The bishops spoke mid June at the end of a workshop in Juba on the political and security situations in South Sudan. “We are saddened that many crimes are reportedly committed by armed men connected with the SPLA and other national security organs, and we note that they are rarely brought to justice. Where is the rule of law? As a nation we should be ashamed,” the Bishops wrote.
“We also invite our leaders President Salva Kiir and First Vice President Riek Machar to honour the agreement they signed, and to reassure citizens that they are willing to work together for the good of the nation,” the bishops said in a written statement from the event which was attended by Catholic bishops, priests and nuns from the eight dioceses across South Sudan.
The current Sudan People’s Liberation Army is not the same army which protected and liberated us between 1983 and 2005.
The bishops also criticised some members of South Sudan’s military. “The current Sudan People’s Liberation Army is not the same army which protected and liberated us between 1983 and 2005. We are deeply concerned that many of these armed men appear to be poorly disciplined, poorly trained, poorly led, poorly educated militia, preying on the population rather than a disciplined force protecting the people,” the statement said.
The bishops called for a single professional national army that the South Sudanese people can be proud of to defend the country’s borders against external aggression rather than one that kills its own people. They also called for an end to ethnic violence, adding that violence often led to more violence. They challenged what they called a militaristic culture in South Sudan where even civilians carry assault rifles. “We condemn the arms trade which provides these weapons and we stress the need for peaceful disarmament of civilians.”
The fact that young men carried arms while the government does not have enough money to provide basic services to its people is a misuse of the country’s national resources, the bishops said. The Transitional Government of National Unity needed to concentrate on priorities to alleviate the suffering of South Sudanese people, including a comprehensive ceasefire, ensuring South Sudanese in both the rural and urban areas are safe, improving the economy, and delivering basic services.
The bishops underlined the need to resolve the humanitarian crisis and ensure citizens live dignified and lives. “Currently people still live in fear, many workers are not being paid, and many families have no food. It is particularly dangerous when the army and other security organs are not being paid as this can lead to further insecurity,” said the Bishops’ statement.
The Bishop of the Tombra-Yambio Diocese, Edward Hiiboro Kussala, said the bishops discussed the political and security situation across South Sudan. Kussala said they were concerned about widespread hardships, as ordinary people fought to make ends meet during the severe economic crisis. “We are also concerned about the day-to-day life of the people. Insecurity is still there and people live with fear and worries,” Bishop Kussala said. Kussala said the government must protect its people, adding security is a responsibility of the army, the National Security Service and all sectors of government.
The bishops also discussed South Sudan’s faltering economy and how people are coping with the stress of skyrocketing prices and other economic hardships, Bishop Kussala said. They appealed to the international community to provide humanitarian assistance to the hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese affected by the conflict across the country. “We humbly ask them to continue to provide services and relief to the poorest of the poor. At the same time we urge the government to remove obstacles to this endeavour,” he said. “Our people should be peaceful and avoid anything that worsens the situation. These difficulties should not be the end of the road.”