THE WAY FORWARD FOR PEACE, RECONCILIATION AND JUSTICE IN SOUTH SUDAN: VIEWS OF GRASSROOTS COMMUNITIES AND CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANISATIONS
CIVIL SOCIETY PAPER NO. 1 OF 2017
PAGAK TOWN, SOUTH SUDAN
By Biel Boutros Biel,
June 26th, 2017(Nyamilepedia) —— In June 2017, more than 70 representatives of different civil society, women, community leaders and faith-based organisations came together in a series of workshops and community dialogues held in Pagak Town in South Sudan. Despite the challenges faced, the workshops and community dialogues were finally successfully organised by South Sudan Human Rights Society for Advocacy(SSHURSA). The dialogues were held under the theme: “COMMUNITY EMPOWERMENT FOR JUSTICE, PEACE & RECONCILIATION FOR COMMON DIGNITY.”
The groups who gathered are those operating within the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement or Army-In Opposition(SPLM/A-IO) controlled areas. Among the key questions discussed included the following:
- How best can civil society and different institutions organise themselves in the SPLM/A-IO controlled areas to play strong watchdog and advisory role on issues affecting the grassroots communities including peace and reconciliation efforts?
- What influence should the civil society, other community and faith based groups play to ensure that peace returns to South Sudan?
- What can different groups do alone as South Sudanese and also with other regional and international actors to ensure that stability is restored in the country?
- How can true peacebuilding and reconciliation be done among the grassroots communities in South Sudan especially in SPLM/A-IO controlled areas and within refugee camps in the neighbouring countries?
- How do the civil society and other groups in the SPLM/A-IO controlled areas view the national dialogue taking place in South Sudan capital Juba?
- What is the view of civil society and other groups on humanitarian crisis looming in the country and its effects on peace, justice and reconciliation?
- How can justice be ensured in South Sudan during and after the ongoing civil war?
Summary of key recommendations:
- That there is need for a new political process aimed at reviving the collapsed Peace Agreement 2015.
- That the new political process should be headed by the African Union and to be only supported by UN, IGAD, EU, Troika and other regional and international bodies.
- That the new political process should start with the release of Dr Riek Machar as one of the key signatories to the Peace Agreement and the current leader of SPLM/A-IO.
- That the new political process should discuss leadership crisis and renegotiate any changes in the Peace Agreement.
- That as soon as the Peace Agreement is revived, the African Union should set up the Hybrid Court for South Sudan subject to broader consultation on the contents of the legislation with the civil society groups in both government and SPLM/A-IO controlled areas.
- That there is no need for a national dialogue to be pursued differently but would be done later as part of the would-be revived Peace Agreement.
- That there should be a strong and independent civil society body within the SPLM/A-IO controlled areas to carry out civic education, perform watchdog and advisory role in the communities and local authorities on issues of justice, peace and reconciliation.
- That there should be continued peace and reconciliation as well as justice empowerment among local communities respectively by civil society in the SPLM/A-IO controlled areas.
- That there should be a joint humanitarian arrangement between the warring parties and such a joint humanitarian body should be headed by one of the UN agencies in order to ensure that no party uses the relief as a tool of war.
- That in South Sudan mostly in war zones, there should be full deployment of the proposed Regional Protection Force to protect civilians.
- That the international and regional bodies should speak with one voice in order to push for the revival of the Peace Agreement which gives opportunity for reforms in South Sudan.
- That the donor agencies should financially support both civil society groups operating in government and non-government controlled areas to sensitise and empower grassroots communities on justice, human rights, peace and reconciliation.
Observations and recommendations:
- Peace and new political process
The participants observed that though peace begins within individual person and his or her family then to the wider society and nation, yet generally, today in South Sudan, there is no peace. The civil war started on 15 December 2013 and temporarily ended in April 2016 when former Vice President Dr Riek Machar, the current leader of the armed opposition(SPLM/A-IO) returned to capital Juba to implement the 2015 Peace Agreement with his main peace partner President Salva Kiir. On 8 July 2016, the civil war broke out again in Presidential Palace in Juba between the parties to the Agreement. The violence escalated, leading to Dr. Riek Machar fleeing Juba, marking the country’s return to the ongoing civil war. The participants observed that the 2015 Peace Agreement has collapsed and what is being implemented in Juba is a mere ‘alliance of convenience’. Millions have fled to safety in neighbouring countries, making South Sudan according to UN reports, the world’s leading refugee crisis country. Over one million children have already fled. Hundreds of thousands continue to live in inhuman conditions in internally displaced persons’ protection cites manned by the United Nations. All these happenings, according to the participants, reveal the difficult situation South Sudan has been going through. There is thus complete absence of peace.
