opinionBy Peter Reat Gatkuoth
"The recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable right for all members of human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world."
The obstacle confronting our society in South Sudan has historical background that came along within our traditional societies, beginning from late 1970s. Impossibilities of better political life and cultural difference, rooted in the cattle driven interest in South Sudan had usually discourage harmony; and the advocacy groups always encountered criticism and obstructions as people who had benefited on conflict sometimes advocacy for political differences due to leadership interest, conflict of interest and so forth.
In such a way, bitter ethnic schisms, social tension and communal violent has discouraged a health way of life and kept the South Sudanese society apart for long time. Prior to the signing of peace agreement and the celebration of independent day, our country leaders did not realized that our society were not in peace even when we united against our external backyard enemy. This unfriendly behavior and traditional ways of life attributed mostly to current atrocities, political assassination and violent that had taken lives of innocent civilians in the country-wide.
War is the worst nightmare option in human history that always aims to reap and tear families and society apart. In the past decades, educated people have realized that war and violence could not only end through winning and losing fighting mechanism. Fighting is seen as the hardest options because it always leaves signs of grievance and emotional feeling to both enemies after the confrontation. Through the national reconciliation, transitional approach and truth commissions, people always come to address the large scale of human rights abuses of the past experience and the way forward. This usually allow people to challenges the historical cause of the problem through an arranged dialogues, and move on with an intention that they had acknowledged human rights concern and highlighted the issue that has gone wrong while recognizing the impact that they had brought to the families and society at large.
Communal healing, truth commission and Transitional justice as advocated by Dr. Riek Machar Teny Dhurgon are few of peaceful options for national reconciliation when people are torn apart because of the intended violent in society. Therefore, this commentaries article highlighted that the national Reconciliation, advocated by Dr. Riek and the truth commission are meant to tackle and handle injustice through the communal peaceful meant, while acknowledging the past and ensure harmony and mutual understanding between the people within the community at large.
Past historical experiences in South Sudan society and in many part of African continent had indicated that National Reconciliation and the Transitional Justice would have been the best options for many people who were torn apart because of the injustice, atrocities and violent within the community. South Sudan society, among many countries, had been in conflict even when we were fighting against the enemy. Although this conflict is seen as traditional habit and minor things that should be brought to end at the latest date, it worth noticing that thousands of live had lost through such a community disputed activities and the perpetrators are still actively engaging in unjustifiable attacks.
These attacks and political assassinations had left the victims in pain while the perpetrators gone unpunished or without apologizing for their action. Perhaps it may be considered by the public that the attackers may have not realized the mistake he/she had done to the other families. It is always through this National Reconciliation and transitional justice that victims usually felt that the government and the community at large had done much and important steps to convey their condolences, apologies and acknowledge the pain that they had gone through and heal the wound caused by the perpetrators through violent ways.
Communal approach mechanism backed up by the government is very important for many reasons. First the community and spiritual team always had an intention to bring the society together through a mean that both parties may be happiest especially the victims. Doing so always serve as a bridge of yielding and reconciliation for the community rather than using justice straightforward. The community lauded this approach model because it "emphasizes the need for bespoke situation and assist conflicted groups to come to term with violent past." It is also in the best interest of the community members because majority of them may have thought that good practice only emerge in community through cold-eyed and pragmatic assessment of risks and capacities which in turn buttress against those risks and build upon existing skills and abilities.
Dr. Riek Machar's healing and national reconciliation advocacy for peaceful initiative and healing between the communities worth supporting although I had not heard the strategies plans in practice. What I literally meant here is that, strategic plans of national reconciliation plans should be developed first before the initiative is launched. This would motivate the public at large and send a clear message to citizens that our government system has spurred the advanced strategic plans for the nation and society betterment. It should be either through constituencies MPs or the government must launch a peace initiative for almost two months, marked to be peace initiative months. Perhaps, putting the strategies of mediating community would work well as it happened in Wunlit Peace Initiative and indeed, the Wunlit peace initiative has brought an end to the conflict at that period of time, but why in Lake State, Warrap State and Unity State today while Jonglei's civilians were going through mercy of atrocities and unbelievable killing for years???
