Soccer stars are usually driven by a desire to compete, but in a special match in South Sudan’s capital on Human Rights Day, they used their shared passion for sport to come together in unity.
The football match was one of a number of events on the day, including cultural and traditional performances, promoting the need for greater respect for human rights in a country where there have been many violations and abuses during the four-year civil war.
The Chair of the South Sudan Human Rights Commission, Nyuol Justin Yaac said many people were suffering as a result.
“We have young girls and women in Juba today going to bed worrying that they will be the next rape victim,” he said. “We have hardworking families going to work not knowing whether they will be able to feed and clothe their loved ones and journalists living in fear and worried, not knowing whether their next article will be their last article. They are fearful if they will ever make it back home by the end of the day because of the stories they have published. That’s the sad reality we live in.”
At least 1.8 million people are internally displaced in South Sudan. Two million have fled to neighboring countries, and more than 200,000 live in UN protected camps.
More than 45 per cent of the population - almost 5 million South Sudanese – are now severely food insecure. Women and children suffer the most, making up almost 90 per cent of the refugees and almost all of the victims of gender-based violence. Yet a culture of impunity persists.
“Sometimes silence and turning a blind eye to the injustice and the abusers might seem like the most desirable thing to do but ultimately the truth and reality of silence and muteness and injustices are overshadowed by the abuse, degradation and marginalization of all of us,” said Nyuol Justin Yaac.
The Government acknowledges there have been failings and accepts the need for action.
“We are human beings, we must have done good things, but we also must have committed mistakes here and there and some of them are unacceptable to our citizens,” said the legal advisor to South Sudan’s president, Lawrence Korbandy. “That for us as a government means that this is not a day for commemoration but a day for accountability and taking stock, reminding ourselves where we came from, because our struggle was a struggle for human rights. If we derailed from this, we would like to apologize to our people.”
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan monitors, investigates, and reports on human rights abuses throughout the country. It is calling on all South Sudanese to stand up for each other’s rights regardless of ethnicity or political persuasion.
“Human rights are very, very important. It is good that there has been a lot of progress in human rights in South Sudan but there is still a long way to go,” said UNMISS Human Rights Director, Eugene Nindorera. “So the UN will be supporting the government and the entire society to work together and make sure there will be improvements in the situation of human rights in South Sudan.”
Those suffering because of the ongoing conflict continue to hope that, not only will their rights be recognized and respected, but also that durable peace will be achieved.