The participants also observed that there is complete leadership crisis in the country which explains why the country has lost direction for peace but only war. They noted that since the Agreement has collapsed and the country is in full civil war, elections cannot be held in the next one and half years.
The participants recommended that in order to bring South Sudan back to stability, there should be an inclusive new political process which will bring together the main signatories to the 2015 Peace Agreement. They strongly recommended that the new political process should be aimed at the revival of the collapsed Peace Agreement. Additionally, they emphasised that in order to stop war, an inclusive process should start with Dr Riek Machar being immediately released from his current detention in South Africa in order to come to renegotiate the Agreement with his former peace partner Salva Kiir and other stakeholders.
The participants urged the international and regional bodies not to fund or support any election that would not return South Sudan to peace. Instead, bodies like European Union, Troika, African Union, IGAD and other international and region entities, should take radical stripes towards full revival of the Peace Agreement as the only option left to put South Sudan back to normalcy.
The participants further observed that the revived Peace Agreement will give a room for main signatories and other stakeholders to chart a way forward towards viable options that will address leadership crisis in the country and will finally put the country back to peace.
- Reconciliation and National Dialogue
The participants observed that social cohesion and fabrics which had glued South Sudanese communities together in the past have been broken apart by the brutal civil war with its dividing effects. That South Sudanese need true reconciliation. They observe that in order for true reconciliation to take place, returning the country to stability, should be the priority.
Discussing on the National Dialogue that was launched in May 2017 in Juba by President Salva Kiir, the participants observed that there should be no such national dialogue being prioritised when the country is at civil war with itself. That a national dialogue remains being as part of the Peace Agreement which has already collapsed.
The participants recommended that reviving the 2015 Peace Agreement should be the starting point towards a stable South Sudan. Peace, they observed, will bring South Sudanese together once again. With peace, South Sudanese will have opportunity to interact to devise the way forward on genuine reconciliation through an inclusively legislatively designed national dialogue. They pointed out that the current national dialogue in Juba is both wrong in time and inclusivity. The participants however, noted that, at each community and intergroup levels, there should be reconciliation and forgiveness to ensure teamwork in order to shape way forward on reforms and lasting peace which South Sudan badly needs.
They recommended that the international and regional bodies, instead of supporting a partial national dialogue that is intended to destroy the spirit and letter of the 2015 Peace Agreement, they should support the revival of the Peace Agreement that will bring South Sudan back to sanity and that stability will allow an inclusive and well designed national dialogue to take place. That a would-be national dialogue should have a clear mandate and structure. The national dialogue should have also a neutral and acceptable convener once stability is restored. The participants agreed that the civil society and other institutions should continue with efforts of peace and reconciliation among the local communities in the SPLM/A-IO controlled areas and refugee camps among various South Sudanese refugee communities.
- Economic collapse and humanitarian crisis
The participants noted that the country’s economy has suffered significant blows due to continued civil war and corruption since 2005 which has been perpetuated by the state officials under the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement(SPLM). The war has led the country to economic collapse and humanitarian crises. According to various reports including those by the United Nations, South Sudan’s half population, by the end of the year 2017, shall have been dead or fled to neighbouring countries. The participants have also observed that despite the declaration of famine in Leer and Mayendit Counties in Western Upper Nile, yet the government continues to use food relief as a tool of war which it does not allow to be freely and timely delivered to the local populations. This is intended to starve the local civilian populations in the SPLM/A-IO controlled areas.
The participants also observed that in SPLM/A-IO controlled areas, especially in the areas where direct military engagement happens to take place, humanitarian agencies are rarely quickly accorded access to those areas in order to timely save the civilians in dire needs. They emphasised that the military always cites security and safety reasons not to allow access to humanitarian agencies immediately after clashes.
