militarized South Sudanese capital marks the “SPLA anniversary” in Juba in July 2012(Photo: Waakhe Simon Wudu)

May 24, 2016(Nyamilepedia) —— How much stability the South Sudanese and the International Community are expected with this ineffectual peace agreement? The gun violence in South Sudan has lately been in the International community’spotlight on the subject of humanitarian concerns. The death of gun violence in the country has increased dramatically, and the reason being that South Sudan has been filled with legal and illegal guns. In 2013, many civilians were killed, including 20,000 ethnic Nuer civilians that were massacred by South Sudan’s sponsored militia known as “Dot Ku Bany”. Since then, the repercussion of the Nuer massacred, prompted more gun violence and more death throughout the country.

The argument of this article is that even though the Addis Ababa peace agreement that was signed in August, 2015 is implemented, the gun violence in South Sudan will never stop, unless the IGAD, AU, TRIOKA, and the peace partners come up with strategic plans to bring the war perpetrators to justice. Besides, the peace partners, with the help of the peace sponsors, must find a way to eliminate or reduce the number of legal and illegal guns from the hands of civilians.

Even though, the international community and South Sudan peace sponsors, (IGAD, AU, UN and TRIOKA) are pressuring the warring parties to implement the peace agreement, the international community does not have a clear answer to the difficult question of how to promote political participation in the divided societies without triggering another division. Since the international community has no answer to that particular question, the country will never see the silence of guns and general stability.

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Solution based on party’s representation through power sharing on the basis of a fixed formula does not seem to be working, partly because Salva Kiir government is still maintaining 100% in the civil services sectors. The ministries that were given to the other parties are just for the sake of representation, because all the departments under the ministries are still occupied by the old government employees, which is actually dominated by one tribe.

In this writer’s point of view, the guns in the hands of civilians, the issue of 28 states, lack of representation in all civil services sectors, the absence of justice and accountability are the fundamental issues that need to be considered before any attempt to resolve the civil war in South Sudan.

Although the possession of the firearms in South Sudan has gradually increased in the last 30 years, many people take advantage of guns using the current war as pretext to obtain the guns. Since 2013, until the present time, president Kiir has shown interest in arming civilians that are allied to him. This started when president Salva Kiir Mayerdiit ordered the army generals to arm the Dinka Bor civilians in order to fight the rebel movement lead by the current Vice President Dr. Riek Machar. In his first initial order, president Kiir ordered the defense minister Kuol Manyang Jok to arm all the capable Dinka civilians in Jonglei, so that they could defense their territory from the rebels. In that initial mass recruitment, civilians were tribally motivated to protect their government and their area from what they called “enemies of Dinka”. As a result of that tribal impetus, the Greater Bor community, including the church leaders was supplied with AK-47 and several lights and heavy machine guns. When the Bor town was overran by the group of youth called“White Army” from the rebel side, a pastor carrying AK-47 and firearm Magazines was shown in the BBC video footage.

However, when the white army and South Sudan rebel defeated the South Sudanese army, the Uganda special forces known as “UPDF”, SPLM-N, JEM and Chadian rebels from both Malakal, and Bentiu, Salva Kiir and Jieng Council of Elders came up with another idea that once all civilians loyal to the government are armed, the rebel movement lead by Riek Machar would be crushed. But, before going forward with the war strategies, President Salva Kiir removed the General Chief of Staff James Gathoth Mai and replaced him with a hardliner called “Paul Malong Awan” who promised the president that he (Paul Malong) would catch the rebel leader Dr. Riek Machar within the 30 day period. Yet, when the plan to catch the rebel leader failed, the South Sudan leadership authorized all the operation commanders to supply the civilians from the Greater Upper Nile and Greater Bahr El Ghazal with enough weapons and ammunitions, so that they could fight alongside the South Sudanese army and their allies. By doing so, all the civilians were fully equipped with firearms, including the machine guns and rocket propelled grenades.

In the other hand, the South Sudanese rebel groups and their ally White Army also obtained enough guns either through the towns they have captured from South Sudan Army or through other means is up in the air. Because of this intensive recruitment campaign carried out by both sides, countless lives have been lost across the country due to the fact that people have been able to obtain firearms legally or illegally. Furthermore, the civilians have now taken the idea of being the fighters, as a motivation to carry out illegal activities, such as rape, robbery and inhumane executions.

