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‘Friends of South Sudan’ go public with call for "significant changes and reform" in Juba

July 7, 2013, (WASHINGTON) - A group of pro-South Sudan activists in the Unites States have released a letter sent to president Salva Kiir and other senior officials in Juba expressing concern over what they described as "increasingly perilous fate" of the new state which came to life in July 2011 after voting almost unanimously to gain independence from Sudan.

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John Prendergast (L-R), Eric Reeves, Brian D’Silva (not a signatory to the letter), Ted Dagne and Roger Winter pose for a photograph in this undated image provided to Reuters by John Prendergast. (REUTERS/Nancy Reeves/Handout)

The letter signed by former U.S. State Department special envoy to Sudan Roger Winter, Sudan researcher Professor Eric Reeves, Co-Founder of Enough project John Prendergast and former congressional aide Ted Dagne said that they concluded that "without significant changes and reform" South Sudan "may slide toward instability, conflict and a protracted governance crisis"

"As friends, it is our responsibility to express our serious concerns directly and to offer constructive suggestions for the way forward".

The group, which has been one of earliest supporters of rebellion waged by southern Sudanese against Khartoum decades ago, accused Juba security forces of conducting "a campaign of violence again civilians simply because they belonged to a different ethnic group or they are viewed as opponents of the current government".

"This violence is shocking and has included rape, murder, theft, and destruction of property. We are particularly concerned about the evidence emerging of abuses by government forces in Jonglei. These terrible crimes occur because government forces believe they have the power to act with impunity," said the letter seen by Sudan Tribune.

"[T]hese atrocities are not isolated incidents but among many deliberate measures taken by soldiers on the instruction of senior commanders and government officials. Some may argue that the failure here lies in the chain of command, but the evidence makes clear that these orders are indeed coming from senior commanders," the group said.

A report by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) last March said that it investigated a series of reported grave human rights violations "which forewarn of a deterioration in the overall human rights situation".

South Sudan’s Jonglei state in particular has seen escalating levels of violence amid growing reports of human rights abuses against civilians caught up in the middle of fighting between South Sudan army and rebel group of David Yau.

In April, President Kiir said he would punish ill-disciplined members of the security forces engaged in acts of violence against civilians in Jonglei and also those who gave the orders.

The international medical charity, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), in a statement last month, accused South Sudan government of blocking them from providing aid to approximately 120,000 people hiding in the bushes.

Gunmen ambushed and killed five UNMISS peacekeepers and seven civilian staff last April in Jonglei.

The letter by the four pro-South Sudan activists also noted the lack of justice in crimes committed across the country and impunity enjoyed by some South Sudanese officials.

"Many attacks against civilians, including the killing of foreign businessmen, a teacher from Kenya, South Sudanese journalists, and many others, have gone unpunished. We have authoritative reports that government security forces have abused those who allow themselves and their cars to be searched. Many people, including government officials, have faced harassment and have been beaten up by security forces. Again, no one has been held accountable. This inevitably creates a climate of impunity" they said.

The Friends of South Sudan also addressed the issue of corruption and pointed out that "despite claims that vast sums have been expended on investment in infrastructure, there is very little to show in the way of roads, medical services, and education for millions of South Sudanese who greeted the prospect of independence with eagerness and hope".

"Those who have benefitted—who have become wealthy by misappropriating government funds—have often sent their families outside South Sudan, their children to private schools abroad, and have obtained the best medical services available in the world. This occurs while ordinary citizens who remain in South Sudan cannot afford even basic health services or modest educations for their children".

This month Kiir suspended and referred to investigation the Minister of Cabinet Affairs Deng Alor and Minister of Finance and Economic Planning Kosti Manibe for alleged corruption over request and transfer of nearly $8 million to an account abroad without authorization from relevant higher institutions.

The letter noted a World Bank investigation presented to South Sudan Ministry of Justice which they said "presents clear evidence of massive corruption".

"And yet the Ministry of Justice has not yet prosecuted a single individual".

Dagne, one of the letter’s signatories, was reportedly forced to flee Juba last year fearing for his safety following the release of a letter sent by Kiir to 75 officials urging them to return some $4 billion dollars they are accused of stealing.

The Ethiopian-born figure was hired by the UN to advise Kiir on anti-corruption policy and international relations and played a key role in the preparation of the letter which was made public to embarrass the officials who are accused of stealing four billion dollars.

He letter said that he was very frustrated by the extent of corruption, tribal wars and lack of development in the new nation.

The group presented a series of recommendations to South Sudan government to rectify the situation including an overhaul of the justice ministry; investigating and prosecuting human rights abuses; warning senior army officials against attacks on civilians; setting "clear" oil infrastructure priorities; making schools, medical services and clean water a priority; cutting the size of the army.

"The demands here are great, we well understand. But unless you begin to address them now, the tasks will only grow greater. Again, as friends of South Sudan, we urge you to confront these challenges on an urgent basis, and with all possible resolve," the letter closing paragraph reads.

In recent months a split has also emerged within the ruling Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM) with several senior officials publicly challenging Kiir’s bid for a new term.

Kiir’s VP Riek Machar has publicly criticized his boss in an interview with The Guardian published this week saying that he has failed to tackle rampant corruption, rising tribalism, overwhelming insecurity, dwindling economy, poor international relations and that the SPLM was losing vision and direction.

He also declared his willingness to run for Kiir’s post in the 2015 elections.

(ST)