By Biel Boutros Biel
October 5, 2013 - Dear Fellow South Sudanese, fellow human rights defenders, colleagues in civil society, friends of South Sudan, people of conscience and good will all over the world; "a sad ten months to all of you”.
Today the 5th of October 2013, I would like to remind all of you that it marks 10 months since our fellow country man, colleague, friend and fellow human rights defender Isaiah Diing Abraham Chan Awuol (Isaiah Abraham) was assassinated at his house in Juba. He was killed on December 5th, 2012 at about dawn hours (My heart and prayers always with you comrade Diing and peace upon your family, Twic East Citizens, Kongor Community and South Sudanese whom you died for).
Fellow citizens as you all know, Isaiah was a known political commentator who writes on the socio-economic political issues affecting South Sudan. To political dictators, he was an evil to be gotten rid of, to cool headed politicians, he was controversial but to my colleagues and I, in human rights and civil society and to the cheated majority South Sudanese in Juba and rural counties, he remains a hero of conscience who gave up his life for us and the posterity. Brother Diing, you had said and done what Napoleon didn’t do! Thank you.
Due to his views on many issues and the dictatorship of the South Sudan government including the easy giving away of Miles 14 to North Sudan, a land that belongs to the South Sudanese communities of Mading Aweil, with no fear or favour, we believe among others, he was thereof gunned down.
Soon after his assassination, a committee of investigations including the Ministry of Interior was formed and tasked to investigate the incident. It gave a preliminary report after assessing how brother Isaiah was murdered. Based on that report announced verbally(as more often than not in South Sudan’s leaders’ jokes on critical issues), the Government of South Sudan concluded that indicatively, about 70% shows that Isaiah’s death was a planned assassination and whereas, we, his colleagues, believe that 100% of his death was a state’s organized assassination. Knowing South Sudan as of now, only a fool will immediately ask us for the evidence though!
On January 3, 2013, the South Sudan’s Former Minister of Information Hon. Dr. Barnaba Marial Benjamin, on South Sudan TV, announced that a number of suspects believed to have executed the planned assassination of Isaiah Abraham, were apprehended and kept somewhere. Probably, believably than not, could be with National Security whose office issued two statements thereafter, calling upon any public member who would reveal the killers of Isaiah Abraham and be rewarded, in the first and second press statements, with 50, 000 USD and 100, 000 USD. This “reward alarm” by the supposedly people’s protectors, was an insult to our intelligence as that shows how his life was cheapened to mere willingness of the public members who because for 150, 000 USD would reveal the killers and there was no expressly shown in our view any political will to investigate the case. This has continued to add our suspicion of the state’s tainted holiness in the assassination.
Held, were a number of follow-up meetings with the office of President Salva Kiir by different groups, including elders and leaders of Greater Bor Community (A community where comrade Isaiah by birth comes from) and constant press statements we have been making calling for justice to be done to his family and also justice be done to those who had been suspected of the assassination as alleged arrested by Minister Marial Benjamin. Nothing as you all know fellow citizens that up to this day, has been done. No one has been held accountable over the death of our colleague Isaiah Abraham nor have the alleged suspects arrested been revealed.
This ambiguity on the side of government raises a number of issues as follows:
1. Whether or not there were indeed suspects arrested as wildly and widely claimed by Hon. Barnaba Marial Benjamin?
2. Whether or not the suspects have revealed the truth that implicates the Government of South Sudan or the President or any other senior government of official(s) within South Sudan’s public institutions?
3. Whether Hon. Marial was not misinformed that there were suspects arrested or he chose to deceive the public to quench off public outrage that was burning at the time after the late’s murder?
On the above issues:
As to whether or not there were suspects really arrested, this remains controversial as nobody could give clarity except the national security office, the President of South Sudan, Ministry of Interior and Marial Benjamin who announced the news of their arrest but all have failed substantially to give the truth to Diing’s family nor to the public on whose behalf Diing gave up his life. They remained silent hitherto.
