On May 16, South Sudan commemorated the 29th anniversary of the founding of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). On top of fighting a 22 year-long war that secured South Sudan’s independence last year, the SPLA will now protect the country in the event that the low-intensity conflict with Sudan escalates. While South Sudan’s security forces had already espoused a culture of impunity as a result of their role in the country’s creation, so long as the conflict with Sudan remains unresolved, the SPLA will have a pretext to allow this culture to persist.
This means that the SPLA will continue to suffer the legacy of a liberation army, and its human rights violations will continue. Yes, we have heard about indiscriminate violence in areas where the South Sudan Liberation Army (SSLA) and the resurgent White Army have operated. But the SPLA, South Sudan Police Service (SSPS), and other organs of the state security apparatus have also abused civilians as they go about their daily routines in the new state. Civilians have been:
- Executed after a driver failed to stop while the flag was being lowered at the Dr. John Garang mausoleum in Juba
- Detained and beaten for reporting on a protest in which the security forces had indiscriminately fired into the crowd in Bentiu
- Brutally beaten and almost blinded after arriving at the airport in Wau
When we talk about what South Sudan needs/doesn’t need to protect itself from Khartoum, we shouldn’t take our eye off this underlying human rights issue within the security forces. I hope that when the SPLA celebrates its 30th anniversary next year, that its mission to protect South Sudan’s territorial integrity would have evolved to include protecting her citizens as well.