opinionBy Dr. Justin N Ambago Ramba
Following the expulsion of the UNMISS Human Rights Investigator Sandra Beidas (a British National), from South Sudan, this new country seems to have opened yet another chapter in a wider confrontation with the international community.
This development surprisingly comes at a time when the very Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation who declared Ms. Beidas a persona non grata is desperately appealing for international assistance in settling the Abyei question in the face of the difficulties to the yet to be consolidated Addis Ababa Cooperation Agreement recently inked between the Republic of South Sudan and the unpredictable regime in Khartoum.
However the ultimate reasons behind this move by South Sudan's government which gave this UN Official no more than a period of 48 hours to leave the country have not yet been officially disclosed.
In the absence the government's official version of the story, the vacuum in information has led to the widespread general speculation that the South Sudan's ruling party the SPLM as well as its military wing, the SPLA have both been angered by a UN report that was pilled and published in August 2012. Now as things stand this speculation is gradually turning out to be right.
In that report the UN came out criticizing the South Sudan army (SPLA) and accused it of incidents of torture, rape, killings and abducting civilians during the civilian disarmament campaign in South Sudan's Jonglei State.
Earlier on, this very report which raised a lot of controversy had already been rejected by the Governor of Jonglei State. The Chairperson of the South Sudan's Human Rights Commission and The SPLA spokesperson,were quick in joing the Governor in condemning the UN Reort that they all described as a bunch of lies and a 100% nonsense.
The current situation on the ground
The issues of who decides policies in the new republic of South Sudan have since long surfaced as a central concern for both its citizens and its government of the day. Equally concerned with the matter are the countless institutions that represent the international community, the foreign governments and all the other stakeholders who operate in the country.
It's no longer a secret that although on the face value all political and socioeconomic players in the country prefer to be seen as operating under the instructions of the de jure political leadership of President Salva Kiir Mayardit, yet the realities at the terminals where policies are eventually translated into actions, things tend to suggest the contrary as multiple de facto deal sealers continue to dominate the scene.
The new country's army, the SPLA has already had two bitter military confrontations with its traditional rival, the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF). The first was over Abyei, where a SPLA soldier was alleged to have started the shooting at a time when the SAF were at the point of withdrawal from the area as requested by both the UNSC and the AU. What followed thereafter was a full blown battle and it resulted in the total destruction of Abyei town, and the neighbouring villages with displacement of the inhabitants.
The second battle between SPLA the SAF was the Panthou/Heglig war and again it was obvious that this was equally decided by a field commander in response to recurrent SAF attacks on SPLA positions. Unfortunately while the government of south Sudan was far from prepared for this war in as far as the political and diplomatic ground works are concerned, knee jerk decision taken by this field commander almost dragged the region into yet another unplanned all-out war.
Where we stand now as a country it can no longer be denied that this last military showdown with the North is actually behind the legacy that we are living today as it drew in a lot of international condemnation, more so from friends before the enemies.
Back in Juba the SPLM led and dominated government was too slow to explain nor defend its position in as far as the accusations by the international community where Juba was considered not only the aggressor, but also condemned for occupying a foreign territory, as it failed to convince both the US administration, the African Union (AU) and the UN Security Council (UNSC) about its claim on Panthou/Heglig.
With a weak foreign policy and the absence of a competent and robust diplomatic representation in New York, South Sudan was easily muzzled into accepting the UNSC's position that considered the presence of the SPLA troops in Panthou/Heglig illegal. And before we knew anything, the once victorious SPLA was ordered to pull out and hand the land they so fiercely fought for back to the enemies in Khartoum.
Another incidence where the SPLM led administration in Juba is seen to be weak when it comes to dealing with the SPLA ( the Military) is in fact how the financial books at the Bilpham military Head Quarters continuously escapes the auditing process that has long started in the country.
The Auditor General Hon. Steven Wundu is yet to present to the South Sudan National Parliament the full findings on the finances of the President's Office, the Ministry of Presidential Affairs and that of the Ministry of Defense.
Till such a report is presented by the Auditor General, our country's transparency policy will remain at its best a mockery. There are general feelings that any financial auditing of the above centers of power are likely to reveal corruptions that will no doubt dwarf the missing $4 billion being used by the President as his favorite weapon against some of his former and current officials.
The fall out with the UN:
Besides the United Nations (UN) involvement with the Humanitarian Assistance to South Sudan during the long years of the protracted liberation war and well beyond the cease fire between the two enemies to the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement (CPA), this International League of Nations continues to assist South Sudan as it emerges from the rubbles of war to become a new nation with full membership in the League.
Today as we hear about the widespread news of how the SPLM led government in Juba has fallen out with some officials of the United Nation Mission in South Sudan (the UNMISS) it may however be a good thing to refresh our collective memories about how the country ended up with these Blue Helmets on the ground in the first place and how it all developed to Chapter VII thereafter.
Things all started during the early phases of the marathon peace talks between SPLM and the Islamic regime in Khartoum that took place in Kenya between 2002 and 2005.
It was in fact the SPLM/A delegation to the Peace Talks who insisted on the deployment of a UN Peacekeeping Force in the country, while the Khartoum government had consistently opposed the idea.
How much did this UN Peacekeeping Force contribute to the actual realization and preservation of Peace in the period between 2005 and 2011 is left for the Sudanese across the political divide to assess.
Following the outcome of the referendum on self-determination in which South Sudanese overwhelmingly chose independence from Sudan, it was again the SPLM led government in Juba that insisted on retaining the UN Peacekeeping Forces on its territory while Khartoum opted to send them out, and this was how UNMISS came to exist in the post-independence South Sudan.
The general resentment being lately expressed by some segments of the South Sudan government against the UNMISS are in fact to some extend based on narrow party, tribal or personal interests.
