Residents of Greater Yei, comprising Mugwo, Otogo, Tore and Yei counties, have made a plea to bolster efforts to end the ongoing fighting and ensure justice for victims as they seek to realize peace and development in their restive area.
The calls were made at a peace and reconciliation conference organized by the Yei River area government, with funding from the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Civil Affairs Division, which drew about 200 delegates from the four counties.
“I am very disturbed by what we are going through: looting of property, vandalizing and setting of houses ablaze, unabated harassment of civilians, raping of women, and murder of men and women in cold blood,” lamented Gladys James Michael, a Yei River area Member of Parliament.
This was a view echoed by Jenifer Yobu Lasuba, a female participant, who said she had not seen any sign of peace and tranquillity in the surrounding villages of Tore, Otogo, Mugwo and Yei itself for over four years, though some civilians continue to take the precarious journey back home.
“We are tired of war. Too often when factions fight, civilians, including women, children, and the elderly, experience the severest impact,” she said, adding that the war had created many yawning gaps in many sectors such as in healthcare, agriculture, education and security sector.
She also warned against the perils of exposing teenage girls to unnecessary trauma:
“We must be vigilant because when girls are raped, their future is ruined, and the act continues to be an ugly reminder of a hostile environment to them. This is not what any parent would want their offspring to experience.”
Another participant, Manas Kogo said that exposing all the challenges people were facing both as government and as citizens was critical to finding broad-based solutions to the suffering of the population, as he suggested remedies:
“This war has broken many good hearts,” Mr. Kogo said. He then added, “First forgive yourselves so that you will be able to replicate the same deeds to those who have done wrong against you, who are also very likely to copy the good things you have done and then reciprocate them.”
But Yei River area’s Minister of Local Government and Law Enforcement Agencies, Evans Sokiri said that most of the challenges confronting the people were aggravated by a lack of justice for victims, as perpetrators commit heinous crimes without remorse which only helped further impunity.
“Such victims are left with no other recourse but to die in silence, creating public anger and frustration from a perceived lack of interest from justice systems to try perpetrators,” Mr. Sokiri noted.
He further said that his government would take significant steps to ensure that justice takes its course, to instil hope and confidence among citizens and encourage the displaced persons to return home.
“There are people amongst us here who are inclined to the spirit of violence, hatred and intolerance. I would like to advise all of us to love one another and pursue beneficial, not destructive acts,” said Yusto Baba, Deputy Governor of Yei River area.
At the end of the conference, participants agreed on 51 resolutions to govern the four counties, which included addressing restriction of movement, bringing perpetrators to justice, addressing the issue of internal boundaries, respect of customary laws, putting an end to land grabbing, and dissemination of the Revitalized Peace Agreement to remote areas.
“We shall continue to monitor the implementation process of the resolutions to ensure their full realization, with relevant stakeholders,” said James Mugo, UNMISS team leader in Yei.