What happened to Marial’s wild pronouncements? It is hard to believe either. Probably the suspects might have been there as alleged being arrested if one would, at least for a minute, believe Marial Benjamin!
As to whether the suspects might have revealed the truth that implicates the government, this is a highly probable scenario because despite the announcement by Marial, no suspects have been brought to Court for trial contrary to the Constitutional rights of speedy trial of any accused person(s).
Article 19 of the Transitional Constitution of South Sudan 2011 provides for the fair trial of the accused. Marial Benjamin must be aware of this provision, the office of the President, the Ministry of interior and above all, the Prosecutor General in the Ministry of Justice and National Security must equally be cognizant of such non-derogable rights(rights that cannot be tempered with whatsoever).
Specifically, Article 19(4) of the Constitution provides for speedy trial of any accused person and be produced before the Court of Law within 24 hours after the apprehension. The provision liberally adds that an accused could be further remanded/made to remain in detention for the purposes of completing the investigations but for not more than 3 months and such continued remand only be done so with the permission of the Public Prosecutions Attorney and the Court/Magistrate respectively.
Now the alleged suspects if we believe Marial Benjamin, who claims that arrests were made, have spent 9 months plus without trial. Therefore, fellow citizens that their rights to fair trial doesn’t need a Constitutional expert to conclude that they have been violated!. Failing to take them if they are there though, for trial, in our view, is making double evils. That is, the death of Isaiah, the failure to do justice to his family and failure to try the accused persons who were alleged prominent suspects to his assassination.
WHO IS FOOLING WHO? Hon. Marial Benjamin and National Security plus the former Minister of Security as well the office of the President and Ministry of Interior ought to give answers to the family of Isaiah, we his friends, the public and the whole world of conscience that reads his documented views and who is constantly angered by his assassination.
In short, if the suspects are there, they must have told out the whole truth of who sent them to kill Isaiah Abraham! So presumably, because of that, perhaps, reasonably for the next many years to believe so, that such a person or persons, who sent them to implement the evil, must have been a senior member in any one of the institutions of the Government of South Sudan.
WILL THE GOVERNMENT THIS TIME ROUND BREAK THE SILENCE? But it has remained adamant to do so!
Fellow citizens and people of Conscience, this “SILENCE OF GOVERNMENT” is what has given my colleagues and I a strong belief that the state has murdered our brother Isaiah because of his political views opposing the evils of Khartoum being implemented by proxy through Juba. Ten months had gone, yet no justice done!
WHERE ARE THE ADORED PRINCIPLES OF JUSTICE, EQUALITY AND DIGNITY PROCLAIMED BY OUR LEADERS?
This silence fellow citizens confirms the most legally quoted equity phrase that “ justice delayed, justice denied” The blood of Isaiah has been crying but everybody whether for fear of being Isaiah number 2 or for political calculations has remained deadly silent. This is a complete betrayal of our brother whose blood means a lot for South Sudan’s transition to democracy.
As to whether or not Marial Benjamin was misinformed of the alleged suspects arrested who might not have been there but cleverly coined to quench off public anger.
This scenario of deception at the very least could be a possibility. One case example to illustrate this, is that, when the UN Human Rights Officer Sandra was expelled last year by South Sudan government, to date, controversies continue to awash our memories as who actually ordered her expulsion! Was it entirely and single –handedly done by the then Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation Hon. Nhial Deng Nhial? Or was it ordered by the President of the Republic Salva Kiir Mayardit? No answers so far on this given satisfactorily but by doctrine of co-ordination in the government, it is obvious in the view of the author, that Hon. Nhial acted as instructed(Though Sandra’s case is beyond the scope of this piece to discuss).
By the same token of how things happen in South Sudan, Hon. Marial Benjamin, must have been directed to announce the suspects who are to this date might not be available but was done so to appease the public that remains angry to this day. Or Marial was indeed aware of the real suspects arrested and he was doing it genuinely to inform the public of the seriousness of his salary-paid government on the matter. God and Marial know the truth though!
