Category Archives: South Sudan

South Sudan church balances prophetic role, practical challenges

by Chris Herlinger
NCR
(August 21, 2017)

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Santo Loku Pio Doggale, the auxiliary bishop of the capital of Juba (Chris Herlinger)

(August 21, 2017)  Yuba, South Sudan — Bishop Santo Loku Pio Doggale is not a man to mince words and he didn’t mince words earlier this year when he discussed South Sudan’s descent into a worsening, seemingly never-ending civil war.

“The government is the orchestrator of the war, and the people are suffering as a result,” he told NCR from his office in the capital of Juba in late May, citing numerous examples of the afflictions South Sudanese are experiencing: rape, looting and displacement.

“They are being brutally mistreated,” the auxiliary bishop of the capital of Juba said of those who are the victims of violence — victims who have, at the moment, “no resource to justice. It’s a big mess.”

He acknowledges that his critics — in the government and even some, privately, within the church — wonder if his criticisms are fair, smart or wise.

But Doggale brushes aside those criticisms, saying, “I’m not afraid.”

“My life doesn’t matter. I’ve suffered, too. I’ve lost members of my family. But when brutality is the order of the day, someone has to speak up, especially when you see that the flock is living in fear. This makes me angry.”

Doggale’s outspoken stance represents one wing of the church — a faction that believes that the church needs to be firm in its prophetic stance not only for the larger cause of peace in South Sudan but also in calling out the current government for policies and actions some believe are the cause of the current war.

But in a predominately impoverished, Christian nation where the church has an outsized role in providing education, social services and even basic necessities like food, the church’s place in society also has a practical side.

“The Catholic Church has a strong, strong footprint here,” said Fr. Pau Vidal, a Jesuit priest and a project director for Jesuit Refugee Service in the northern city of Maban. Another humanitarian agrees. “The churches have credibility here in South Sudan,” said Jerry Farrell, the country representative in South Sudan for Catholic Relief Services. “In fact, they’re the only institutions that do have credibility, as they touch on so many parts of life: spirituality, health care, housing, education, food.”

Financial figures about the church’s role are hard to come by, but Catholic Relief Services alone has provided assistance of some sort to more than 1 million South Sudanese, the agency said, and works in partnership with local dioceses, parishes and religious congregations of both women and men.

Famine remains a serious problem and 6 million of country’s 12 million people face some kind of food insecurity — the lack of access to food — according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Church-based groups have initiated programs to improve the humanitarian situation within the country. As just one example, the Society of Daughters of Mary Immaculate, or DMI Sisters, is working on local initiatives to assist small communities in agricultural projects.

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Homes and businesses destroyed in recent clashes just outside the South Sudanese capital of Juba (Chris Herlinger)

Grave problems persist in the country and whether stated in public, like Doggale, or in private, among numerous Catholics, they revolve around the current government in power.

The criticisms center on several fronts — that the government has either not been able to control factions of the government military forces known as the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, which is predominately made of members of the ethnic or tribal group known as the Dinkas, or has been purposely targeting non-Dinkas and populations the government believes oppose it.

Ethnic tensions have been put to use for political purposes, as Human Rights Watch said in its report on the ongoing conflict, noting that it began in 2013 when “soldiers loyal to President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, and those loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar, a Nuer, fought in the capital following months of growing political tensions.”

In its 2017 report, Human Rights Watch said that government troops have “killed, raped, and tortured civilians as well as destroying and pillaging civilian property during counterinsurgency operations in the southern and western parts of the country,” while acknowledging that both sides of the conflict “have committed abuses against civilians in and around Juba and other areas.” Some 2.4 million South Sudanese have been displaced, Human Rights Watch noted.

For its part, the South Sudanese government claims its troops are trying to battle an anti-government rebellion. It has blamed the civil war — which began in late 2013 — on anti-government rebels. And it has said it is committed to finding a peaceful solution to South Sudan’s war with those who oppose the government.

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Young boys in a camp for the displaced on the grounds of the Catholic cathedral in Wau (Chris Herlinger)

Some within the church, such as Fr. Moses Peter, a diocesan coordinator for Caritas in the city of Wau — which has faced a serious crisis, with thousands seeking refuge on the ground of the Catholic cathedral there — are, like Doggale, government critics. Peter said, “Nobody trusts the SPLA,” and notes that the government has accused the Catholic Church of being “pro-rebel,” a charge he strongly rejects. (President Kiir is a Roman Catholic.)

Yet the prophetic often mixes with the practical — Peter says in his humanitarian work, he works cordially with local officials among the thousands displaced in Wau by the conflict. And the church has a long history in Wau of involvement with peace efforts among all parties and factions to help diffuse local tensions.

Everyone in the church is tired of the conflict and is eager to resume some sense of hope and nation-building that ushered in the creation of the world’s newest nation after it gained independence from Sudan in 2011. Many relish memories from that time, their first taste of independence, coming after years of war.

