By: Daniel Juol Nhomngek, Kampala, Uganda, MAR/19/2017, SSN;
In John 8:32, Jesus told His disciples, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Consequently as it has been observed by some people “the truth will set you free” has become a common saying in academic circles as a way of promoting academic freedom and the power of learning. As a result, many universities have this statement emblazoned on a sign near the entrance of a building.
When Jesus said the above well-known statement, he had just finished a speech at the temple where He delineated differences between Himself and His listeners. He told His listeners that “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins” (John 8:23–24). The result of Jesus’ message was that “even as he spoke, many believed in him” (verse 30).
Thus, my argument in this article is that unless we tell the truth in South Sudan peace will never be achieved and it is only when we tell the truth that is when the truth will set us free by terming with the truth and achieve lasting peace.
Hence, this article is about the National Dialogue of South Sudan. It is intended to draw the attention of the leaders of South Sudan to the fact that that if they have opted for National Dialogue as a way of bringing peace through National Reconciliation, then the truth telling in its real meaning must go hand in hand with it.
Without the truth telling, the National Dialogue will never achieve peace as it will be devoid of truth and as a result, it will be waste of time as the National dialogue and reconciliation cannot be achieved without the truth telling.
This is because National Dialogue and Truth Telling go together as seen in different countries where the National Dialogue was adopted as a method of bringing peace and South Sudan should not be an exception to that effect.
South Africa, for instance, Truth telling and Reconciliation were adopted together in the process of achieving peace after the devastating apartheid rule. In order to do that South Africa formed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) which was an independent body. Because of being independent body it was able to deal comprehensively with serious crimes that were committed during apartheid rules as it is the case in South Sudan today.
In South Sudan, there were serious violations of human rights like what happened in South Africa. In its final report, the African Union (AU) Commission of Inquiry on the situation in South Sudan concluded that war crimes and crimes against humanity had been committed since the conflict erupted in December 2013 and recommends the establishment of accountability mechanisms.
In order to achieve peace in South Africa, Truth telling in the National Reconciliation process was adopted and consequently, it helped in achieving National Reconciliation. The reason the truth telling is required in the process of reconciliation is that truth telling is part of justice.
This is because by telling the truth the victims may be satisfied with the truth, which will eventually result into reconciliation and lasting peace.
In fact, truth telling is one of the methods of achieving restorative justice. In the case of South Africa as already explained above, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was providing truth telling and reconciliation process was described to be e a court-like restorative justice (see; Suffolk University, College of Arts & Sciences, Center for Restorative Justice, http://www.suffolk.edu/college/centers/15970.php What is Restorative Justice?)
The reason truth and reconciliation process achieved peace in South Africa despite some of the apparent limitations that were embedded in its process was that witnesses who were also identified as victims of gross human rights violations were invited to give statements about their experiences, and some were selected for public hearings.
In the same way, perpetrators of violence were also called upon to give testimony and request to be given amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution.
Hence, the TRC, the first of the 1003 held internationally to stage public hearings, was seen by many as a crucial component of the transition to full and free democracy in South Africa. Despite some flaws, it is generally (although not universally) thought to have been successful in South Africa.
In Canada, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was organized by the parties to address the inhuman treatments that were meted out of the Aboriginal men and women in which families were separated from their children.
According to the TRC report, the separation was done purposely to minimize the family’s ability to pass along their cultural heritage to their children. The commission spent six years traveling to different parts of Canada to hear the testimony of approximately six thousand Aboriginal people who were taken away from their families and placed in residential schools as children.
After the closing of the Indian residential schools, which, operated from 1870s to 1996 and when the TRC investigated it, it was found to be holding some 150,000 aboriginal children over the decades. In addition, some former students made allegations to the TRC of physical, psychological, sexual abuse and neglect.
The TRC studied records and took testimony for evidence of activities alleged to have occurred at residential schools, as well as the negative effects resulting from the schools’ stated aim to assimilate First Nations children into the majority culture. The matter of student deaths at these institutions and the burial of deceased students in unmarked graves without the notification or consent of the parents was an additional item on the agenda of the TRC.
In March 2008, Indigenous leaders and church officials embarked on a multi-city ‘Remembering the Children’ tour to promote activities of the TRC. On January 21–22, 2008, the King’s University College of Edmonton, Alberta, held an interdisciplinary studies conference on the subject of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee.