It is the leadership in Juba that has failed the people of South Sudan by employing incompetent loyalist and tribesmen in the government apparatus.
Unfortunately when things go bad, something often expected of a substandard personnel, this very SPLM led government and its apologists are quick to sing their monotonous and over used song of " we are just starting from scratch" or "We have just come from the bush£ etc...etc.
Unfortunately although the above excuses are being used in order to escape criticism, what the ruling SPLM party fails to see is that in so doing they have also painted a bad picture of not only the government but also of the country.
Under this type of impression South Sudanese are either collectively seen by outsiders as incompetent people or often loosely referred to as lazy and largely a people suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome as a result of the two decade war. It is this impression that encourages foreigners to feel justified when they meddle into the country's affairs. After all it has been directly taken from the mouth of either the president of the country himself or his close aides.
The repercussion of expelling the UN Human Rights Officer:
What took place right from the time of when the CPA was being negotiated and throughout its implementation the SPLM/A dominated delegations that represented the people of South Sudan have demonstrated that when it comes to international politics, they are indeed far naïve than their counterparts on the other side if not for the continuous assistance from the international community..
It is they the SPLM) who handed the sovereignty of the state to the international community. It's understandable that they did it in order to keep Khartoum away from reneging on the agreement and equally to guarantee a credible monitoring for its implementation. The introduction of the UN Chapter VII into the South Sudan & Sudan / UN politics if anything it is a strong proof that the UNSC is keen to see that Peace, Order, the Rule of Law and full respect of Human Rights return and prevail in South Sudan first then the region a large.
But now that Juba is increasingly becoming uncomfortable with the UNMISS which it fought to have in the first place, then it's likely that it will lose many of its friends who are not only permanent members of the UNSC, but they also played crucial roles in the realization of the independence of the new country.
The UNMISS boss herself a former government minister in her native country of Norway has been known for her strong ties with the ruling SPLM since the days of the liberation war and throughout the marathon negotiations that led to the signing of the CPA.
Today as things stand in Juba, it will not be an over statement to say that the very SPLM/A that benefitted from her support in the past, is now at the verge of openly label her as persona non grata if she doesn't stop talking about SPLM and SPLA's poor Human Rights records and the widespread corruption that has lately engulfed the new country in its entirety.
The US government on the other hand has already come up to openly condemn the expulsion of the UNMISS Officer. The Acting Spokes son at the US State Department, has made it abundantly clear that his government fully supports the UNMISS and its efforts to strengthen government institutions, provide humanitarian relief, and to monitor, mitigate and prevent conflict throughout South Sudan.
The Senior US Official went on to stress that and I quote:
"Human rights monitoring, investigation and reporting are core elements of the UNMISS mandate. It is important that the Mission's Human Rights Officers are allowed to carry out this work without fear of reprisal or expulsion," Toner said.
"Fostering deeper respect for fundamental freedoms and human rights will strengthen South Sudan's democratic civil and national identity, as well as encourage further progress in that regard." He added.
Reading the US government's position on this issue and considering the fact that it has always been Ms. Susan Rice, the US Permanent Representative to the United Nation who time and time again stood with South Sudan in its disputes with the republic of the Sudan, one can see that this new country is likely to frustrate its intimate friends.
The issue of Human Rights will remain central in the South Sudan politics be it locally or internationally. Furthermore, whether this plays to the taste of those who formulate policies for this embattled SPLM led regime or not , one is certain that the country needs the UN more than the UN needs the country and especially so at this crucial moment when every thing is in tatters.
The SPLM led government in Juba may think itself smart when it is given the free hand to isolate the actions of UNMISS staff whom they disagree with and then proceed to deal with them as individuals often away from the mother organization - the United Nation in New York.
However let's not forget to appreciate that these individuals on their own are just as effective as any of us. Nonetheless the UN must stand by its members of staff if it is to succeed in its mission specially so in volatile regions like South Sudan.
Allowing host governments to treat UN staff members as if they were just mere individuals in spite of the fact that these UN Reports do in fact represent the organization's view doesn't really go well and no specific individual staff should be crucified for it as if they are just ordinary attention seekers or people who represent no one but themselves.
For how long will this go on? Not too long the former UN Human Rights officer Benedict Sannoh was ruthlessly beaten up by the South Sudan police personnel in Juba, the new country's seat of government, and now they have expelled yet another UN Human Rights Investigator. At the local level Members of the Civic Society, Journalists, Opposition Politicians and Human Rights Activities are routinely being harassed, beaten and continue to suffer arbitrary arrests by security personnel.
The world needs to act and fast. Otherwise for how long will the donor community continue to pour in its hard earned taxpayer's money from the western countries into this system of governance that has failed to come into grips with the basic principles of Human Rights?
In conclusion there must be a way out of this new country's Human Rights Crisis whether SPLM wants it or not. No country or any society for that matter should be allowed to terrorize its citizens by denying them what is easily taken for granted in most parts of the civilized world.
UNMISS is there to stay in South Sudan specially so when the current leadership needs to be re-cultivated into the universally accepted human values of democracy, freedom of speech, and Human Rights in its broadest term.
This can only be achieved by more resilient Human Rights activists on the ground, dedicated and motivated investigators and die hard propagators. I don't mind if UNMISS is to cease all other activities in South Sudan and concentrated only on Human Rights, for that is the only way to build a peaceful and inclusive society on the rubbles of the five decade war that has practically destroyed all the fabrics of humanity and civilization in this part of the world.
The other alternative available for the proud and arrogant SPLM leadership is of course to remain defiant and possibility quit the UN family of nations all together if they have the guts for that. Let us now see who will blink first, the SPLM led government of South Sudan or the UNMISS as backed by the UNSC and the international community at large!!!