A renown researcher at Human Rights Watch, Nyagoah Tut Pur, has strongly welcome the decision by South Sudan’s leaders to approve the AU Hybrid Court for South Sudan.
“After years of relative silence, South Sudan’s government has finally given approval to establish accountability mechanisms to address the country’s conflict, including a war crimes court in partnership with the African Union (AU),” she said.
“This could represent an important step to bring justice closer to victims and survivors who have suffered brutal crimes with impunity for far too long. However, swift and concrete action is needed to operationalize these mechanisms.”
Last week, the South Sudanese government gave a green light to the long-awaited establishment of the AU Hybrid Court for South Sudan, a step seen as a milestone towards bringing war criminals to justice.
Since the outbreak of the conflict in 2013, Tut has documented human rights violations and possible war crimes on both sides of the conflict, and has been a firsthand witness to some of the horrific abuses committed by the security forces.
“As a South Sudanese who has witnessed and investigated abuses since South Sudan’s war first broke out in December 2013, I cannot exaggerate how critical accountability is to repairing the country’s social fabric and to the healing of victims.”
“All parties to the conflict have committed war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity. Reckoning with South Sudan’s history through fair, credible trials, along with truth telling and reparations, will serve justice to victims and chart the way for future generations.”
Nov 12, 2020 (Thessherald)–Amnesty International can today confirm that scores, and likely hundreds, of people were stabbed or hacked to death in Mai-Kadra (May Cadera) town in the South West Zone of Ethiopia’s Tigray Region on the night of 9 November.
The organization’s Crisis Evidence Lab has examined and digitally verified gruesome photographs and videos of bodies strewn across the town or being carried away on stretchers. It confirmed the images were recent and using satellite imagery, geolocated them to Mai-Kadra in western Tigray state (14.071008, 36.564681).
“We have confirmed the massacre of a very large number of civilians, who appear to have been day labourers in no way involved in the ongoing military offensive. This is a horrific tragedy whose true extent only time will tell as communication in Tigray remains shut down,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.
We have confirmed the massacre of a very large number of civilians, who appear to have been day labourers in no way involved in the ongoing military offensive. This is a horrific tragedy whose true extent only time will tell as communication in Tigray remains shut down.
Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa “The government must restore all communication to Tigray as an act of accountability and transparency for its military operations in the region, as well as ensure unfettered access to humanitarian organizations and human rights monitors. Amnesty International will regardless continue to use all means available to document and expose violations by all parties to the conflict.”
The organization has also spoken to witnesses, who were providing food and other supplies to the Ethiopian Defense Forces (EDF), who visited the town immediately after the deadly attack, on the morning of 10 November, to find dead bodies strewn all over the town, as well as injured survivors.
Most of the dead bodies were found in the town centre, near the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia, and along a road that exits to the neighbouring Humera town, according to the witnesses and verified images.
People who saw the dead bodies told Amnesty International that they had gaping wounds that appear to have been inflicted by sharp weapons such as knives and machetes, reports which have been confirmed by an independent pathologist commissioned by Amnesty International. Witnesses said there were no signs of gunshot wounds.
The witnesses said that together with the EDF soldiers, they found some wounded people among the dead and took them to nearby hospitals in Abreha-Jira and Gondar, before removing dead bodies from the streets.
“Those wounded told me they were attacked with machetes, axes and knives. You can also tell from the wounds that those who died were attacked by sharp objects. It is horrible and I am really sad that I witnessed this in my life,” one distraught witness said.
‘Soaked in blood’
Amnesty International has not yet been able to confirm who was responsible for the killings, but has spoken to witnesses who said forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) were responsible for the mass killings, apparently after they suffered defeat from the federal EDF forces.
Three people told Amnesty International that survivors of the massacre told them that they were attacked by members of Tigray Special Police Force and other TPLF members.
“There was a military operation by the EDF and Amhara Special Force against the Tigray Special Police and militia at a place called Lugdi during the daytime on 9 November. After they defeated the Tigray forces, the EDF spent the night on the outskirts of Mai-Kadra town.
When we entered, we saw a lot of dead bodies, soaked in blood, on the streets and rental dormitories frequented by seasonal workers. The view was really debasing, and I am still in shock struggling to cope with the experience,” a civilian who entered the town after it was retaken by EDF told Amnesty International.
When we entered the town, what we saw was devastating. The roads were strewn with dead bodies especially in the centre of the town, and on the road the connects the town to Humera.
Civilian who witnessed the aftermath of the massacre
This was corroborated by another who said: “We went to the town immediately after the army and the Amhara Special Force took control of Mai-Kadra town on 10 November around 10 am. The army entered … after encircling the town overnight. There was no exchange of fire for the army to take over the town. But when we entered the town, what we saw was devastating. The roads were strewn with dead bodies especially in the centre of the town, and on the road the connects the town to Humera.”