On June 11 of the same year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized for the role of past governments in administration of the residential schools.
As seen above in the cases of both South Africa and Canada, which the same with other countries were the TRC was adopted which are beyond the scope of this paper due to the limited space for the sake of the readers, it is important to observe that where the country opts to adopt the dialogue as a means of achieving peace then there must be truth telling accompanying the dialogue in achieving the reconciliation.
In the case of South Sudanese National Dialogue, there is no truth telling accompanying the reconciliation process which the authorities are trying to achieve through the National Dialogue. This is because there is a lot of hypocrisy on the side of the Government.
For example, the Government is claiming to be trying to bring true peace through National Dialogue yet it is the same government, which is using its state security apparatuses to oppress South Sudanese by subjecting them to arbitrary detention.
Hence, in the situation where there are a lot of intimidation then the conditions necessary for true dialogue are not there, hence, there is no true National Dialogue.
In addition, the government has seriously curtailed freedom of expression on National Dialogue. For instance, the Dialogue is badly structured but when any person expresses such concerns then he or she is seen as anti-peace.
The question is: who is anti-peace, the one using force to silent the people or those who are suffering and complaining because of the sufferings?
The clear example in this category is the institution called Church. Some of the Church leaders have fallen victims in the hands of state security due to the fact that they have expressed dissenting opinion on the way the National Dialogue is being conducted while some among them are branded as rebels and kept under twenty four (24) hour surveillance of National Security cameras.
In the circumstances as seen above, the national dialogue will never be successful since in the national dialogue there is a need for the truth to be told in order to achieve reconciliation but where the truth is not told there is no reconciliation.
Hence, for reconciliation to be achieved in South Sudan through the current national dialogue, there must be truth telling and authorities must lift sanctions on the freedom of speech and expression.
In addition, in South Sudan, the national dialogue is not inclusive as the question of the leadership of the SPLM/A-IO is not resolved. Currently, there are two parallel SPLM/A-IOs: one in the bush and another in Juba.
Whereas SPLM/A-IO in Juba has clear leadership in person of Taban Deng Gai, the leadership of the SPLM/A-IO in the bush is not determined and as long as it is not determined, the Reconciliation which the Government needs to achieve through National Dialogue will never be successful, whether the Government likes it or not.
How can you talk of reconciliation if the enemy is not the one reconciling with you? Whom are you reconciling with? The government needs to acknowledge the truth that there is a need for comprehensive cease-fire as part of National Dialogue through which reconciliation can be achieved.
Above of all, before we talk of National Dialogue, there is a need for independent TRC to be established as the sole body responsible for the conduct of the National Dialogue and reconciliation as it was done in both South Africa and Canada.
The current joke of which the President who is a party to conflict is the Patron of the Dialogue should stop or be discarded and the law establishing TRC should be passed by South Sudan Parliament in Juba.
Finally, there is a problem with both the Government and the SPLM/A-IO. These two parties have committed terrible crimes or crimes against humanity and war crimes but they are not ready to acknowledge this truth and without acknowledging the responsibility of these crimes, the reconciliation will never be achieved.
The only way of achieving lasting peace in South Sudan is to account for the crimes committed against all South Sudanese starting from 1990s to date.
In summary, the question of the leadership of the SPLM/A-IO must be resolved to unite the rebels; there is a need for TRC to be established in order to take charge of the process; there is also a need for inclusive dialogue; further, there is a need for truth telling about the crimes committed in South Sudan.
Without the truth, the reconciliation will never be achieved.
What needs to be acknowledged honestly is the fact that terrible war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed in all parts of South Sudan. Because of that the government and the Oppositions or rebels must confess and accept the responsibility for these crimes if lasting peace is to be achieved.
Denying the responsibility or using force to silence those who point out the truth about the war crimes and crimes against humanity in South Sudan will not help at all.
Rebels and the government, whether they like it or not, must in the future account for the blood of South Sudanese.
In general, as we have seen in the discussion above truth telling and reconciliation go together and without the truth reconciliation will never be achieved, this is why the two have been adopted in the peace process in various countries where TRC model has been adopted as a method of bringing peace.
If it is adopted in those countries, why should South Sudan be exceptional?
NB//: the author is South Sudanese Human Rights Lawyer residing in Uganda and can be reached through: firstname.lastname@example.org/+256783579256