That in order to save lives, the international community should pressure Juba government to allow free access of humanitarian agencies to offer safe delivery of food and non-food items to civilians trapped in the war zones and in SPLM/A-IO controlled areas. They also recommended that no matter where the hostility takes place, the SPLM/A-IO authorities should never prevent humanitarian agencies from quickly reaching the war zones to deliver assistance to civilians trapped in war zones. Instead, the security apparatus should monitor what the humanitarian agencies do when they are in such frontline zones immediately after the clashes.
The participants also recommended a joint humanitarian hub slightly modeled along the former ‘Operations Lifeline Sudan’(OLS) that should be formed between the government of South Sudan and main armed opposition(SPLM/A-IO). That the humanitarian joint structure should be managed by one of the UN agencies and its headquarters should be based in a country like Ethiopia, Tanzania or Sudan in order to allow both the Opposition and government officials to jointly monitor delivery of humanitarian support to the starving civil populations in South Sudan.
- IGAD or AU-led Peace and new political process
In trying to reach at possible options on how stability can be restored in South Sudan, the participants deliberated on Intergovernmental Authority on Development(IGAD)-led new political process to restore stability. The participants unanimously agreed that IGAD leaders have personal interests in South Sudan and such interests prevent them from providing possible options to end the war in the country. The participants believe that IGAD as an institution has lost legitimacy on South Sudan peace process. Unfortunately IGAD neither allows any other institutions to take up the process nor does it intend to resolve the crisis in South Sudan. That IGAD as an institution has partly become an obstacle to peace in South Sudan and therefore, part and parcel of the problem in the country.
The participants recommended that IGAD should vacate any initiative meant to start a new political process intended to revive the collapsed Peace Agreement. Instead, they recommended that the African Union(AU) should take over the process and should be only supported by IGAD, United Nations(UN) and other regional and international actors concerned about the instability in South Sudan.
- How justice can be ensured in South Sudan
The participants observed that a lot of atrocities, human rights abuses, war crimes and crimes against humanity with willful abuse of rule of law have been committed in South Sudan since 2013 when the civil war broke out. They noted that impunity has increasingly continued in South Sudan. That if perpetrators continue to freely go unpunished, human rights abuses, will remain unabated and that will continue perpetuating impunity which shall always be a recipe for recurrence of violence.
The participants recommended that in order for justice to be addressed, the Peace Agreement should be revived. Once the Peace Agreement is revived, Chapter V of the Agreement provides for the Transitional Justice institutions such as Commission for Truth, Healing and Reconciliation, Hybrid Court for South Sudan and Compensatory and Reparations Authority. The institutions should be immediately established especially the Hybrid Court to hold accountable before courts of law the perpetrators of human rights and humanitarian law. They also recommended that the African Union when establishing the Hybrid Court should consult in the process with the civil society organisations, faith based institutions and grassroots communities in both government and SPLM/A-IO controlled areas.
Additionally, in order to preserve evidence that may be used to hold perpetrators accountable, the participants recommended that SSHURSA and civil society groups should also carry out human rights documentation in the SPLM/A-IO controlled areas and among the refugee camps in the neighbouring countries.
The participants also recommended that despite previous failures, the civil society and international community, should pressure the leadership of both the SPLM/A-IO and SPLM/A-In Government(SPLM/A-IG) to put in place interim measures to punish anyone who abuses human rights in their respective territories. That justice should be seen done above personal interests.
- Deployment of Regional Protection Force
The participants also observed that in order for civilians to be protected while the local, regional and international actors on peace in South Sudan unite efforts to revive the Peace Agreement, in the interim, a Regional Protection Force(RPF), under UN should be fully deployed. The participants appreciated the recent intervention of UN soldiers in Collo(Shilluk land)in securing areas to ensure civilians are protected. The participants recommend that UN soldiers should be heavily deployed in war zones to protect the civilians.
- Civil society structure and financial support
The participants especially the civil society members who attended the community dialogues noted that the civil society organisations have no clear formal structure in the SPLM/A-IO controlled areas. That most of the civil society groups who have fled government controlled areas, do not have full presence in the SPLM/A-IO controlled areas and equally are reluctantly to operate fully in Pagak and other places under SPLM/A-IO. Those civil society organisations which are already on the ground unfortunately, each works on its own accord with less coordination with others. There is complete absence of organised structure of civil society.
