To the South Sudanese Diaspora from the Coalition of Advocates for South Sudan (The Voice of the South Sudanese Diaspora)
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Martin Luther King, Jr.
But what is this millennia-old virtue that humankind has struggled with over the centuries? And that our beloved South Sudan seems to have forgotten as brother kills brother, tribe kills tribe and nation kills nation. In the Bible, it says: For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Matthew 6:14-15.
So spiritually we see that for those of the Christian faith, Forgiveness is vital to their salvation. But is that enough to erase the terrible images of many of the aggrieved in Juba, Wau, Malakal, Bentui…consumed with images of their deceased loved ones and friends killed or murdered – some mercilessly; fathers, mothers killed before their families’ eyes…Members of Parliament shot in front of their homes.
The purpose of this document is to appeal to the Diaspora to support peace and not war – to promote forgiveness. No military solution can bring an end to the 16-month-long war. Therefore, the current rampant violence in our country of origin must be ended quickly before it consumes all our relatives and future generations.
Yes, Forgive, for without the quality of forgiveness humankind would be wiped from the earth: man revenging against man; nation against nation until we are no more. Our survival as a species depends on our ability to forgive – this alongside our adaptability and formidable brain, led us to evolve to earth’s dominant species, so this intangible yet vital quality: forgiveness is key.
One of the best descriptions of the pain and significance of not forgiving comes from noted author and Pastor Joel Osteen: “You must forgive the people who hurt you so you can get out of prison. You’ll never be free until you do. Let go of those wrongs they’ve done to you. Get that bitterness out of your life. That’s the only way you’re going to truly be free. You will be amazed at what can happen in your life when you release all that poison.”
Yes, to not Forgive is like a poison, one we know well in South Sudan, having seen so much destruction and death over the last 50 years, it slowly takes over you, eating inside and tearing at your soul; however, the People of South Sudan have shown themselves – a resilient people – full of strength, reminiscent of Gandhi’s view: The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
Through this strength and Forgiveness, the long marginalized people of South Sudan overcame the poisonous hatred of oppression, war and sued for peace, triumphantly becoming a nation. One would then venture to say that it is within the nature of Southerners to forgive, given the incredible journey to be a nation – but this war since December 2013 exposes another side, perhaps hidden, dormant, but a dark side that has shown all that some of the poison of the past is still within the people of South Sudan. In our view as CASS, forgiveness is desperately needed now. How can we as People of the Nile, long-standing residents of the ancient river known since biblical times, continue our existence without employing this virtue that obviously has sustained the Southern people over the eons?
Scholars have said this about forgiveness:
“Maintaining or perpetuating personal relationships is one of the clearest and most important ends of forgiveness, though not the only important one. Forgiving those who wrong us often helps us move beyond strong negative emotions which, if allowed to fester, could harm us psychologically and physically. Forgiveness benefits wrongdoers, as well, by releasing them from the blame and hard feelings often directed toward them by those they wrong, or helping them transcend the guilt or remorse they suffer from having done wrong, thereby allowing them to move forward in their lives. These ends of forgiveness may be regarded as in general enabling in the sense that they show how forgiveness sometimes helps people move beyond the wrongs they endure or cause and the sometimes debilitating effects those wrongs have on wrongdoers and victims alike.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy – Forgiveness, 2014.
Southerners, for centuries, have long realized that to maintain relations with neighboring tribes and groups, elements of forgiveness had to be employed to ensure peaceful co-existence; thence we have our traditional methods of justice and reconciliation established over centuries of practice, which may not be fully understandable within Western or Asian perspectives of justice. The African approach has elements of accountability, atonement, community harmony and customary law.
Through reading literature on customary law of South Sudan, we find a profound expression of how the society treats serious acts of violence, as the following excerpt shows:
“Of the many differences between customary law and statutory law, particularly Western statutory law, arguably the most contentious is the issue of homicide. South Sudanese customary law considers some acts to be both a crime and a tort. Homicide falls into this category, in that the law considers there to be both criminal and civil aspects to murder. The law traditionally has allowed the relatives of the victim to decide whether they wish to seek justice through criminal proceedings or to seek damages through tort action.
