Why Gatdet Dak’s Death Sentence is Everyone’s Injustice.

“First they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out —because I a m not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jews. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” —- Martin Niemoller

By Matai M. Muon,

Machar's former spokesman, James Gatdet Dak, who is facing death sentence in the hands of South Sudan regime led by Salva Kiir(Photo: file)

Machar’s former spokesman, James Gatdet Dak, who is facing death sentence in the hands of South Sudan regime led by Salva Kiir(Photo: file)

Feb 13, 2018(Nyamilepedia) —– In November 2016, following a mere facebook post, James Gatdet Dak, the former outspoken press secretary in the Office of the First Vice President Dr. Riek Machar found himself at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. He was being deported to Juba, a death mat. The Kenyan government considered him persona non-grata, a term used in diplomatic circles to mean “unwanted person.” This principle undergoes a series of steps for it to be triggered. One of them being involvement in activities that could threaten the national security of the receiving state, or taking part in the gravest political issues of the receiving state and so forth.

For Gatdet’s case, this was never the matter. His comment about the Kenyan military general on UN duty in South Sudan does not seem convincing enough to warrant the scale of attack on his personal freedom he is now suffering. The Kenyan government therefore, was hanging on a loose case. His deportation did not follow the normal diplomatic protocols around that area. This means that he did not qualify under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961) to be declared “persona non-grata.” Gatdet was also a registered refugee. He was a political as well as a humanitarian refugee. Under the 1951 International Refugees Act of which Kenya is a signatory, the principle of non-refoulment prohibits any deportation of a duly registered refugee to a location that threatens or deemed insecure for their lives. This act alone betrayed Kenya’s own humble struggle to protect the most basic provisions of international law.

In the Facebook post that would later endanger his freedom, Dak was expressing his own personal opinion warranted and protected by both domestic and international law in particular the Universal Declaration of Human Rights doctrine. This international customary law emphases the need to observe the fundamental rights of the human persons. For example, under Article 3, the right to life, liberty and security of the person is highly stressed. In Article 6 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, death penalty is prohibited if a fair trial was not conducted. A keen follower of the case would agree that no judicial procedures have been undertaken. The case has been approached purely politically.

The government of South Sudan in a blatant violation of the constitution, pursued the case from a political spectrum. In the months that followed, Gatdet would then be exposed to the cruelest inhumane treatments ever witnessed. Credible accounts within his family and his legal representatives show that he has suffered different kinds of torture in the prison. The infamous Blue House in which he is being held has some of the worst prison facilities in the world. During his public appearances, his physical buildup has significantly deteriorated. He looks pale, vulnerable and exhausted. One of the security affairs journalists who has been to Guantanamo bay wrote that “this is the worst I have seen yet.” The Interim Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan (2011) outlaws any torture, physical harm of an individual person regardless of their alleged crimes. Since the government does no longer operate within its domestic legal obligations nor its international legal constraints, it has taken the case as a political tool to achieve end meets. For several months, Gatdet has appeared in the court answering charges that carry political motivations rather than legal weights.

In this Kangaroo judicial system, the court proceedings are conducted in Arabic, a language he nor his defense lawyers fluently speak. The court documents are subsequently produced in Arabic. Requests for translations are laughed off at best or intentionally ignored at worst. His defense lawyers have since then withdrawn from the case, citing serious state interference in the process. It is in the public domain that the legal proceedings continue with AK 47 mounted few yards away from the judge. His defense lawyers have thus urged the AU, UN or any other neutral legal body to take up the case. For public records, it is good to remind readers that the South Sudanese President has the powers to dismiss judges at will.

He has done that several times. Therefore, the borders between the executive and the judiciary in this part of the world is highly blurred. When the military government is at work, the other arms of government cease to operate independently. In the 1970’s Cambodia for example, Pol Pot and his brother Leng San were sentenced to death in absentia by the People’s Revolutionary Tribunal, a copy of the SPLM judicial sytem. The court proceedings lasted for five days. Conclusive evidence suggests that the verdicts and the sentencing papers had been prepared in advance of the trials. In the months that followed, the UN using this evidence dismissed the ruling on the side of international law.

Political cases have a history of manipulations. In most instances, the law gets intentionally ignored. The case at hand is a pure political matter. To make this obvious, government has employed a delaying tactics in expeditiously concluding the case. It always waits for the right moment to strike. It is one of their tools to advance their weak diplomacy in Addis Ababa. In the broad light violation of the Cessation of Hostilities clause which among others says that all political prisoners must be freed, the government on 12 of this month instead handed a death sentence to Gatdet Dak. This is a big insult to the regional diplomatic effort that Kenya is a leading example. The death sentence of James Gatdet is an injustice to all. If government’s continued criminal activities go on without being collectively opposed, we might all become victims.

In Luther King’s words, an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere. All South Sudanese of good moral ethics, and strong human rights principles must stand up for Gatdet Dak’s ongoing humiliation. This is our collective suffering. If Gatdet is hanged tomorrow for a crime he has not commissioned or participated in its commission, our nation goes down in shame. The respect for the fundamental human right to life, to liberty and to security is a treasure we all must protect at any cost. There is no better friend to any government than the one who always fight for their rights. If you support government’s war against your rights, you shall forever be a victim of your own achievements. Let’s join forces to call for the immediate release of James Gatdet. it is the least one can do for one’s nation.

Matai M. Muon is a researcher on issues of international law, human rights and international politics. He currently volunteers with Amnesty International on these core areas. Please, reach out to him on: mataimuon@yahoo.com or muon@students.uonbi.ac.ke

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