By Juliana Bol
April 21, 2014 - It was a bit disturbing to hear news of our citizens in the IDP camps (where they are seeking protection and shelter) celebrating the recapture of Bentiu -in light of what this recapture actually occasioned.
200 civilians [allegedly] killed in a mosque. Non-Nuer civilians and foreign nationals targeted and killed. Nuer men and women in a hospital killed for not being supportive or rather celebratory over the rebel forces ‘success’. Hate speech broadcast on a local radio station, calling for the rape of women.
Were we celebrating that a group of us now have to run and seek protection and shelter? Disturbingly, were the victims of this war celebrating the victimization of others? Are we seeing the creation of a ‘permanent victimhood’ that denies the existence of an equally victimized ‘other’? Historically this kind of moral ambiguity has been a prelude to victims becoming perpetrators whose actions, regardless of scale - they themselves perceive as warranted and a form of self-defense. This is a disturbing development.
In addition, does this mean that we have no empathy for those who are currently hiding in the bush and are not concerned when even more of us join them? The 800,000+ South Sudanese men, women and children whom we know are not in United Nations Protection of Civilians (PoC) camps, but we do not know where they are.
Also, what does it say about the international community, when we only condemn the actions of one group of actors, in this case the youths in Bor, and fail to equally condemn the actions of the actors in Bentiu? The international media widely reported the Bor massacre; international actors correctly condemned the actions of the youth involved. However, there has been a lack of condemnation of the actors in Bentiu, there has been no widespread calls for an investigation, despite that the Bentiu massacre took place in the same week as the Bor massacre.
Do the people of Bentiu not deserve equal consideration and if this is so, we should sincerely ask ourselves why. Because this makes us appear to be only quick to condemn actions that seemingly hold the government culpable (in this case in their failure to protect the IDPs) but then we remain silent on the need to hold the rebel army equally culpable. If this is the case, then we must question not only our partiality but also our humanity.
Lastly, perhaps we should be even more apprehensive when we hear reports of community youths reacting to this crisis with violence. Thus far, the communities of the affected have not engaged either the rebels or the SPLA, and have instead remained on the sidelines. About two weeks ago, there were reports of the Shilluk community mobilizing to form a community defense force (granted, this claim has since been retracted) and now we hear of youths in Bor attacking a group of the defenseless that they associate with the rebellion. I wrote an earlier article about the need to engage with the communities of the affected, in order to avoid an escalation of this kind of reaction. This needs to happen, sooner rather than later. We also need to begin to engage with the Nuer community – these are their sons and daughters – these actions cannot be culturally acceptable even if this were blood feud or retaliation.
This has been a horrible week for South Sudan. I reiterate that time is running out for us, we are on a precipice. Let us do all that we can to ensure that we do not fall into the abyss.
Juliana Bol is a public health specialist, holding a Masters in Public Health from Columbia University, New York. Her key focus area is Population and Family health concentrating on Forced Migration and Health. She lives and works in Juba, South Sudan and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org