Home | Comment & Analysis    Tuesday 22 January 2019

Try Dong Samuel Luak or release him now

By Nhial T. Tutlam, PhD*

Exactly two years ago, my cousin and mentor Dong Samuel Luak, was abducted from Nairobi, where he was living as a refugee. Mr Dong Samuel Luak is a human rights lawyer who has been a vocal critic of the government of South Sudan for years. His activism made him an enemy of powerful forces in the country. Consequently, his life was in danger, and he had to flee South Sudan with only the clothes on his back in August of 2013, well before the outbreak of the ongoing senseless conflict in the country.

While in Nairobi, an armed group broke into his residence in the middle of the night in October 2015. Curiously, these intruders were apparently only interested in taking his phone, which they managed to take after shooting him in the leg. They left untouched many other valuable possessions in the house, which they could easily have carried on their way out. This suggests they were not random Nairobi thieves. They were people on a mission sent by someone.

Therefore, when he was abducted on January 23, 2017, there was no doubt who the culprits behind his abduction were: agents of the government of South Sudan. Indeed, a few days before his abduction, he had received a phone call from the First Vice President of the Republic, Gen. Taba Deng Gai, threatening him that he would soon face the consequences of his actions. At the time, the government of South Sudan vehemently denied having anything to do with his disappearance. They pointed a finger at Kenyan security forces, claiming that the Kenyan government had a case against him. Family members and his colleagues in the human rights community went to court to seek answers. The Kenyan High Court issued an order to the Kenyan security forces to present him in court. That never happened.

From the beginning, it was very clear that the Kenyan government would not bring him to court. Credible information we received soon after his disappearance indicated that his abductors first took him to Uganda and then on to South Sudan by car, arriving in Juba on the night of January 27th, 2017.

Although we have not seen or heard from him since then, we recently received reliable information that he is still alive and being held in Juba by the government of South Sudan, along with his colleague Aggrey Idri.

We have made several attempts to communicate with the president of the Republic of South Sudan, Gen. Salva Kiir, through official channels to ask for his release. However, our messages have been ignored repeatedly.

Because we have no other way of communicating with Gen. Salva Kiir directly, we have decided to issue this public demand for the release of Dong Samuel Luak, along with his colleague Aggrey Idri, as we mark the second year of their abduction.

We raise the issue of Dong Samuel Luak’s release at this critical juncture for very specific reasons:

Article 2.1.6 of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS), signed on September 12, 2018, stipulates that “Prisoners of War (PoWs) and detainees shall be released immediately under the supervision of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).”
As part of the Revitalized Peace Agreement, President Kiir himself ordered the release of all prisoners of war and political detainees in September 2018.
On the day of the celebration of the R-ARCSS in Juba, which was attended many opposition leaders, including Dr Riek Machar, President Kiir ordered the release of Mr James Gatdet Dak, who had been similarly apprehended by Kenyan Security forces in Nairobi and handed over to the regime in Juba in November 2016.

It is our fervent belief that Mr Dong Samuel Luak falls under the category of detainees described in the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS) and should, therefore, be released without delay in accordance with the provisions of the agreement and presidential order.

Alternatively, the government should define his status and take him to court or provide clear justification for his indefinite detention. There is a precedent for this. In 2014 the president released SPLM leaders who had been detained for months for an alleged coup attempt. Recently, the aforementioned James Gatdet Yak was taken to court and sentenced to death by the court. The president then ordered his release as part of the implementation of the revitalized agreement. Mr Dong Samuel Luak and his colleague Aggrey Idri deserve the same relief.

We call upon all people of goodwill and any peace-loving leaders within the government to intervene in this matter. We also call on the international community, particularly those in the human rights community, who know Dong very well, to continue exerting maximum pressure on the government to abide by its international obligations.

The author wrote this article on behalf of Dong’s family. He is a Chronic Disease Epidemiology Manager, at the Division of Health Promotion and Public Health Research, Saint Louis County Department of Public Health- United States