Every day in South Sudan, someone is shot and killed, either intentionally or unintentionally, for that reason, the problem of gun violence in South Sudan is something that needs to be dealt with in no time. In another worst scenario, the gun is now being used for survival in terms of hunt for food and sex slaves. The criminals with guns have gained power over innocent persons. Case in point, in Unity State, thousands of cattle were seized from their owners and hundreds of young women were kidnapped and held as sex slaves by the government militia and some elements from the South Sudanese Army. In a serious accusation ever, the UN reported that the South Sudanese army and the government militia were given okay to loot and rape women in the absence of their salaries. But no one is pretty sure, whether the order came from the top leadership or from the field commanders. Another gun related incident had happened in South Sudan, Ethiopia border. A group of armed civilians from South Sudan had recently crossed into Ethiopia and killed over 208 people and kidnapped over 102 children along with more than 2,000 herds of cattle.

However, the strategic plans to promote unity and reduce the gun violence in South Sudan must focus on the 4 points of intervention:

  • Justice and accountability: investigate the root causes of the 2013 war, and bring the perpetrators to justice.
  • Pass a tough law that make it illegal to carry or possess a gun
  • Compensate all the dead and war disabled persons
  • Support the term limit for the presidency and all the federal and states posts

First, the international community must not ignore the root cause of the current war, while pressuring the people to embrace the peace in the country. How could one embrace peace, without justice and accountability for the genocide? The only mechanism to restore peace and stability in South Sudan is to hold those individuals criminally responsible for violations of international laws of war, and crime against humanity. For example, during the massacred of 20,000 ethnic Nuer civilians in Juba, some survivals narrated that people were forced to perform sexual acts on their family members or relatives, by armed men and others were fed with the flesh of their dead family members. Similarly, in Unity State, especially Leer, Rubkoni, Koch and Guit counties, civilians were burned alive, young boys were castrated, and thousands of women were held as sex slaves. In another worst incident, more than 50 people from Leer county were confined in a concealed container and died violently due to Hyperthermia and lack of oxygen. Those innocent civilians died cold-bloodedly just because they were from the Rebel leader’s home town. In addition, the current Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth was calling the victims in the UN protection camps “rebels” that led to the killing of innocent civilians in the UNMISS Camps in Bor town and Malakal. In view of that, every single one of the crime described above fall under Principle VI, section C, (Crime against humanity) according to the Principles of International Law Recognized in the Charter of the Nürnberg Tribunal, 1950.

The highlighted below are the crime against humanity that were described in one of the war crime’s Principles:

Murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation and other inhuman acts done against any civilian population, or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds, when such acts are 3 done or such persecutions are carried on in execution of or in connection with any crime against peace or any war crime”.

The international community should collectively investigate the root causes of war that lead to these calamities. And the perpetrators of the war must be brought to justice without immunity. Based on random opinions, South Sudanese victims’ families would like to see something similar to what was done to both Rwanda and former Yugoslavia war criminals. In those trials, those who raped women and children were slapped with death sentences and some were jailed for life.

Second, since access to a gun in South Sudan is uncontrollable and civilians are helpless during such time of civil war where thousands of lives are lost, properties are devastated and people across the country are emotionally shaken due to this catastrophe, tough law to restrict access to guns should be passed by this transitional government. A strict gun control policy that would abolish illegal guns would make South Sudan a safer place, because such a policy would also make it impossible to purchase a gun. From this year forward, it is advisable for the transitional government to undertake such severe measure, and promote peace through dialogue and harmony. On the other hand, those civilians who already possess the guns should be rewarded for turning their guns in to the authorities.

Third, there should be a compensation plan for the victims of 2013 massacred, and the properties destroyed during the war especially in the Greater Upper Nile. The compensation package should include all the basic needs, like food, education fund, health care, and clean drinking water fund. Nevertheless, the project should be supervised by the South Sudan peace sponsors, such as IGAD, AU, TRIOKA and UN, in order to minimize corruption.

Fourth, South Sudan should adapt the presidential term limits, because term limits would: (1) bring more diversity to the country and promote democracy, (2) allow good people from across the political field to participate in the political process as candidates without intimidation, (3) increase desire to compete in the election, (5) limit corruption, (6) reduce violence during election. Also, with term limits, politics would not be just about experience, but it will be genuine intent to bring real change to the nation.

In conclusion, without justice and accountability, it will be difficult to contain the upsurge of counter-violence and revenge killings that has been the case since 2013. In addition, the peace sponsors and the peace partners must address the root cause of war in a non-bias manner, in order to prevent another worse future conflict among the tribes. Another thing that needs to be done in a timely manner is to take those accountable for war and crimes against humanity in an international court. Taking the war criminals to the international court, would lessen the revenge killings that have been going on in the country. Sadly, the new government appeared to be reluctance in terms of implementing the peace agreement and rebuild the country. The issue of 28 states that has been pushed by the president and his group are more likely to plunge the country back into a new round of widespread violence. Therefore, the creation of 28 states is considered as a lack of commitment and willingness to live together as one nation.

The Author is a South Sudanese Canadian, and a human right activist

For question regarding this article, please contact the author @ jamestot20032003@yahoo.ca

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