BY: Dr. Lako Jada Kwajok, JUN/21/2016, SSN;
The alleged joint letter by the President and the First Vice President that was published by the New York Times couldn’t have come at a better time. It provided the South Sudanese people with the opportunity to know early on how committed are the principal parties to the issue of accountability as stipulated in the Agreement on Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCISS).
The revelation of the hiring of a public relations firm in drafting the letter and in ensuring its publication on New York Times shows how desperate the regime has become in its bid to evade justice.
Ironically, the government that has mistreated and accused some honest citizens of undermining South Sudan’s sovereignty finds nothing wrong in enlisting the services of a foreign firm in a matter that has far-reaching national security implications.
It’s unbecoming of the President to incorporate the name of the First Vice President in a fake letter without his consent. One would have expected the President to come forward and state his case before the nation rather than trying to share the responsibility of his actions and positions with his First Vice President.
It’s a bizarre and a fraudulent act at the highest office in the land. The scenario is quite damaging to the office of the Presidency, and as usual, under Kiir’s reign, we ended up being ridiculed around the world.
Three weeks ago, Daniel Awet Akot, the Presidential Advisor on Military Affairs criticised the international community for pushing for the establishment of the Hybrid Court of South Sudan (HCSS) as prescribed by ARCISS. He argued that it would derail the peace process and that it should be delayed, and priority should be given to reconciliation and to building trust between the parties.
But how can we build confidence while criminals are left on the loose?! And how long should the formation of the HCSS be delayed? Will it be for the entire period of the Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU) as suggested by some supporters of the regime?
And should that be the case, will it not interfere with the expected elections in 2018? President Kiir, who is topping the list of suspects has already unofficially declared his intention to stand for election in 2018; will that not result in a serious conflict of interest and hindrance to the functioning of the court?
The HCSS is an integral part of ARCISS; hence, the postponement of its formation is in itself a violation of ARCISS. Either we have an agreement that needs implementing in its totality or we haven’t got one. Forgoing one of the pillars of the peace deal would leave the door wide-open for reluctance or refusal to honour the rest of the commitments and a consequent collapse of the whole peace process.
It’s a calculated attempt to water down the provisions of the peace agreement. Accountability does not cancel reconciliation or vice versa. Both processes could be carried out side by side if a lasting peace is to be realised.
It transpires that some are worried about individuals who may well be targets for indictments by the HCSS thus would pose a threat to the peace process as a whole. Whether these concerns are genuine or a sort of scare tactics employed by the regime – Justice cannot be held hostage by a bunch of individuals who may well be criminals and continue to hold positions of authority.
I believe the South Sudanese are not in a position to appease those who have committed war crimes and are certainly not afraid of what such people might do. Many countries went through similar circumstances as South Sudan but they did the right thing.
In Rwanda, where an estimated 800,000 people were killed between April and June 1994 in the worst genocide ever on the African continent – the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) was established on 08/11/1994 by the UN Security Council resolution 955. That was within 5 months from the end of the war. There was no such thing as delaying justice for the sake of building trust between the adversaries.
In the case of the massacres in the former Yugoslavia, the UN Security Council Resolution 827 for the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was passed on 25/05/1993, while the war was still raging in some parts of the country. The Srebrenica genocide where 8,000 Bosniak (Bosnian Muslims) men and boys were killed actually took place after the formation of the ICTY.
Therefore, the formation of the HCSS is most required sooner than later and is already overdue. Its establishment would bolster the chances of a genuine reconciliation between the communities as people would be encouraged to engage in a national dialogue for peace knowing that the rule of law is being upheld. It’s unlikely that a well-informed community would defend or hide a criminal even if he or she is one of its own.
President Slobodan Milosevic’ of Serbia, President Radovan Karadz’ic’ of the Bosnian Serbs and General Ratko Mladic’, the Bosnian Serbs Military leader were all extradited to The Hague to face justice for their roles in the Bosnian genocide through the cooperation of their people.
Some suspects may seem invincible to some people or they may think they are so but once the indictments are handed down by the HCSS – that invincibility would vanish in no time. As for those in the government who have threatened to follow the footsteps of Al Qaeda and cohorts – they should be mindful of the fact that the terrain in South Sudan is not similar to the Tora Bora mountain range in Afghanistan that facilitates hiding.
With the collapse of the economy and failure to pay salaries for the soldiers – our bogus Generals would likely find themselves on their own. The HCSS may have little to do tracking down the fleeing Generals as their soldiers would no longer be keen to protect them thus would rather hand them over to the court.
It must be clear the accountability we mean is the one that will bring all criminals from all parties to book. There should be no one above the law. It’s not just a matter of seeking justice for the grieving families and victims but is a moral obligation on our part as citizens.
It also sets up the foundation for a just, law-abiding and peace-loving society. Some may say atrocities have been committed since 1983, so why precedence is given to the December 2013 Juba massacre of the Nuer civilians than the others?
My answers to this valid question are as follows: Firstly, the HCSS has a specific mandate and jurisdiction that does not include war crimes committed before the December 2013 massacre.
Secondly, the trial of suspects for the recent atrocities does not negate setting up a special court for the previous crimes if deemed practicable. However, such a court would face insurmountable difficulties in collecting evidence for crimes committed over a quarter of a century ago. The forensic evidence has already been lost, and the credible eye-witnesses might have perished in the course of that war or indeed in the recent conflict.
Thirdly, the chances for the international community to establish a court for the previous atrocities are quite remote. The international law is based on precedents among other things. What happened before were atrocities committed by rebel factions in the absence of the rule of law. The international community has never set up a court in the past for trial of leaders of rebel factions. There is no precedence.
Therefore, such an undertaking by the international community is very unlikely. However, we do realise that some of the suspects in the previous atrocities are also suspects in the recent ones, hence, would not escape justice this time if proven to have recommitted crimes.
Many observers and even supporters have been wondering about what is going on in the SPLM/A-IO camp. The majority of the South Sudanese people would certainly give Dr Riek Machar a thumbs-up for his endeavours to reach out to the communities by delivering speeches at church congregations and private meetings. Organising public rallies would have been a much effective way of getting his message across to the populace.
He has been talking about reconciliation and the need for forgiveness which resonated very well with the majority of the people. However, it has been noted that the word accountability never came up in his speeches.
Despite the fact that the alleged joint letter has now been proven to be a scam, yet a cloud of suspicion continues to hang over Dr Riek Machar regarding his real position about accountability. A direct statement from him would have dissipated that cloud of suspicion immediately and for good.
It’s one thing when the Press Secretary, James Gatdet, refutes the letter and it’s another when the denial comes straight from Dr Riek Machar because it will not be merely a denial but a reaffirmation of his position.
The SPLM/A-IO leadership has much to lose with the delay or the abolition of the HCSS than SPLM/A-IG. In fact, Kiir and cohorts would like the HCSS to be no more, and should that happen; they would be the ultimate winners.
Therefore, the SPLM/A-IO should be wary of public support because it’s never absolute and could change rapidly simply because of lack of clarity or when politicians give mixed messages about important issues like accountability.
Dr Lako Jada Kwajok