Exercising freedom of speech in South Sudan is the highway to the grave

BY: Bol Garang de Bol, Canberra, AUSTRALIA, DEC/31/2012, SSN;

This shocking murder of Isaiah Diing Chan Awuol (Isaiah Abraham) tragically underscores the ongoing struggle in South Sudan for press freedom and I offer my condolences to Diing Chan’s family and friends. I stated to the President in my first article that, although our request, advice, opinions seem to be ignored by you and your Ministers, we won’t abandon our responsibilities as citizens of South Sudan to let our voices be heard.

It is universally accredited that the right to freedom of expression is an introductory human right of the greatest importance in the world. It is an engineering of democracy, key to the protection of all human rights, and fundamental to human dignity in its own right. Attempting this freedom of expression in South Sudan is the highway to the grave.

The mysterious death of prominent opinion writer, Diing Abraham Chan, under mysterious circumstances while he was in his home in Gudele, Juba on December 5th 2012 has seriously damaged and dented that country’s long held record of peace and cool handling of political crisis ever since it attained its political independence in 2011.

The freedom of speech, at the same time, is also comprehensively recognized as absolute right of every citizen to express his/her view through writing or whatever way. I am very disappointed and wondering why democracy in South Sudan has failed the character test by developing system of limitations on freedom of expression. The recent elimination of opinion writer Diing Chan Awuol (Isaiah Abraham) for reasons best known by Kiir-led government and his security is the major setback in the history of our country.

On the other hand, these political-motivated killings have not met some standard of legitimacy. For otherwise, measures which seriously limited freedom of expression and yet were ineffective in achieving any promotional objective would not be allowed to stand.

I think we would all agree that issues such as corruption, weak leadership and mismanagement of government resources are all matters of public interest everyone wants to know and they are the root cause of Diing Chan’s death due to his condemnations. They also have a bearing on national security threats in Juba.

The people of South Sudan are not defended by our government and their Constitutional rights are clearly at stake. The fact that
we are no longer in an authoritarian state but a democracy controlled by military and security forces should have no bearing on the matter affecting citizens.

When, however, the public and private impression in such a way that it directly affects their governance, the public figure’s private life must inevitably be in the public eye. If, as in the case of recent murder of Isaiah Abraham by unknown gangs believed to be arrogant security forces, it concerns corruption or association with known felons then it is a matter of
great importance to be condemned.

Why does a one-year government lose its creditability and trust of its citizens? Within a year, it became clear that 2012 would be remembered in the history of South Sudan as the year Kiir’s governments lost their credibility. The freedom of expression is a right without restrain which other rights are difficult to acquire and defend.

The world has seen a continuing struggle for the freedom of expression, including the freedom of speech and freedom of the press, often going hand in hand with the endeavor to limit the power of governments. The freedom of expression can be considered
an essential aspect of the individual’s defense against government, just as the suppression of the freedom of expression is essential to oppression.

We, Human rights defenders rely heavily on this right to challenge government indifference to or infliction of human rights abuses and we don’t regret death. Many writers are aware that one time, one finds a day, the interest of the
nation will be beyond personal interest.

In South Sudan, often overlooked is the issue that corruption became rampant and chronic before and after the nation gained independence in 2011. To bridge this gap, Journalists focused on each individual and examined its historical record of changes in leadership and corruption since attaining independence. We posit that South Sudan’s corruption is an indication of its weak or bad governance, its undemocratic dictatorial leaderships, and its institutional incompetence post-independence.

To provide good governance in the Republic of South Sudan, freedom of expression must be modified and the leaders must change their behavior and recalibrate their moral compasses to observe more consistently the rule of law and constraints on their powers. They must use their powers wisely and responsibly and should not be at all times be motivated by self-interest,
but only by the desire for public good and national interest.

They must also rescind efforts at personalizing government and give primacy to the needs and welfare of citizens by whose
authority and on whose behalf they hold and exercise their powers and authority.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the Republic of South Sudan is still more a dream than reality. The violations of human rights exist in a very government departments and very state of the country.

Without doubts, the Office of the South Sudan President General Salva Kiir Mayardit is responsible for the death of Diing Chan Awuol (Isaiah Abraham), Akuach Jook and many people have been given death threats. The recent death of Diing indicates that South Sudanese citizens were subjected to a climate of fear as a result of the atrocities committed by the fundamentalist organs of the security forces deployed to oppress the citizens.

The failure of justice is a critical human concern in our country. In particular, there are problems associated with an inefficient legal system which deprives citizens of a fair trial, the use of excessive force by security and a pervading sense of impunity for past human rights breaches. The climate of fear has spread in South Sudan as a result of the atrocities committed by the fundamentalist and human rights violations perpetrated by security forces deployed to rout them.

The global human rights body condemned human rights violations in a report entitled “South Sudan Trapped in a cycle of violence.” Police authorities in Juba, however, disclosed that a comprehensive study of the Amnesty report just released containing human rights abuse allegations against the civilians will be investigated though it said the sources of its report cannot be relied upon them.

