Cantoned forces in Kapoeta receive training on human rights principles ahead of unification of national army
“We are working day and night to respect and promote human rights in our camps and all territories we control in the Kapoeta area,” assures Major General Yusuf Peter Lotipe, senior commander of the Sudan People’s Army in Opposition at the Lowareng cantonment site in Eastern Equatoria.
More than 100 senior officers recently received training on human rights by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan. They were taken through sessions on international humanitarian law and basic human rights principles, including the rights of women and children in armed conflict.
The sensitization aims to put an end to identified cases of human rights violations suffered by civilians, particularly women and children, and road ambushes targeting businessmen and humanitarian aid workers in the area.
“Sometimes when we talk about human rights you say this is “Kawaja” (western) culture being imposed on your country, but remember that when you were fighting for your independence you did not think that human rights were a western concept, unrelated to you,” noted Anthony Mwapa, the Human Rights Officer who facilitated the workshop.
One recurring problem has been illegal checkpoints. Near the Loyoro and Lowareng cantonment sites, along the main roads from Kapoeta to Torit and Nadapal respectively, drivers have been stopped and everyone in their vehicles requested to pay money to be allowed to proceed. This malpractice hampered the operations of humanitarian agencies, especially those moving about without force protection.
The workshop participants learnt that committing crimes against humanity is a bad idea. They were also told to refrain from committing other human rights violations, like sexual violence, the occupation of schools and hospitals, the recruitment, killing and maiming of children, arbitrary arrests and denying humanitarian aid to access those in need. Such acts, the uniformed men and women were informed, can not only lead to sanctions but can also be taken to international criminal court.
“We are already in the process of transforming our forces, but we ask UN peacekeepers to continue educating us on human rights principles,” said Brigadier General Mohammad Lotede, who added that their newly acquired knowledge will be shared with all their troops.
The drawn out and twice delayed process of establishing the transitional government of national unity, as stipulated in the revitalized peace agreement signed in September 2018, has caused noticeable impatience among some soldiers.
“If the contentious issues of the revitalized peace agreement are not resolved and implemented, I will not be able to go home and to send my children to school,” said Major General Adele Faustino Lotede, one of the female senior officers of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition at the Lowareng cantonment site.
Apart from sensitizing armed forces aligned with signatories of the revitalized peace agreement on human rights issues, United Nations peacekeepers are also distributing summarized copies of the peace deal, in English and Arabic, throughout the country.