Now that the suspects have not been brought to justice and no information has been given to public neither to Isaiah’s family, this raises a lot of arguments that Marial Benjamin as he is known these days; must have been doing “Public relations” for the Government of South Sudan but he did it in an unforgettable bitter case whatsoever! Was he aware of the implications of his pronouncements?
On August 14, 2013, while visiting the family of Isaiah, I encountered the bitterest reminder from his 13 year old son Chan Isaiah. Upon my arrival, the kids looked at my eye and I made no mistake that probably they were expecting me of any news and I knew that they wanted to know what the South Sudanese are doing on the case of their father. As I know they are young, I have often avoided discussing the assassination of their father with them. But that day the August 14, 2013, caught me by surprise. As fatherless little Chan sat beside me, he pricked me with the most unforgettable question and he humbly asked:
“Uncle, may I ask you a question; how is the case of dad going on in Juba and has the government found his killers? “
Monica his sister looked at me too and my colleague Peter Nien who was with me plus their mum looked at me as well. I tried to look up onto the ceiling avoiding any eye contact with anyone in the room neither even Chan himself but as I lowered down my eyes, the boy’s eyes were on me for answers. I pat him at the back and painfully I responded to his questions:
“Chan, nothing has been revealed yet as those arrested have not appeared before the court”,
To stop him from asking more painful questions, I added; “Our government is still investigating the case and they will one day give out the final information when the investigations are over”
Young Chan still looked at me and seemingly regarding what I was saying as unbelievable. I felt guilty all the more of having no “a better nothing to tell him”. It increases my bitterness to this day over the case.
However, I truthfully told him my conscience and I said; “Chan; continue with your education and for the case of Isaiah, there are many who will not give up following his assassination. Remain strong and we will not let him down at all”. He nodded and responded “Thank you uncle and I am sorry to ask but that is what I wanted to know, thank you”.
The questions asked by little Chan have remained as a bitter reminder that ten months gone without justice. I know in my first response to little chan, I didn’t tell him the whole truth because as there has never been a government investigating the case. Since Marial’s January 3 wild pronouncements, nothing has been said again publicly by the government about the case of Isaiah Abraham. This silence each day leaves us with following question:
1. Who killed him?
2. Who sent them?
3. Where are they?
4. When are they going to be tried before the court?
The above questions ought to be answered by the government of South Sudan but this date, nothing has been responded to. Marial Benjamin has remained neither without pronouncing anything again on the case nor the National Security telling the public whether or not the 150,000 USD reward which they promised to anyone who gives them information about who killed Isaiah Abraham, has worked!
Fellow citizens, we have made a lot of statements for long in Juba on Isaiah’s assassination and worldwide, we have explored all avenues to inform any person of good conscience that the blood of our brother Diing is so important that the truth of how he died must not be left unearthed but justice be done no matter come what may!
The Geneva based Human Rights Council, we are very grateful to date that it was this year able to raise it to South Sudan’s former Minister of Justice Hon. John Luk Jok. It was a good recognition of the blood of Isaiah and the fact that there were no better answers Hon. Luk could give over the case was in our view, significantly a humiliating exposure of the evils which ordinary South Sudanese people are facing under their own government. Not many months ago, equally to recall, in European Conference at Belgium, Isaiah’s case topped the agenda and we are happy that South Sudan’s delegation could not dodge reality openly discussed on the case.
Thanks to the people of conscience who know that Isaiah didn’t volunteer to die for the earlier pleasure to be with the Lord but for what was larger in him, much bigger than the shortsighted calculations of his organized assassins.