“It was a beautiful moment — an independent people felt they could start afresh,” said Vidal. “But the [current] war has worsened the situation so much and there is no sense of nation unity now.”

Some say there is still enough political and humanitarian space to do needed pastoral work.

“It is certainly better now than in the 1960s when our people were under Arab rule,” Sr. Mary Faida, a member of the Sacred Heart Sisters, a South Sudanese congregation, said of life under the rule of neighboring Sudan, which is predominately Muslim. She said the work now of the church and of religious congregations — whether in education or in health care — is “giving hope to the people.”

Yet there are still deep worries about the church and its future. Interviewed in May, Doggale said even with all of its problems, he did not believe that the national government was engaging in systematic harassment of the church. But he did say some government officials were probably behind threats to individuals, including him.

“Is it government policy? No,” he said, but added he had received several threatening anonymous calls recently, including one in which a man told him, “Your days are numbered.”

There have been other troubling signs, too: a group of government troops threatened employees of a church bookstore in Juba in February of this year and took books off of the shelves they declared were written by government critics.

Since May, the bishop has become increasingly pessimistic. South Sudan-based Radio Tamazuj reported in July that Doggale called the current government’s national dialogue strategy “a waste of time.” He said, “The problem is political and it has to be solved by the political leaders,” including Kiir and Machar.

“The ordinary citizens have not yet created any problem, that’s why our faithful citizens are able to stay for three months without salaries and they don’t even demonstrate. They still go to work, you will never see this in any country in the world,” he said.

In emails earlier this month, Doggale told NCR that the current situation is “getting worse day by day. People are living in the uncertainty, rampant insecurity, hunger and diseases. In one word. It is limbo.”

In a later email, the bishop said, “The intimidation is of all South Sudanese by their own government. The ruling elite don’t care who you are, they just do what they want and when they want it.” He said there is there is no rule of law and repeated his belief that the country is in limbo.

“In South Sudan everybody is under intimidation, and so fear is instilled into people. It is the church that tries to give some voice, and so they (the government) are not comfortable about that and that is why they also get frustrated when the voice of the church continues in many ways to be aloud and strong on the suffering of the people.”

Others who agree with the bishop say privately the church has to be careful — that it is dealing now with what some call a military dictatorship and that the church is clearly in the government’s crosshairs.

“This is not a joke, what is happening now,” said one member of a religious order, who said the Kiir government has made a number of false allegations about the church, including that it has called “for regime change.”

“The stakes are now going up for the church,” the member said.

“The blood of the tribe is thicker than the water of Baptism,” Doggale said. “Our government is Catholic. They read the Bible. They go to church. But how much do they put into practice?”

Others also point out that in such an intense, confusing environment it is probably no surprise that four dioceses in the country are without bishops now.

“The Catholic Church is trying to finds its way now. But in keeping quiet, and not speaking out against human rights, we are taking sides and protecting our own projects,” said one cleric who did not want to be identified.

“How much injustice will we continue to see? There is so much that the religious here are witnessing,” the cleric said. “When you speak out [it is assumed], you are speaking out against the government. How can you do that in a way that is constructive?”


[Chris Herlinger is international correspondent for Global Sisters Report. His email address is cherlinger@ncronline.org.]

South Sudan: A Cup of Tea

Sent by Sister Carolyn Buhs, SNDdeN
Solidarity Teacher Training College
Yambio, Gbudue State, South Sudan

July 28, 2017 Raimundo Rocha

By Bill Firman – The basic things we need for daily living we often simply assume they will be there. Not so in South Sudan where very little can be taken for granted. When I first came to South Sudan in 2009, I lived in Malakal. Most people there cooked on charcoal but we were lucky enough to be able to use gas. It is very convenient to be able just to turn a burner on and off when you like. When gas was no longer available, we used charcoal, a much slower and less convenient way of cooking.

When we turned the generator on, or there was town power, we could use an electric hot plate. At that time there was town power at night in Malakal. In Juba, where I am now, there used to be town power all day; but town electricity is only a happy memory today. It ceased to be available several years ago. We have adjusted and installed solar power but our solar system will not support cooking on an electric hot plate or in an electric oven.

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Women cooking in South Sudan
Image credits: Paul Jeffrey, 1017

In most of our houses and institutions, charcoal or wood is used for cooking, backed up by gas. Bottled gas is not readily available outside of Juba. We have found ways to maintain a limited supply of gas in Wau, Yambio and Riimenze but only if we use it sparingly. One cannot just go into town to renew the supply. In large towns such as Juba, Wau and Malakal, charcoal has to be brought in from bush areas. It is, or maybe was, a common sight to see trucks laden with bags of charcoal moving into Juba. Making and selling charcoal from wood has been a traditional South Sudan occupation for people in bush areas.