Dedication and sacrifice for the national reconciliation plan would have save more lives if endorsed and implement earliest through all states. Advocating for peace initiative in all regions/states that are in conflict against themselves should involve the Universities' students, families, children, old and young or the community members in general to the venue of discussion and in communal gathering of healing the injustice and violent. Doing so will give a healing feeling and it will always meant that people stood behind the victims and condemns the act of violent. I believed that this national Reconciliation approach would promote harmony and relief the feeling while making the victims feel more comfort.
Direct court system always does not heal the wound as like the National Reconciliation, victim-centered approach and restorative justice should do because there is no enough time for the victims and the offenders to go through reconciliation and forgiveness process. The court system usually "reveals a shared disquiet that the voice of those affected are not always heard or accorded an adequate weight once the wheels of the court system begin to turn." It worth saying that the justice does not usually put in place the sufficient robust transitional mechanisms to meet the relevant needs for truth, closure, healing or some form of accountability on the ground.
With such, the National Reconciliation approach and restorative justice perspective are really ways of providing a different vantage point in order to see more clear interactions between the community members such as to resolve the divisions in society caused by the attackers or human rights violators. National forgiveness will firmly contribute to the healing process for victims and determine legal accountability to establish a historical record of the conflict. Wider national approach will contribute to restore the rule of law, democratize security institutions by promoting standard human rights systems and stable peace.
The new Nation had never had such a chance in years to bring these gaps together and failure to do such a thing will encourage differences for a longer period. It would be fair enough that the Victims and offenders plus the community members are given an opportunity to express clearly the experiences and what should be done to bring the life of the society back to normal. Acknowledging the mistake usually makes the victims happiest and relief as there is no one on earth that cannot make mistakes. This is also another ways for the national reconciliation in community to address the grievance in strongest sense and challenge the silence and impunity of the perpetrators; however, this approach sometime does not challenge the cultural norms in which violence or discrimination are sustained or made acceptable because it is sometimes poorly coordinated and organized base on the community levels if there are no law applied after the prior final agreements.
In Nutshell, it worth noticing that our communal violence always goes with certain societal norms that if my relatives are hurt, I should response with maximum force without even judging who was wrong and what has happened. On the other hand, offenders usually remain within the society without any good punishments and this always sends a message to the victim that the persons who had taken our brother or sister's life is living here. Living within the same society with the offenders is one of the severe experiences to the family of the decease person even if an attempt was made to cease the tension within the community. Hence, fulfilling traditional justice requirement and acknowledging the pain and mistake always cease the feeling of avenging.
Although it always been the best interest of the victims to pursue peace, it is very regrettable that peace that come without justice, be it traditional justice or standard, always can merely replicate broader social inequality and division within the society in some ways. Communal agreement usually lacks and ignores the problem that human rights abuse may still continue to take place in some circumstances because in the process, there always been a lack of access to reparation payment if it was done public without legal application designed to capture the sense of harmony and forgiveness while moving on.
This issue of reparation sometime create more misunderstand in somehow because of the failure in the community-based initiative if the rule of law is not in place to put in place sufficiently robust transitional mechanism in order to meet the relevant needs for truth and national reconciliation commission. It happens sometime when the communities "lack a viable communal trust or have great lack to mobilize against the de facto impunity and parallel effort to establish local methods of community trust." Therefore, National Reconciliation, truth and reconciliation commission is important only when the community had much trust and condemned the act together with the sense of harmony while using the justice to seal off the prepared mechanism and strategic plans used by the National Reconciliation board in order to acknowledge the past and ensure harmony and mutual understanding between the people within the community at large.
Peter Reat Gatkuoth is a trained Human Right activist and scholars.