Defenders Speaking Out: “Who will save the citizens of South Sudan if I stop my work?”

Based on the interview with a South Sudanese journalist living in exile. Due to security concerns his identity has been withheld and the format of the interview has been edited.

Why did you leave South Sudan?

I ran because my life was being threatened in my country by my own people. The officer responsible for these threats said he would kill me because I had been publishing a lot of stories about the SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army]. I was telling people how the army was responsible for targeting civilians and looting people at night. I was telling people on the radio, on websites, in newspapers.

Before you fled, you worked as a journalist in South Sudan for 8 years. How would you describe the climate there?

Journalists in South Sudan work in a vacuum. If you publish a story, you wonder what the result will be for you. Not for the listeners, not what interest it has for the community. The major problem will be the consequences of the story for yourself.

South Sudan has a long background of war and violence. Some military officers have no vision, no sense of what the media is about. When they see you holding a camera and a recorder they assume you will take that information to the enemy, without realising you are a citizen who has an interest in his country.

They look at me like I’m an obstacle. But that is not the case. As a journalist, I’m a citizen as well. I’m loyal to my country and I’m loyal to my government. But I’m also loyal to the local people who are targeted for no reason.

I was born in South Sudan and I need to see something good happen for my people. I need to see that they are living a good life, like they would in any other country in the world: going to work, coming home, eating, sleeping, waking up. I don’t want to hear every day that two men were killed, five were kidnapped, and three women were raped. That is why I’m committed to my work.

South Sudan has been at war for nearly two decades. What can the international community do at this point?

Civil society in South Sudan is experiencing the same problems as the media. So what is my demand to the international community?

If I stop my work today, it would be very dangerous for my people. Who will save the citizens if I stop my work, if all my colleagues are forced to stop their work? Then the people will continue to suffer and die in cold blood.

The international community – the United Nations – needs to establish an institution that can record the human right abuses in the country.

We need an independent body to monitor the media situation, the human rights situation, and the civil rights abuses. This would expose those individuals and institutions that violate human rights. It could provide a platform in South Sudan for the media to work with.

We need an independent voice that is not the media, that is not the army, which can tell the government what the individuals working for them are doing to their own people.

I want the international community and the people who attacked me to pass judgment over me. If what I was doing was wrong, then I think the international community will tell me the truth: that I was doing something wrong, that being a journalist was something wrong.

But if I was doing the right thing for my people by talking about what was happening to them… If all of it is true, then even the person who tried to arrest me, who tried to kill me, will understand that he was wrong and that what the media is telling is the truth.


Background

Since fighting broke out in South Sudan on 15 December 2013, the human rights and humanitarian situation has continued to deteriorate inflicting widespread suffering on the population. Both state and non-state actors have been accused of committing grave human rights abuses, which could constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity. These include extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, rape and other forms of sexual violence, torture, arbitrary arrests and detention, and targeted attacks against civilians. Despite the August 2015 peace agreement, insecurity remains pervasive across South Sudan.

DefendDefenders and 12 other NGOs have called upon the UN Human Rights Council (UN HCR) to establish a Special Rapporteur on South Sudan with a mandate to investigate and publicly report on violations of international human rights and humanitarian law and to make recommendations for achieving effective accountability for past and on-going crimes.

As the 31st session of the UN HRC comes to an end, our eyes turn to Geneva and the member states of the Council, awaiting a strong resolution establishing such a mechanism. Yesterday, we spoke to a journalist and human rights defender who was forced to flee South Sudan after his life was threatened by government security forces. His story shows once again the dire need for strong action by the Council.