Amid the soaring prices of food, the shortage of diesel and petrol leading to greatly increased public transport costs, the great devaluation of the South Sudanese Pound (SSP) and the general insecurity, we thought conditions for the people could not get much worse. But in the past month, they have. In just three or four weeks the price of a sack of charcoal in Juba has increased from SSP700 per bag to SSP2500. One man living in a UN PoC (Protection of Civilians) camp told me recently that most of the people there have not cooked for several days.

In the PoC camp, the cost of a bag of charcoal is SSP3,500. That is about USD 24. It may not sound much in some countries but when salaries are low, it is a huge problem. The judges in South Sudan have been on strike recently as their salaries are in the range of 8000SSP to 12,000SSP (not even USD100) per month. Most South Sudanese are paid significantly less than this. So how can they afford this inflated price for charcoal?

 

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Our very loyal worker, Emmanuel, has four children at home with his wife plus several members of his extended family. He estimates they normally use about one sack of charcoal per week. Others with fewer people say a sack will last for three or four weeks if they are careful. Either way, it is easy to understand why the huge increase has people worried. Image credit: Paul Jeffrey
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Rosa Taban sits in front of her makeshift shelter in a camp for more than 12,000 internally displaced persons located on the grounds of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Mary in Wau, South Sudan. Image credits: Paul Jeffrey

Why has this happened? Insecurity. Apparently charcoal producers are too easily robbed bringing their charcoal to the city to sell it or when taking the payment for it back to their home place. The rising cost and shortage of fuel may also be a significant factor leading to the high new price. So there is a charcoal shortage. I suppose some may say not burning charcoal is good for the environment but it is certainly an unwanted scenario for those living in Juba who lack alternatives.

The shortage and rising cost of fuel affects everything. Our driver and cook in Juba each have to catch two buses each day, each way, to get from where they live to here. It does not seem long ago that the fare was SSP1 for a bus ride but now it is costing them SSP100 to travel to and from work each day – about SSP2000 per month.

The front cover of a recent Amnesty International Report carried the statement in large bold letters: ‘If men are caught they are killed; if women are caught they are raped’. In another report, Amnesty asserts that ‘A survey conducted in 2015 by UNFPA found that 72% of women living in the Juba PoC sites reported having been raped since the conflict broke out, mostly by police and soldiers.’

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A family shares a meal inside their shelter in a camp for more than 12,000 internally displaced persons located on the grounds of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Mary in Wau, South Sudan. Most of the families here were displaced in June, 2016, when armed conflict engulfed Wau. Image credits: Paul Jeffrey

These are startling statements and there is fear among the people of becoming victims of violence. There are many traumatized people but most cope by putting it out of their minds and getting along cheerfully with life. But how do you remain cheerful when you can’t even afford to boil the water for a cup of tea? How do you remain healthy if you can’t cook your food or sterilize the water you drink? Many South Sudanese are used to living with a simple diet, and with hunger, but many will find life very difficult if they can’t cook their porridge or enjoy a cup of tea.

Br Bill – S.S.S.

 

The current situation on iIDPs in Africa

June 20, 2017
www.afjn.org
By Kpakpo Serge Adotevi (AFJN Intern), Edited by Yashi Gunawardena (AFJN Intern)

In Africa, more than 13 million people are currently on the run in their own countries. We at Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN) refuse to stand by and let this crisis remain silent much longer. Despite the obvious link between internal displacement and refugee flows, policymakers tend to focus mainly on refugees while internally displaced people (IDPs) remain largely neglected.

The Current Situation on IDPs in Africa
Photo source: UNHRC

According to the International Displacement Monitoring Center (IMDC), there were 3.5 million new displacements linked to conflict, violence and disasters in 47 African countries in 2015. That is an average of over 9,500 people per day losing their livelihoods and being uprooted from their homes and communities. Africa currently has many more internally displaced persons (IDPs) than refugees. In fact, there are nearly five times as many IDPs as refugees in Africa and they are found all over the continent. The countries with the most internally displaced persons are:

  • Sudan: 3,300,000
  • Democratic Republic of Congo: 2,350,000
  • South Sudan: 2,100,00
  • Somalia: 1,300,000
  • Central African Republic: 415,000
  • Burundi: 100,000

Internal displacement has reached daunting proportions in Africa as a result of protracted conflicts, massive human rights violations, natural disasters (flooding, famines and drought), urban renewal projects and large-scale development projects. Meanwhile, conflicts remain the number cause of displacement in Africa. To better understand the causes of conflict in Africa, please read the article “Triggers of Conflict in Africa” by AFJN Policy Analyst Jacques Bahati.