“The basis for this argument lies in the Southern Sudanese peoples’ belief that the purpose of any legal action in regard to crime is to restore the social equilibrium rather than to punish the wrongdoer. ‘The principle of a life for a life rarely leads to a permanent peace.’” A Study of Customary Law in Contemporary Southern Sudan, March 2004.
If it is not clear, then, of the distinctions between Southern justice and other systems, note the codification of the principle in the New Sudan Penal Code, 2003, Section 251, which deals with murder and other crimes of homicide, contains the provision:
“Provided that if the nearest relatives of the deceased opt for customary law blood compensation ‘Dia’ the court may award it in lieu of death sentence.”
So atonement is part of the traditional, holistic process to address the terrible act, yet heal the pain of the family, the community of the deceased and resolve the most serious crimes in the culture. Here is a worthwhile point that highlights notable differences among even Southerners. When compensation is given to a deceased’s family who was murdered, the number of cattle that was required to pay in the Dinka society was 31, while among the Nuer society it was nearly three times as high at 80 – and among various other tribes amounts were lower. While customs differ, this is proof of the widespread importance of atonement to the Southern reconciliation process.
Now, to start the reconciliation process for serious crimes and terrible acts a few key steps are required, as outlined in Traditional Methods of Justice and Reconciliation in Sudan and its relation to International Humanitarian Law, by Rev. Peter Gai Lual, 2006. He says the following elements are part of the traditional system of reconciliation:
- Apologies for the wrong done and acceptance of responsibility for crimes;
- Forgiving those who committed crimes on condition they undertake not to repeat such acts in the future;
- Paying compensation to the victims of the crimes and their close relatives;
- Accepting national reconciliation and agreeing to govern the country through democratic means and the respect for the rule of law;
- Carrying out certain traditional and religious rites to seal the peace accord.
To Forgive is, then, established as an essential part to our Junub (Southern) sense of being, our worldview; therefore, in this current conflict it must be employed – to save the nation. Already we find many of the above steps have been deployed in the Arusha Agreement of January 2015.
- A public apology from SPLM (Article 2)
- Removal of persons convicted of international crimes (Article 11)
- Banning from any public service for anyone convicted of such crimes (12)
- Promoting democracy, unity and development (6)
- Ensuring international good governance/accountability (Articles 13 & 16)
- Establishing transitional justice system (Article 15)
The traditional custom and laws appear to be alive and well here. Forgiveness is evident in the agreement – so one can understand why all factions of the SPLM supported and signed this key agreement, for it represents the collective South Sudanese – African, tradition. We at CASS hope the positive momentum continues and the warring parties commit to peace, stop this war and begin to rebuild the nation and the lives of the long-suffering People of South Sudan…but first, let all forgive.
This step is vital to advance the people of South Sudan, the nation, toward an enduring peace, communal harmony and a prosperous future for the nation.
To remind the War Leaders who have the power to bring peace, we close this appeal for forgiveness with a powerful excerpt recorded from the Upper Nile Peace Conference:
“When the women representatives read out their speech, full of wisdom, sensibility and patriotism – men of valour, courage and dignity, felt ashamed and sorry for the violence and senseless brutalities they had inflicted on their innocent women and children, the very ones our present and past generations fought for and defended for many centuries with their spears and clubs, and now with modern weapons from the onslaught of lustful foreign invaders and oppressive regimes.” South Sudan Post, June 2003.
As Alexander Pope said: To err is human, to forgive, divine.
Let us Forgive one another!
For the Diaspora to work together for peace, we in CASS call for all the peace loving members from all the 64 ethnic groups in South Sudan to:
- Join our membership
- To promote Forgiveness
- Denounce the ongoing war and support peace
- Start and support the community – community dialogues.
- Work with Church groups and other peace based-organizations to advance the call for immediate end to the war
- Work collectively with American and Australian Peace Advocate groups
The united Voice of Diaspora is needed to bring durable peace to South Sudan. And you/I/we are the agents for that change.