Fellow citizens, Jesus Christ is not crazy to remind us always that; “He is ready to leave the 99 members of his flock and goes out to look for one member who is lost” This shows the Lord’s love for each life.. Can we together raise conscience-searching questions and ask our Government under President Salva Kiir Mayardit to answer these questions:
1. Who killed him?
2. Who sent them?
3. Where are they?
4. When are they going to be tried before the court?
As my colleagues and I have always believed so, the answers are lying with the state and the state’s silence has oftentimes confirmed our greatest suspicion that the state killed Isaiah Abraham, that the suspects have told the truth about his death, that they were sent to kill him and that the suspects if taken for trial, would implicate surprisingly in our view some senior government officials and that to cover up the evil done, the suspects would never be tried and no justice would ever be done to the family of our fallen hero Isaiah Abraham.
Together, fellow citizens, let’s stand up and ask the above questions so that the government answers them or give us better version. MARIAL BENJAMIN TELL WHAT YOU KNOW NOW AS YOU TOLD US IN JANUARY THIS YEAR!
Finally; we recommend briefly the following:
1. That South Sudanese Citizens and people of good will all over the world and in South Sudan should ask the government to account on the death of Isaiah Abraham and with urgency.
2. That all human rights defenders in South Sudan must gather on December 5th 2013 at the late’s tomb in Kongor in Twic East County, Jonglei State, where he was buried and in Juba, to peacefully demonstrate, asking for justice to be done so that together, we answer the questions asked by his 13 year old Chan; “Have his killers been found?”
3. That the National Security should declare that they have failed to get anybody coming forward to show who killed the late and that the 150, 000 USD promised as a reward to any informant, must be given to the children of Isaiah Abraham for their education(This must not be construed to mean blood-money/dia for Isaiah, no, because it is the public money that the National Security was able to have so easily and to the extent of making a big joke to give it as a reward).
4. That the Prosecutor General in the Ministry of Justice must tell the public what his office knows about the case of Isaiah since the investigations of crimes succinctly fall within the purview of his office. Sir, have there been investigations done by the controlled committee?
5. That all the lawyers should gather on one of the days by December 2013 in Juba and ask the President of the Republic, Speaker of Parliament and Chief Justice of the Judiciary of South Sudan, each to throw the first copy of the Constitution into the flaming fire lit by the lawyers and thereafter, the lawyers and the rest of the public members countrywide, burn all the copies of the Constitution.
In our view, this would be honourable to do so since the rights enshrined therein have been considered useless by the Executive from the President to the Boma Administrator in South Sudan and by the doctrine of co-ordination, the Chief Justice and the speaker are guilty by association since each has failed to defend the supreme law.
HAD THERE BEEN RESPECT OF HUMAN RIGHTS ENSHRINED IN THE CONSTITUTION, ISAIAH WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN MURDERED AT ALL!
As the copies of the Constitution shoot high in flames, then, South Sudan shall have been declared as under clear military dictatorship, where asking as who killed Isaiah Abraham, would be at the discretion of the top General!
Fellow citizens, Dr. Martin Luther King stated; “Our life begins to end the day we become silent about the things that matter”.
Have our life ended? That is the question we leave with you and as critically aware of, that speaking out on these issues carries particularly when the supposedly people’s government is the prime suspect, neither my colleagues nor I, could underestimate the high price one is likely to pay!
Yet, in our view, our physical protection is our Constitution of South Sudan though constantly violated. Our invisible defender is the Almighty God and our fundamental push to speak out on these issues, is our conscience and our greatest encouragement is the blood of Isaiah whose ultimate loss remains sacrificial for you, for all of us and for posterity.
Fellow citizens, as reminder to one of you, human Life is a question of human dignity and once a single life is violated, it is the violation of the whole humanity. Can such a violation not concern the entire humanity? Think about his blood fellow citizens and to the Almighty God, may his soul rest in eternity.
Lord, we are ready to drink at any chalice on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves and so your will be done as we say to hell with injustices over our rights! Fellow citizens, over to you!
Biel Boutros Biel is lawyer and the Executive Director of South Sudan Human Rights Society for Advocacy. He is currently a visiting Scholar in the Human Rights Advocates Program at Columbia University, New York City, USA. He can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org