“The Ethiopian authorities must immediately, thoroughly, impartially and effectively investigate this blatant attack on civilians and bring those responsible to justice in fair trials,” said Deprose Muchena.
“TPLF commanders and officials must make clear to their forces and their supporters that deliberate attacks on civilians are absolutely prohibited and constitute war crimes. All parties in the Tigray conflict must ensure full respect for international humanitarian law and human rights law in their operations. The safety and protection of civilians must be paramount.”
While the official death toll in Mai-Kadra is not yet known, the Amhara regional government’s media agency AMMA reported there were around 500 victims, adding that they were primarily non-Tigrayan residents of the town. A man who is helping to clear the bodies from the streets told Amnesty International that he had looked at the state-issued identification cards of some victims, and most were Amhara.
On 4 November 2020, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered the Ethiopian Defence Forces (EDF) to militarily engage with the Tigray Regional Paramilitary Police and militia loyal to the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF) in what he stated was a response to multiple attacks by the Tigray security forces on the EDF North Command base in Mekelle and other military camps in Tigray Region.
Since the start of the conflict, there have been armed confrontations between federal forces (Federal Army, Amhara Region’s Special Force Police and Amhara local militia) on one side and the Tigray regional forces (Tigray Special Force Police and militia) on the other side
The Ministry of Defence and the Prime Minister have announced that Ethiopian Air Force planes carried out multiple air strikes against TPLF military installations. The Prime Minister and the Army Chief of Staff pledged to continue air strikes on selected targets without endangering civilian life, advising residents to stay away from ammunition depots and other military targets.
May 1, 2020 (Thessherald)–Whys is DEMOCRACY not growing in most developing countries? In our view, Democracy is not growing in developing countries because of the following:
1) Majority of the leaders who have bean in power are too undemocratic;
2) The politics play therein is always more of personalities (tribal) and not ideological one, and
3) Most of the leaders in power are at materials-related-war (animosity) against Civil Society and Human Rights Activists. In other words, Democracy does not survive in countries where Civil Society and and Rights Activists are not allowed to exercise their constitutional roles; where constitutional terms limit are not applied or where institutions have not been strengthened.
Democracy occurs when the State (country) institutions/constitutions are purposely made strong or strengthened to control the leaders or fight corruptions. What are the roles that Civil Society can play in strengthening Democracy? Can Civil Society be an enemy of the people (leaders) in power? What are the two inseparable partners in a democratic nation’s building? Before we answer these three (3) questions, let’s first define the terms “Civil Society”.
What’s Civil Society? Civil Society is (in a broader term) is an entire range of both organized or unorganized (non-political or unarmed) members of citizens in any country thst are independent of the State; the law-abiding, tolerant, pluralistic, voluntary, and at least to some extent self-generating and self-reliance citizens. These groups, of course, include Non-Govermnental Organizations (NGOs), independent mass.media, think-tanks, academia, universities, social associations, all independent citizens and sometimes religious groups.
However, all members of these groups must have respect for the law, the individuals’ rights, and the rights of other groups to express their interests and opinions. As civil society group or member you don’t need to allow or value only what you as a person or the people of your own interest can express. The word “Civil” implies tolerance, accommodation of pluralism and diversity. Civil societies may establish ties to political parries, or the leaders in power and the State but they must retain their independences and they do not seek political power for themselves. Civil Society is necessary partner to political and entire leadership of any country (State). Visionary leaders and muat work to ensure that civil society is involved in a nation democratic building. This can be inform of advocacy for human rights, democracy and developments. That’s what civil society means, in brief. However,this advocacy work needs an intrepid national and public-interest-oriented character.
What are the roles of Civil Society in building DEMOCRACY?
Civil Society limits and controls the people in power (the leaders), on how they manage the national resources, state and how they treat ordinary people. In counties emerging from dictatorship, civil society needs to finds ways to check and monitor the power of political leaders and country officials. Civil Society actors must watch how the state officials use their powers and then they raise public concern abou abuse of power. These actors lobby and advocate for access to information including for one to have freedom of an independent opinion, freedom of expression, access to justice, rules of law, strong institutions and how best to control corruption. Civil Society exposes to general public the corrupt conducts of public officials and the leaders. The sole intention here is to have good governance, positive changes, democratic and social reforms installed in that country. Anti-corruption laws or country’s institutions cannot effectively function without active support and participation of civil society organizations. Civil society promotes and encourage political participation of loath and slothful ccitizens. NGOs’ active members educate the people about their rights, obligations or skills to work with one another, how to solve common problems, debate public issues and how to express their views in line with the nation’s interest.
Civil Society organizations help citizens develop values of democratic life including principles of tolerance, moderation, compromise, accommodation and respect for opposing points of views. Without this deeper culture, democracy cannot be stable. The civil society (NGOs) cultivate positive democratic spirit in young people and adult through various programs that pravtice participation, debate about national interest and love of one own country.
