By Zechariah Manyok Biar
May 23, 2014 - South Sudan is really young. It seems its people in all their capacities mess up in the process of trying to do their best in serving their country better. The problem could be the lack of experiences in all the complexities of the rule of law. Many people who mess up often seem to believe that one thing about their mandate fits all.
When President Kiir boldly came out on May 16, 2014 and said that soldiers who killed people in Juba in December 2013 in the name of defending him will be severely punished, most of the eleven soldiers who were interviewed by Paanluel Wel blogger seemed dumfounded by the President’s words but they still spoke. They tried to rationalize their actions. The interviewees argued that they were defending the Constitution of South Sudan from juntas when they killed civilians in Juba. Some of them confidently said that they “will not regret defending the constitution of South Sudan,” even if they were fire squad for having killed the civilians.
These soldiers, however, did not admit that they killed civilians intentionally. They argued that civilians were killed in crossfire. What they did not put into consideration in their argument, I think, is why some civilians were killed in crossfire in areas where fighting did not take place. We all know that fighting took place in Giata, Bilpam, and 107. But civilians were killed in Gudele where fighting did not take place and crossfire cannot kill dozens that far.
Others did not argue on how they killed civilians. They only said that they were implementing orders. So, they should not be blamed. Some of these soldiers seem to believe that President Kiir is blaming them now simply because he wants to avoid being indicted. One of the interviewed soldiers, for example, said that President Kiir is distancing himself from what happened in Juba because he is just afraid of the rumors for International Criminal Court’s indictment.
However, one would still argue that even if the reason why the President distanced himself from Juba massacre of Nuer’s civilians is because of the rumors of his indictment (if at all such rumors exist), then he can still be appreciate for it. Any right-minded person does not only fear the law, he or she also fears the spoiling of his or her legacy. Nobody should act outside the given orders and think that leaders will take the responsibility.
Still, the soldiers have some points in what they said. One of the quotes that caught my attention is this: “We did not initiate any anything, we were just responding to the situation… We acted within the law and within our constitutionally mandate, no more or less.’’
It is true that soldiers in Juba just reacted to the situation that they never initiated. The problem is that they overreacted by killing innocent or not innocent but vulnerable people. Article 151 (4) (a) mandates the army to uphold the Constitution. But the same Article (4) (c) also mandates the army to “protect the people of South Sudan.” So, killing civilians in the name of defending the Constitution goes against the same Constitution.
Yet, the soldiers seem to have their reason for killing civilians that the Constitution mandates them to protect. One of the soldiers interviewed said that “many of these juntas were in civilian clothes.” This means that the killed civilians could have been juntas in civilian clothes. He went ahead to ask, “whom do you blame, is it me?”
The above question is a very interesting one. It is where most of us go wrong. We think that it is lawful to kill soldiers who are in civilian clothes. One of the leaders, who is also a lawyer, seemed to believe that it was right to get out soldiers who had removed their military clothes and entered the UN compound in Bor to seek protection.
Even though I am not a lawyer, it seems to be a commonsense to know that it is wrong to kill soldiers who have decided to remove their military uniforms and put on civilian clothes. Let me put it this way: I would regard it as wrong to even kill a soldier who has decided to throw away his gun that he was using against you in less than a minute and raises up his hands. He has become vulnerable and poses no threat to your life, taking out of question your right to self-defense. This is the same reason why anybody who kills a prisoner of war is blamed.
There is one condition, to use my commonsense again, which seems to justify the taking of the life of another person: it is self-defense. That is why armies who face themselves in a battle field kill one another, but not when one is overcome and disarmed. A captured soldier might have had the intention to kill or had already killed, but that is not enough reason to kill him after capturing him since he becomes vulnerable under such conditions.
The so-called juntas in civilian clothes might have had the intention to kill or they had already killed some soldiers in Juba before throwing away their uniforms and arms and put on civilian clothes. But killing them without giving them the chance in the court of law to defend themselves is mob justice, not defending of the Constitution and its institutions.
If commonsense is somehow difficult, then let us talk like human beings. If you were to put yourself in the shoes of the ones you killed simply because you suspected them to be juntas in civilian clothes, would you like to be killed like them without being given a chance to defend yourself in the court of law?
In addition to talking like humans, when you raise your hand to strike unarmed person or you pull your trigger to kill him or her, do you first see behind such a person that he or she has some other people he could take care of if he were to live?
Let me note before concluding this article that killing people in revenge, like what was done in Bor, Malakal, Bentiu, among other towns is also not morally justified.
Having said the above, I would conclude by saying that there is no justification for killing innocent or not innocent but vulnerable people in the name of defending the Constitution or avenging oneself. Defending the Constitution includes protecting the people of South Sudan, regardless of political or tribal association. For this reason, I believe the President is right to distance himself from the massacre even though the army is dumfounded by what he did.
Zechariah Manyok Biar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org