Plights of Southern Sudanese languishing in detention centres in northern Sudan
By Atok Dan Baguoot
Immediately after the signing of Comprehensive Peace Agreement CPA in 2005 in the Kenya’s capital Nairobi, Southern Sudanese who had fled to northern Sudan started coming back to a place they called home. Of course, the 20 years civil war fought in the South affected their social life thus, communities bent low against their cultural ethos and norms in the process of adapting to a new way of life especially in towns.
Young men and women became preys of those unavoidable circumstances in foreign places for the whole periods of war on crimes that are less punishable or even pardonable in courts of law. In northern Sudan, none Muslims were subject to trial in sharia courts despite the fact that they don’t profess Islamic as their creed.
Cases of women caught brewing local distil in northern cities before the signing of peace were among the rampant legal issues pending trial and up to now culprits of such are still languishing behind bars in the north. Handful of robust youth caught after rioted in major cities in the north when incident of that ill fated plane which crashed with the first vice president, the founding father of the SPLM/A, late Dr. John Garang De Mabior (RIP) occurred, victims are still held hostage without due cause of law. Other pending cases in the Sudanese judiciary chambers in north are war related suspects famously known as fifth column.
Less punishable crimes when committed by Southerners in the north were considered repugnance against Islamic republic not because of severity of the crime itself but due to the fact that the culprit doesn’t profess Islamic as a belief, besides the crime committed. Such a crime if committed by a Muslim, there is always room for pardon depending on how the court handles it.
Statistically, exact numbers of Southerners serving their jail sentences in the north are not known even to our government let alone crimes such culprits were accused of. I happened to had a talked with one of the inmates serving his twenty years term in famous Kobar Prison in Khartoum whose name is withheld for the case of the sensitivity of the matter. The convict was a former SPLA soldier and latter shifted to UNMIS as a security agent after peace in 2005.. It is actually a tears stimulating event if narrated but the fact he said, number of Southern Sudanese in that cell is over five hundred inmates of different crimes.
Majority of those jailed were arrested in 2005 after they staged that bitter protest when that incident of ill fated plane that killed Dr. John Garang crash among the hills in New Site. Those arrested were charged of crimes tantamount to either treason or an equivalent in the judiciary desks.
If over five hundreds inmates are serving in Kobar alone, what of other cells in different parts of the north yet Khartoum is the city where everything is supposed to go smoothly including even legal issues due to its closeness to world media besides strong opposition waves of checks and balances.
According to the gentleman unmentioned, he said the condition in Kobar could be described as deplorable and horrific. Because of that he appealed to administration of the cell so that his file is transferred to Juba where he can come and complete his terms of sentence, something supposed to take place after concern ministry here in the South assents the signature, however, he complained of Juba being too slow in handing the issue. Rest of his inmates wish for the same move, he said.
Southern Sudanese in world prisons
While not forgetting millions other Southerners who had fled to neighbouring countries for refuge
earlier1980s. Among those countries which hosted huge numbers are Ethiopia, Kenya, Egypt, and Uganda while Congo, Chad with Central Africa Republic (CAR) also had recommendable numbers especially those in Western Equatoria and Western Bahr el Ghazal states.
In Ethiopia, remnants of SPLA soldiers captured during the fall of Mengistu Haile Mariam regime with refugees detent on personal crimes motivated by hardship they were exposed to are still in that country. In hallways of East African countries, many refugees caught roaming without official documents along the international borders while searching for green pastures after frustration in war fit in this definition.
For the case of Chad and Egypt, most of those jailed in these countries were direct victims of politics or victims of Afro-Arabs conflicts like the one in which those who tolerated war inside underwent in the last twenty years, although Chad held aggregates of SPLA soldiers who were scattered in 1991 when SPLA extended its military offensive in the region.
In the pathway to South Africa, some of lost boys who escaped from Kakuma concentration camps heading for South Africa ended up in jails in countries of Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, however, Zimbabwe had special place for Southern Sudanese because of heavy influence SPLM/A had in the region. Current GoSS Minister of Information, Dr. Barnaba Marial Benjamin played pivotal role during his time in that region. He was a focal person consulted whenever a Southern Sudanese is caught without a document or at wrong side of the law.
In spite of hardship refugees were undergoing in Kenya, UNHCR reported rise in crimes amongst the refugees in camps which attracted jail as a remedy to quell violent and thefts. Those elements accused of masterminding anarchy in the camps were sent to prisons.
As a journalist who could possibly come in contact with even a devil, I came across a young man from my native town of Parieng who was sentenced to seven years in Kamiti Maximum Prison in Kenya on allegation of social crime. His full name is Andrew Buga Kiir. Mr. Kiir was arrested in mid April of 2004 and charge of a crime he did not commit. After serving his full term in that foreign horrible jail, Kiir said he is being transformed to a professor of law. According to him, he heard of CPA being signed in September of 2005 after one of the inmates told him of the death of Dr. John Garang De Mabior in that month. He was told that peace is already in Sudan and that Sudanese who were living in Kenya were taken home. He should probably be the only one left in that country, something he came to confirm after release.
He said that many Southern Sudanese are still languishing in foreign cells without knowledge of the government of Southern Sudan.
As referendum is just few months away with possibility of Southerners going to vote for secession, fate of these detainees in northern cells remains questionable as most of them are victims of political abuse, or abuse of power by the ruling NCP clique in Khartoum with other preceded regimes that had succeeded in ruling Sudan against the oppressed.
It worth mention that marginalised Sudanese emerged the leading class in detention centres in Sudan not because of social class but due to wrong political grouping which Southern Sudanese had instrumented to put to an end through costly and painful means of wars and popular uprisings since the beginning of this century. Undeniably, embassies of Sudan in different countries then could never come to rescue of a Southerner arrested in any country instead they spearheaded the push for more arrest and detention, thus Southerners could first ask the presence of the Sudanese embassy whenever they arrive in a country not to report arrival but to distant from it to avoid arrest with the exception of those who acted in betraying manner.
Yes it could be beyond legal jurisdiction of the government of Southern Sudan to go knocking on doors of foreign cells asking the presence of its citizens but then, those in charge in those countries could provide statistical facts about such victims if there is an initiative especially heavily inhibited by refugees during the war.
Before referendum’s voting could kick off we need to know who are those going to cast their votes including our prisoners whose rights is also of paramount because this exercise is greatly different from that of general elections in the sense that there would be no more referendum on the same agendum. Our prisoners like anybody have equal rights in determining our destiny.
Atok Dan is a journalist working for Southern Sudan radio & TV and is reached at [email protected]or 0955410005.