Embracing peace as a human right through marching and dancing

Civil society groups, students, and UN peacekeepers march through the streets of Juba on International Day of Peace, with banners declaring, "Peace is a Human Right"

22 Sep 2018

Embracing peace as a human right through marching and dancing

Moses Pasi & Beatrice Mategwa

Close to 700 South Sudanese marched through the country’s capital Juba in commemoration of the International Day of Peace, embracing the day’s theme, ‘Peace is a Human Right’.

Determined marchers stepped to the beat of beautifully orchestrated music by a brass-band from the South Sudan Wildlife Service.

Carrying banners and wearing tee-shirts highlighting the day’s theme, women, men, students, civil-society groups, officials from South Sudan’s Peace Commission, and others from the Human Rights Commission, including groups from the United Nations and a rainbow of non-governmental organisations put their best foot forward, arousing curious bystanders.

“We have to put aside our differences, and focus on positive aspects of peace,” said Betty Oboy, a Commissioner of the South Sudan Peace and Reconciliation,” at the start of the march.

Inferring to a recently signed peace agreement, she challenged South Sudanese to live in harmony.

“Today I expect that every citizen in South Sudan should leave the past behind. Let’s begin working towards peace, and we should begin working towards reconciliation so that there will be sustainable peace in this country,” she added.

A solemn moment, in remembrance of those who have died for peace, punctuated the day’s events at the main celebratory venue.

Lighting yellow candles, hundreds of South Sudanese led by Vice President James Wani Igga, stood with poignant optimism. Allowing their candles to continue burning as a sign of new beginnings, all in attendance listened to speakers as they highlighted the need to build on the recently signed peace agreement.

“International peace Day Oye! South Sudan Oye! Revitalized peace agreement Oye!” thundered Vice President James Wani Igga at the start of his speech.

“We commemorate this International Day with jubilation and honour. Less than ten days ago, we the people of South Sudan signed an historic revitalized peace agreement. Certainly, this is a great cause for joy and celebration,” he said, outlining the efforts the country needed to prevent violence and war, including good governance, education, demobilization, demining, and empowering the masses.

Speaking at the same event the Human Rights Director at the United Nations Mission in South Sudan called on the need for trust between parties and leaders.

“One step to achieve this will be clear evidence that the warring factions have the political will to stop fighting and to lay down their guns as they have undertaken to do,” said Eugene Nindorera, adding that “the people of South Sudan who have suffered for far too long … have the right to peace; a right to live safely with dignity in their own homes, [and] a right to see their children reach their full potential.”

And for the children present, peace was on their minds and lips, too.

“I was feeling very good that we the students and the young people of South Sudan are coming to talk about peace, because our parents have been suffering seriously,” said an optimistic Athou Philip, from Don Bosco Senior Secondary School. “We need to stand up for peace as well so that our people also will know that we young people also need peace for South Sudan,” she added.

“We have been going through tough situations,” said another student, Juana Benjamin, from Big Ben Secondary School. “We lost our beloved ones through the fights that took place … finally, peace is going to be actioned, not just words,” she said, highlighting the cohesion at the event, “It has been a great day, we’ve all come together… the lighting of the candles has proved it. Peace starts with me, and with you, my neighbours, it starts with us.” continued a hopeful Juana.

Over the years, South Sudan’s children have suffered years of conflict, with their studies disrupted while fleeing unrest. An unknown number of children were also drafted as combatants, but the recently signed peace agreement, it is hoped, will change the tide of unfortunate events that have devastated the world’s youngest nation.

“As we celebrate the International Day of Peace, may we all embrace the spirit of togetherness and agree that there are no beneficiaries to the conflict,” said a senior official from the Joint Monitoring Evaluation Commission, Thomson Fontaine.

“The People of South Sudan are watching, the mothers and children who are tired of the suffering are watching, the young people without jobs and struggling to make a living are watching, everyone is watching,” he added.

Commitment to implementation of peace as a human right was the key expression on a day that oscillated through different moods, peppered with a full circle of fanfare, solemn optimism, and traditional dance performed by a local Acholi dance troupe and Nepalese peacekeeping troops.