On the 4th Commemoration of the Nuer Genocide
By Matai M. Muon,
Dec 15, 2017(Nyamilepedia) —– On this day, roughly about five years today, South Sudan proved to the world how young it still was in the community of nations. A small disagreement over party politics would take the whole nation into a brutal civil war. In the mid night of that fateful day, government allied militias chose to stoop low on innocent civilians, most of whom were of Nuer origin. Less than two years before, those innocent souls were among the nation’s population that decided to break away from years of social, economic, political and cultural humiliation. With the President turning into a mere resident, soldiers famously known as ‘Gelweng’ went on a killing spree, the like of which South Sudan had never experienced. Virtually a half of the city was wiped out. Humanitarian conflict analysts would describe the tragedy as ‘unprecedented since 1994 Rwanda.’
In the years that followed, controversies developed over the right name to be adopted which would signify the event that shamed the city of Juba. The Nuer community, overwhelmed by the number of their loved ones who were massacred in Juba was quick to employ the term ‘Nuer Genocide.’ The rest of other tribes, most especially the Dinka tribe find it hard to accept this definition. Whereas other communities such as the Shilluk, the Equatorias understand that more Nuer were killed in Juba than any other tribe, there is still argument over which name should be adopted to better describe this unfortunate human tragedy. In what seems to be a politically ethnically motivated argument, a section of the country does not buy the fact that it is Nuer Genocide. There is a huge agreement however, that what truly transpired then was indeed a deliberate killing. Was it genocide? If yes, whose genocide, and by whom was it committed. It indeed was genocide. It was an intentional act carried out by a local militia who looked to have been prepared for the day. In a door to door style, they would visit for murder each of the Nuer neighborhood both within and outside the city. In the process, they massacred these souls in cold blood. In their minds, these were ‘Naath Machar’ perceived as ‘Machar loyalists’ because of the identity of their tribe.
One of my immediate first cousins, a survivor, would narrate to me the ordeal of Juba during the time: “They found me, moving along the road with my younger brother. We were escaping to the UN Compound. Where are you going and where do you come from? They asked me. “We are going to the market to buy food. We come from Hai Amarat.” He answered in a troubled voice. These were not the questions they wanted, my cousin revealed. They wanted to know if we were going to the UN Shelter and whether we came from the Nuer tribe. Luckily, my cousin does not have the traditional Nuer marks for obvious identification. The entire conversation was in Arabic. He survived. Many of his colleagues did not. Two of his immediate friends were shot in the head and chest respectively while he was watching. “It was the most horrible thing I have seen since birth.” He told me.
The term genocide was engineered by the United Nations following the Holocaust in the Hitler’s Germany in the first half of the 20th century. In the standard Oxford Dictionary, genocide is defined as “a deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular nation or ethnic group.” The UN in its Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948) carries a long, detailed legal definition of the term. It describes genocide as ” any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
In the ‘final solution,’ Hitler had ordered the extermination of six million Jews in what would be described as the Holocaust. It remained as of the worst human-induced tragedies since the creation of mankind. In the ‘Re-education’ campaign, Khmer Rouge of Cambodia had massacred 1.7 to 2 million people between 1975 and 1979. Most of who died in the infamous ‘killing fields.’ These killings were mostly targeting the Cambodian intellectuals, doctors, lawyers and scientists whom the regime accused of foreign links. Beginning in 1915, ethnic Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were rounded up, deported and executed on orders of the government. The combination of massacres, forced deportation marches and deaths due to disease in concentration camps is estimated to have killed more than 1 million ethnic Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks between 1915 and 1923.
However, the most intense and perhaps the relevant example of genocide in relations to South Sudanese situation was the Bosnian killing. The Serbs under control of the government at the time targeted Bosniaks and Croatians following the breakup of the Yugoslavia in the 90’s. Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Croats and Bosniaks would perish at the hand of the regime. That was how it happened in Juba. With more Gelweng in control, and less loyalty to the constitution and the nation, innocent Nuer would face the consequence of poor leadership that pays homage first to the tribe before the nation. President Kiir with direct assistance from his clansmen executed the long planned killing movie that would change the nation’s political structure forever. The number of people killed remains under debate but estimate puts the death statistics between 20-50,000 souls. A third of this number, it is widely argued, did not know why they were killed.
As we remember those souls, it is incumbent upon us that responsibility to prevent this tragedy from happening lies not with anybody else but each one of us. Individually, everyone has unique role to play in ensuring that no tragedy of this proportion happens again in our great nation. The silence of other ethnic group on this matter is a recipe for future violence. Our combined voice of reason as a forgotten nation is the only way to fix future mistakes for the good of posterity. As the country takes a minute of silence, can we make this a lesson of love, forgiveness and social harmony? Can we stop finding happiness in each other’s suffering and instead looking at individual harm as a collective harm inflicted on us by forces of evil? Can we be our brothers and sisters’ keepers? If we do these, we would reap the fruits of our labor.
Matai M. Muon is a student at the Institute of Diplomacy and International Studies (IDIS), University of Nairobi, Kenya, a human rights activist and Amnesty International Researcher. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.