An emerging driver of displacement in Africa is land grabbing. At AFJN, we have witnessed first-hand how land grabbing causes people to be displaced, relocate, and have trouble adjusting to their new environments. Land grabbing creates unintended tensions and conflicts in communities that were once peaceful and sustainable. This issue is one of our focus campaigns. Click here to learn more about land grabbing. We also invite you to join us in this cause by donating on our site. We thank you for your contribution.

Nikki Haley blames Salva Kiir for ‘man-made’ famine

Aljazeera
News: South Sudan 25 April 2017

US ambassador to UN urges Security Council to impose sanctions on South Sudan to end humanitarian crisis caused by war.

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Women and children wait to be registered prior to a UN food distribution. (Siegfried Modola/Reuters)

The United States has condemned South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir for the state’s “man-made” famine and ongoing conflict, urging him to fulfil a month-old pledge of a unilateral truce by ordering his troops back to their barracks.

“We must see a sign that progress is possible,” US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) briefing on South Sudan on Tuesday. “We must see that ceasefire implemented.”

South Sudan descended into civil war in 2013 after Kiir fired his deputy, unleashing a conflict that has spawned armed factions often following ethnic lines. A peace deal signed in August 2015 has not stopped the fighting.

UN South Sudan envoy David Shearer told the Security Council, “The political process in South Sudan is not dead, however, it requires significant resuscitation.”

The United Nations has warned of a possible genocide, millions have fled their homes, the oil-producing economy is in a tailspin, crop harvests are devastated because of the worst drought in years and millions face famine.

Some 7.5 million people, two-thirds of the population, require humanitarian assistance.

Around 1.6 million people have fled the country, while a further 1.9 million are displaced internally.

“The famine in South Sudan is man-made. It is the result of ongoing conflict in that country. It is the result of an apparent campaign against the civilian population. It is the result of killing humanitarian workers,” Haley said.

She also blasted deadlock among UNSC members on how to deal with the civil war in the country that gained independence from Sudan in 2011.

Haley said Kiir and his government were benefiting from the council’s division. She urged the council to impose further targeted sanctions and an arms embargo on South Sudan.

“You’re allowing President Kiir to continue to do what he’s doing,” she said. “If you truly care for the people of South Sudan, then we must tell the South Sudanese government that we are not going to put up with this anymore.”

The 15-member Security Council failed in December to get nine votes to adopt a US-drafted resolution to impose an arms embargo and further sanctions on South Sudan despite warnings by UN officials of a possible genocide.

Eight council members, including Russia and China, abstained in the vote.

Deputy Russian UN Ambassador Petr Ilichev told the council that it was unfair to lay all blame on Kiir’s troops for the violence and that Moscow opposed additional sanctions.

“Sound peace in South Sudan will not be brought about by a Security Council arms embargo, but rather by targeted measures to disarm civilians, as well as demobilise and reintegrate combatants,” he said.

UN report highlights ‘searing’ account of killings, rapes by South Sudanese forces

UN News Centre – Sent by Claudia McTaggart.

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11 March 2016 – A new United Nations report on the human rights situation in South Sudan published today describes a multitude of horrendous violations in “searing detail,” in particular by Government forces, including cases of civilians burned alive or cut to pieces and a teenage girl being raped by ten soldiers.

Although all parties to the conflict have committed patterns of serious and systematic violence against civilians since fighting broke out in December 2013, the report says State actors bore the greatest responsibility during 2015, given the weakening of opposition forces.

The scale of sexual violence is particularly shocking, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) notes in a news release. In five months last year, from April to September, the UN recorded more than 1,300 reports of rape in just one of South Sudan’s ten states, namely oil-rich Unity. Continue reading UN report highlights ‘searing’ account of killings, rapes by South Sudanese forces

South Sudan army ‘suffocated 60 in container’

BBC

A rights group says it has evidence that South Sudan government forces deliberately suffocated more than 60 men and boys in a shipping container.

They then dumped the bodies in a field in Leer Town, Unity State, Amnesty International said.
In a separate report, the UN has also accused the government troops of deliberately killing and raping civilians.

The government denies its army targeted civilians but says it is investigating.

“We have rules of engagement and we are following them,” a spokesman for President Salva Kiir, Ateny Wek Ateny, told the BBC. Continue reading South Sudan army ‘suffocated 60 in container’

South Sudan: Army Abuses Spread West

Human Rights Watch

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(Nairobi) – South Sudanese government forces have carried out numerous killings, enforced disappearances, rapes, and other grave abuses in the Western Equatoria region during expanded fighting in the region. Rebel armed groups there have also committed serious abuses, including rape.

The African Union (AU) Commission should move forward to establish a hybrid court to try the most serious crime cases from the current South Sudan conflict as envisioned in the August 2015 peace agreement, Human Rights Watch said. The United Nations (UN) Security Council should impose a comprehensive arms embargo on all forces in South Sudan to help curtail abuses against civilians. Continue reading South Sudan: Army Abuses Spread West