The participants also observed that most of the funding institutions or donors, only give most of the funding to civil society and nongovernmental organisations in government controlled areas neglecting the civil society and nongovernmental organisations in SPLM/A-IO controlled areas while those nongovernment controlled territories whom the civil society organisations operate, are inhabited by South Sudanese communities most of whom are victims and survivors of the ongoing civil war.
That it is unfortunate that international nongovernmental organisations are still being funded while working in the SPLM/A-IO controlled areas yet the same donors do not financially grant civil society organisations working in those same areas adequate and equal funding like the civil society in government controlled areas while the civil society groups who ran away from the government controlled areas, have same capacity like their colleagues in Juba.
The participants recommended to SSHURSA to organise civil society and other faith based groups so that they have formal structures and work in coordination with each other. This helps them to project their voice on peace, reconciliation and stability efforts beyond the confines of their environment. That the civil society should, in an organised way, carry out advocacy for peace and new political process within the regional and international bodies.
That the donors should consider funding civil society and nongovernmental organisations operating in the SPLM/A-IO controlled areas. This will help such groups do civic education and efforts that ensure return of peace to South Sudan. SSHURSA was encouraged to look for funding to conduct community dialogues on different thematic areas separately with various groups: youth, women, community and traditional authorities, local government officials and continue with civic education and human rights documentation within refugee camps and grassroots communities.
- Formation of a civil society forum
In implementation of the civil society’s recommendation to have a forum, after series of consultation meetings with civil society groups, on 20 June 2017, SSHURSA organised a meeting for the civil society in Pagak. After long deliberations, the civil society formed a consortium and named it ‘Civil Society Peace and Humanitarian Development Consortium’ abbreviated as ‘CSPHDC’. The body shall be simply known as ‘The Consortium.’ An interim committee consisted of seven civil society organisations were selected to work on primary documents to govern the Consortium.
Members of Consortium:
South Sudan Human Rights Society for Advocacy(SSHURSA) which is the convener shall remain to play a mentoring role within the membership of the Consortium. Other key members include:
- Gender Empowerment for South Sudan(GESSO),
- Lead Development Agency(LDA),
- Interchurch Committee for Peace and Development(ICCPD),
- African Centre for Justice, Peace and Reconciliation(ACJPR),
- Institute for Rights of Women(IRW),
- South Sudan Youth for Peace Prayer and Reform(SSYPPR),
- Pagak County Youth Association(PCYA),
- Adar State Youth Association(ASYA),
- Nuer Christian Youth for Peace and Development(NCYPD),
- MatMedia Sudan Society(MSS) and among others.
For more information about this civil society paper, contact SSHURSA Executive Director Biel Boutros Biel on mobile: +251985661853, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.orgemail@example.com. Addis Ababa. The final report shall include other community dialogues which SSHURSA had conducted in other locations beyond South Sudan.
SSHURSA is a nonpolitical and nonprofit-making national human rights organisation founded on 5 June 2007 by South Sudanese lawyers and law students at Law Development Centre(LDC), Makerere, Kampala, Uganda. Its main objective is to ensure respect of human rights and fundamental principles of rule of law. SSHURSA strives to ensure that it empowers and builds capacity of the local communities and civil society actors for them to work and live in human rights, justice, good governance, peace and reconciliation oriented environment. 2017 is a special year for SSHURSA as 5th June 2017 marked 10 years of its existence. For 10 years, without fear or favour, SSHURSA has remained firmly outspoken against human rights and rule of law abuses by the state. Its management has always stood to voice out condemnations of state abuses even at times many voices are silent and reserved to give an alternative narrative on abusive state policies. As this year remains special, SSHURSA dedicates 2017 to late Isaiah Diing Abraham Chan Awuol(Isaiah Abraham) and millions of innocent civilians and number of journalists who have perished in South Sudan due to abusive state policies. Isaiah, who for being outspoken against human rights and rule of law abuses by the state, was finally assassinated on 5 December 2012 in Juba by armed men whom we strongly believe were the security agents of the South Sudanese government. To date, no one has been held accountable over his murder. For SSHURSA, Isaiah remains a man of conscience who died because he wanted South Sudan to be governed by rule of law and not by rule of man. In furtherance of what Isaiah has died for, we in SSHURSA believe in action and our sacrifices in defence of human rights shall remain undeterred. For more information about SSHURSA, see our website: www.sshursa.org or google us to read more of our work. In one way or the other, SSHURSA thanks all those who supported and continue to give support to do its work.