Civil society initiates programs of democratic civic education in various social settings or in the schools. Because after every dictatorship, comprehensive reforms is always needed to revise the country’s curricula, rewrite the text books and retain teachers bin order to educate young people about the crimes of the past and teach them the principles and values of democracy.
Civil society provides an arena for the expression of diverse interests, the needs and concerns of their own members such as women, students, farmers, environmentalists, trade unionists, lawyers, doctors, and so on. It’s not only the resourceful and well-organized groups who can have their voices heard. Over time, even groups that have historically been oppressed, confined and marginalized can also be organized and encouraged, too, to assert their rights so that they defend their interests either by themselves or by other civil society groups.
Civil society strengthens democracy by promoting a unified national interests, encourage solidarity that cut across old forms of tribal thoughts, linguistic, religious, and other identity ties. In addition, democracy cannot be stable if people or individuals only associate with their tribes’ people (men), clansmen, sections and relatives or other of the same area, region or identity.
When people of different religions and ethnic identities come together on the basis of their common interests, for instance, as women, artists, doctors, students, workers, farmers, Rights Activists and so on, civic life becomes richer, more national and tolerant. In a second, get to think about the life in a world of sport with diverse teams. Take it as an example of how good it looks like to have a diverse common national interest and not trival social milieus. Civil society premises can also be be a training ground for future political and democratic leaders. Political leaders with (human rights) activism backgrounds are never destructive or dictators when they get into power. Civil society organizes public forums for public policies debate while dissemination information (through mass media) about public issues, before parliament, the polices that affect the interests of different groups or of the society as a whole in the country.
Civil society organizations (NGOs) can mediate and help resolve conflicts through formal programs and training of trainers to relieve political and ethnic conflict. The civil society and trainers can then teach groups how to solve their disputes through bargaining, tolerance and accommodation. Civil society monitors elections through a broad coalition of organizations, which are unconnected to political parties or cnadidates. In the elections, CSOs deploy neutral monitors at all different polling stations to ensure that the voting and votes counting is entirely free, fair, peaceful, and transparent. In any nation, it is always hard to have credible and fair elections or to have a democratic nation in line with modern democracy and principles unless civil society groups are involved and willingly allowed to play their constitutional roles.
Is Civil Society an enemy of the people (leaders) in power?
In conclusion: One thing which is quite disturbing is that some of our current leaders who are in power in South Sudan for example (the yesterday Freedom Fighters or 21 years Change Seekers) still consider Civil Society as their enemy. Can the leaders and State exist without Civil Society–ordinary citizens? The answer is a big NO! Leaders and the State cannotbexist if there is no civil population and ordinary citozens–the origin of Civil Society. Hence, Civil Society is not an enemy of the people (leaders) in power. Instead, the two are inseparable partners in nation building. Even those predatory acts (which sometimes involved physical animosities) against unarmed Civil Society members are internationally considered as true violations of human beings’ rights. Under International Human Rights’ Law it’s called ‘Crime against Humanity” punishable by International Criminal Law (ICL). In other words, these wars against Civil Society members are unlawful; truly unlawful. So, I repeat, the fallacy that Civil Society is an enemy to the people (the leaders) in power and the State is untrue. Okay, I have recalled, the group of leaders in Africa for instance that can have such terming Civil Society as an enemy are only the militay dictators, corrupt and undemocratic leaders who perhaps made it into power through rare opportunities. These dictators, corrupt and undemocratic leaders are the ones waging war against Civil Society members with an intention that Civil Society organizations’ members get scared or stop carrying out their legitimate roles (as narrated above).
Civil Society and the State: The two presupposed partners!
Conclusion: Civil Society and political leadership of any country are considered presupposed and inseparable partners when it comes to a nation building and Democracy. The fact that Civil Society is independent of the State doesn’t mean that it must always critics or (non- constructively) oppose the people in power and the leadership just for the sake of criticism. No! Civil Society should offer advice, condemns or be critical of the State (country) leadership unless the latter seen obstinate–becomes stumbling block towards the needed social changes, economic reforms and democratic transformations. On the other hand, the people in power–the leaders ,too, are suppose not to prey on Civil Society just because its members are seen (powerless) or are seen active carrying out their normal legitimate roles. Civil Society is a vital constructive and national partner to any democratic government worldwide. For Civil Society constructs the nation and helps strengthens the State’s institutions democratically.
Nation becomes democratic and peaceful when its political leadership works in collaboration with Civil Society organizations, therein. So, the making the leaders in power or country’s leadership (s) more accountable, responsible, inclusive, and nationally ideological for effective good governances to occur at all levels based on democratic principles are vigorous roles of Civil Society and Rights’ Activists.
Bol Khan is a member of South Sudan Civil Society Organization and Independent Opinion Writer. He irregularly writes about Democracy, Peace, good governance, Human and Civil Rights. He can easily be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org Twiter@khanrom or WhatsApp: +249969208381.
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