Amnesty International had stated that the brutal actions of South Sudan’s security forces are already in desperate situation and even worse in the country. According to the report, people are living in a climate of fear and insecurity, vulnerable to attack from South Sudan’s security forces and facing human rights violations at the hands of the very state security forces which should protect them.

There are many documented atrocities carried out by national security against the civilians in Juba and our president has turned deaf in hearing such things. They include enforced disappearances, torture, extra-judicial executions and detention without trial. Grave human rights abuses committed by National Security since 2005 involved murder, burning down houses and attacking media houses and journalists.

Nhial Bol and Dengdit Ayok were arrested by South Sudanese government security personnel after writing an opinion criticizing the marriage of the daughter of the South Sudanese president to a foreigner.

Freedom of expression
In South Sudan, freedom of speech and freedom of the press are not protected by law, and this is generally disregarded by the government. There is no an active independent media operating mainly through television and radio. The government has cynically limited access to television and radio in Juba and termed it as reception problems which limit broadcasting outside of Juba.

Human rights are commonly understood as inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being. South Sudan has experiences difficulties in the achievement of international standards of human rights for all citizens. These difficulties centered upon the provision of having no accountability. Internal displacement and development of adequate infrastructure also contribute. Not only that, journalists in particular are marginalized in numerous ways, the press is not free in South Sudan, and dissenters are silenced, too often permanently.

In late July 2011, a few weeks after South Sudan gained its independence; President Salva Kiir gave an address to hundreds of soldiers, police, government officials, diplomats, and others in which he warned the army and police against the use of torture, saying it gave South Sudan a very bad image in the international scene. He also said he was declaring war on all criminals, including members of the South Sudanese armed forces and constabulary who committed human rights violations, and ordered the Ministry of Justice headed by Hon. John Luk Jok to prosecute anyone charged with rape or torture.

Unfortunately, all the mentioned in the speech of the President are happening now and no any of the step taken to deal with rape, torture or any thoughts of human rights abuse. The recent killing of Diing Chan is the most serious human rights violation in the country and not only that, other inhumane treatment of civilians by the SPLA and President’s security forces went un-noticed.

In my opinion, I would urge South Sudanese that there is a need for massive protest against this government which we all think that will not develop our country, there is a need for all sections of the society to develop a new relationship which can take account of our importance to each other and which will also inculcate a reciprocal nature of our connection that will help to avoid a repeat of the painful past experiences which our people have endured.

Other human rights abuses included politically motivated abductions by ethnic groups; harsh prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention, including prolonged pre-trial detention; and an inefficient and corrupt judiciary. The government restricted freedoms of privacy, speech, press, assembly, and association.

Civilians and journalists were unlawfully detained after an alleged coup attempt in Juba. Several journalists were silenced not to report about the rumors of coup or make comments.

The government of South Sudan has faced intractable problems in clearing away the reality of corruption. The first is that there are numerous cases of definite and probable graft that the government has ignored and, second, the National security agents have made an intensive effort to ensure that freedom of expression by journalists are non-existent or with all their teeth removed if they don’t keep silence.

In more recent years, there have been numerous examples of non-accountability and attendant concerns of corruption in South Sudan. A key one is the expenditure on the 2005 flood scandal. Billions of dollars were disbursed for relief supplies, pumps, wages, health expeditions, food aid, recovery packages and other essentials during the Flood affecting all the states, yet there was no accounting for it despite a promise that a supplementary budget would be laid in Parliament.

What else can one say other than it was the era of the comfortable parliamentary majority when the government did as it pleased without restraint. The relief exercise did have an auspicious start. State auditors were summoned to State House for a photo opportunity with President Kiir marshaling the relief effort. It is unclear what happened to the auditors afterwards. None of the subsequent reports of the Office of the Auditor General ever shed light on the flood expenditure.

There are other examples in the last year or so that President Kiir should seek explanations for if he is serious about transparency and clean government. The first is the $4 billion Scheme which saw a favored clique of government officials and their handpicked friends and family being allocated state lots without any credible explanation.

The second is the mind-boggling revelation by the Minister for Information, Dr. Marial Benjamin, that senior policemen, Ministers and Army Generals who took shares in relation to the corrupt acquisition of $4 billion were allowed to pay back the sums they received and were not prosecuted. That is unbelievable. Yet, the government has failed to act for the last one year. It is clear from this maneuvering that Kiir’s government’s Ministers and his close relatives are playing for time and hoping that the scandal blows away.

The conduct of South Sudan’s ruling party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), largely consists of former rebels who fought against Khartoum with the objectives of achieving freedom, justice and equality under the leadership of President Salva Kiir, has lost direction and forgot what they fought for.

Many of our friends died to achieve these objectives. Yet, once we got to power, we forgot what we fought for and began to enrich ourselves at the expense of our people.


Bol Garang de Bol is a South Sudanese living in Canberra, Australia
He can be reached at nicetobeme05@yahoo.com

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