UNMISS-funded human rights forum urges constructive, united electoral participation
CENTRAL EQUATORIA – “True democracy requires the poorest and most marginalized citizens to have their voices included in making meaningful decisions on issues which affect their lives and livelihoods,” said Zahra Said Ali, a Women, Peace, and Security Officer for the South Sudanese Network for Democracy and Elections (SSuNDE).
The passionate civil society activist was speaking at a recent event in Juba, South Sudan’s capital city, hosted by the Human Rights Division of UNMISS, with support from the Office of the Human Rights Advisor to the Governor of Central Equatoria state, and other partners.
The forum had a singular purpose: To enhance human rights through inclusive participation of all stakeholders in South Sudan’s first post-independence elections slated for December 2024.
The event attracted some 60 delegates – 25 women and 35 men – academics, lawyers as well as members of human rights commissions, civil society organizations, faith-based groups, and representatives from political parties.
For Justice Ajonye Perpetua Paya, a South Sudanese constitutional lawyer, democracy lies in the willingness of politicians to embrace one another as members of one family while holding differing opinions.
“Democratization of the electoral process entails tolerance among political parties, inclusion of women’s voices at all levels of government, plus free and fair representation of youth, civil society organizations, people with disabilities, and, finally, decide on modalities needed to ensure transparent elections,” said Justice Paya.
Idrissa Kamara, an Electoral Affairs Officer with the UN Peacekeeping mission, stressed the importance of a unified national army.
“I encourage you to put your differences aside and expedite the deployment of the unified army to help provide the security and protection necessary before, during, and after elections,” he stated.
“In all democracies, credible elections help empower citizens to express their opinions and will at the ballot boxes without fear or intimidation. This is the only acceptable way of giving political leaders the requisite legitimacy,” added Deputy Governor of Eastern Equatoria, Sarah Nene, speaking on behalf of Governor Emmanuel Adil Anthony.
“Elections, which are a human right, are a true democracy’s heartbeat. The will of the people must be respected, and rights enjoyed by every citizen. To achieve this, voter registration and voter education must be conducted in a timely fashion,” she added.
Director of Human Rights Division in UNMISS, Musa Gassama, echoed these sentiments.
“Elections and human rights, though unique and distinct in their own rights, are inseparable and interwoven, as electoral processes offer citizens the opportunity to participate in public affairs and contribute to their governance system,” he averred.
“Elections are about participation, inclusion, voting and being voted for, coupled with fundamental freedoms of assembly, speech, and opinion without they would be a merely tokenism,” added Mr. Gassama
For her part, Margret Jore, Chair of Juba County Women’s Association, said she was looking forward to a post-election period where every citizen would live in peace and be economically self-sufficient.
“I am waiting for a day when there will be no land-grabbing or cattle rustling, women and girls will never have to fear sexual violence, and communities will farm their lands and trade without fear of looting or being killed,” she revealed.
The UN Peacekeeping mission is working with all stakeholders to support this young nation in the lead up to elections.
“We are working with partners to create the civic and political space needed for free, fair and credible elections to take place,” asserted Victor Fasama, Acting Head of the UNMISS Field Office in the state.
The forum also sought to develop resolutions to govern the conduct of business before and during elections in the state.