Plain Talk, Security Assaults and Harassment
By Nana Alfred Taban
Over the last few years of war, our Military forces have demonstrated exceptional competence, courage, and resiliency in adapting to the demands of war and accomplishing the mission. Today, however, the Army is failing in its efforts to combat assault and harassment. It is time we take on the fight against all kinds of assault and harassment as our primary mission. It is up to every one of us, civilian and Soldier, general officer to private, to solve this problem within our ranks.
The Army is supposed to be committed to the safety and security of every Soldier, civilian, and family member. The Army is based on a bedrock of trust, the trust between Soldiers and leaders that they will take care of each other and the civilians that entrusted them with their lives to protect and shield. Recent incidents of assault and harassment demonstrate that they have violated that trust. In fact, these acts violate everything the Army stands for. They are contrary to the Army Values and they must not be tolerated.
Last night, on the 2nd of July 2019, at exactly 11:30pm I was in a cap from Airport plaza heading to my house, which was not far away because I reside in the same compound with Juba Monitor office. The driver was a Ugandan and we were stopped by the check point security and of course they had to do their procedure of searching the car for anything illegal or harmful. But that was not all that happened.
The security officer asked me where I was going and I told him “Home, Juba Monitor” he then asked “Why are you moving with a foreigner?” I replied “He is a cap driver, my friend called him to drop me home” he then looked at me and the cap driver and said “park here let me call my boss” and we sure did park as he asked.
When the boss came he asked why we are moving at this time to which I replied boldly “Is there a curfew, I am not aware of?” he got angry immediately and said “how can you move around with a foreigner? Is he your boyfriend?” again I boldly said “No he is not. He is just a cap driver and he is taking me home” he told me “get out of the car” very angrily. I got outside the car and went to him and he said “Stop lying to me admit that this is your boyfriend and you people will not move from here. I will flog you if you lie again” at this point I am starting to get angry and worried. I replied him “I am not lying to you. But even if he is my boyfriend, what is the problem here? Am I not allowed to date or marry a foreigner within the law because I can’t seem to understand your concern” he slapped me immediately. I then kept quiet and told him “It is okay” he then asked me “what language do you speak” I told him “Bari language.”
He then went ahead and told me to switch off my phone as my mother was calling me nonstop worried why I did not reach home yet. I begged him that I needed to assure my mother that I am safe and he refused. I then knew that they were definitely up to something bad. I went back inside the car as three of them went behind the car to talk. I immediately knew I needed to do something or else whatever they are planning will succeed. I switched the phone back on and called my friend and told him to rush next to Montana restaurant, we are being harassed. Before he reached us, the security officer came and told us that we must give each of them 2000ssp I told him I don’t have money. Let him take me home and I will give it to him but he refused and said I am questioning his intelligence and told us to think about it before he reacts. My friend then reached and rescued us. He started asking them what was the problem and they started speaking in their dialect. My dear friend managed to convince them that I am his sister and the cap driver is his personal driver so they let him get in the car with us and go home.
Yesterday I was one of the lucky ones who got away. Other people experience worse with the check point security. Others went through rough beatings and sexual assault. There was no doubt I was worried I am going to be a victim. But God is good. And this treatments we receive from the people that are meant to protect us is unacceptable and must be dealt with.
The Government and law enforcement must ensure that every allegation of assault and harassment is thoroughly and professionally investigated and that appropriate action is taken. Leaders at every level are responsible for establishing a command climate and culture of mutual respect, trust, and safety. Leaders must develop systems to “see” their units, and understand the extent to which their leadership promotes a positive command climate for all soldiers. We need to develop better solutions to this problem.
The army profession is built on the bedrock of trust; sexual assault and sexual harassment or any kind of violation of human rights is betraying that trust. There must be good order and discipline. They are entrusted with ensuring the health and welfare of South Sudan’s sons and daughters. There are no bystanders in this effort.
Recently, concerns have been raised about the spate of assault and intimidation against civilians and this action appears to hinder the independence, growth, and development of our country.
Such failure to protect communities from violence is one of the three major ways that military action or inaction has led to civilian harm. The others are failure to prevent collateral damage during military operations, thereby causing direct and indirect harm, and direct targeting of civilians, with unlawful detention, harassment, the destruction of property, sexual violence against women and girls, indiscriminate targeting of certain groups, such as young men, torture and excessive use of force.
Changing these dynamics requires fundamental shifts in mindsets, policies, training and the conduct of operations. There must be important and welcome steps in this direction. President Salva Kiir must commit to taking action on human rights violations by the military of this country, and create a human rights desk to investigate alleged abuses.
There must be pressure to improve the military’s record on human rights, as well as media coverage of particular incidents of civilian harm. Beyond this, however, there must be a realization among political and military decision-makers that a sole focus on ‘defeating the enemy’ is not enough to win this particular war: it also means winning the support of civilians. In some locations, we have seen changes in the way the military is engaging, with civilians telling us that ‘soldiers are not like they were before’. This is far from uniform across the region, but it does provide an entry point for building commitment to civilian protection and providing concrete tools to operationalize it.
It is very difficult to live knowing the same people that are meant to protect you are the same ones that are willing to hurt you. Just because they think or feel they can. They must be told that they have truly failed us. They have failed to be anything but a source of fear and discomfort to the people of South Sudan. Our government must do something to give us our rights. This is very important if this country is truly to live in peace and harmony actions must be taken against such untrusted soldiers.