By Patience Loum
The Women’s Association for Victims’ Empowerment (WAVE) held a screening of their Witch Hunt documentary for the South Sudanese delegates at one of the victim’s homes in Jambur on Wednesday 9th November 2022.
The delegation was composed of the Minister of Justice for South Sudan, Hon Madol Arol, Human Rights Officers, legal councillors, and other stakeholders working in the legal department in South Sudan. The purpose of the visit and screening was to improve the understanding of delegates from South Sudan on the Gambia’s Transitional Justice process to assist them to implement a smooth Transitional Justice process in South Sudan.
About the Witch Hunt Documentary
In March 2021, gender-focused CSO, WAVE, launched a video documentary “We Were Accused” showcasing multiple victims of a witch hunt campaign initiated in 2009 by former President Yahya Jammeh.
The “stories to repair broken dignity” shed light on the ordeals of the victims believed to have been targeted as “witches and wizards” in various local communities targeting old men and women who were accused to be part of the act. The victims were given hallucinogenic concoctions, known locally as ‘Kubejaro’ which forced them to testify to being witches and wizards.
These concoctions, made using local herbs by ‘Witch Doctors’ had very potent effects thereby causing the victims to lose consciousness and fell sick in the process.
According to the victims, a lot of them have undergone vigorous forms of torture and human rights violations including sexual abuse of women. Unfortunately, victims who were too old or weak could not endure the toxic concoction leading to their untimely death.
Although the majority of the victims in the documentary testified before the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), some victims featured in the documentary refused to testify before the TRRC. This was due to the stigma and shame that they are confronted with after testifying before the TRRC.
The victims and survivors of these grave human rights violations are calling for justice. Some of them said they are not ready to forgive as what happened to them was painful and degrading; an experience they can never forget.
With this documentary and the intervention of the TRRC, the victims say they would have never believed that their stories mattered because this was done by someone very high in power.
“We thought we were going to take this pain to our graves,” said one of the victims.
South Sudan Conflict Explained
South Sudan, being the newest African country has had its own fair share of conflicts and human rights violations. Following its referendum in 2011, this new development gave South Sudan complete independence from the North as it charts a new future underpinned by peace and stability.
But that never proved fruitful. With continuous disputes over resources (oil) and territory, continuous tensions and never-ending disputes, a civil war erupted in 2013 between the North and the South causing grave human rights violations; sexual abuse, hunger, endless conflicts and abrupt poverty.
In 2015, with interventions from international bodies like the UN, an agreement was created on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan which calls for a commission to address and promote peace, national reconciliation, and healing. However, in 2016, another conflict erupted which led parties to sign the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan.
In 2018, the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (RTGoNU) was established, which created a unity government. However, millions of refugees have since fled across the border into neighbouring countries for safety thereby scaling up the need for humanitarian support.
The Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Hon Madol said in the quest for transitional justice mechanisms, they came to the Gambia to see how the Gambia has managed so far in putting the structures of the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations process.
Hon Madol commended the Gambia Government for accepting most of the TRRC’s Recommendations with the exception of a few. In contrast, he revealed, “that is a step ahead of our situation in South Sudan. We are required to establish these mechanisms but we are at the consultative stage”.
He said his government has also created its own report and one of the ways in which they’ve established ways to enrich their situation is through its visit to the Gambia and also to serve as a basis for legislation for Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations process in South Sudan.
Speaking on the documentary Hon Arol opined that it “is at the heart of the mandate of this commission. It’s at the heart of transitional justice because it exposes the truth of what happened and once the truth is known, it becomes easy to find ways of a remedy particularly for the victims”.
He called this “a big step which we would take a critical look at in our jurisdiction and see how best we can include this in our mandate”.
He said this was an exercise of documentation. To see whether or not it can be incorporated into the South Sudan laws.
Mr Arol said the event was a fruitful one because watching the documentary and hearing from the victims themselves has given him another perspective on how to incorporate the mechanisms they have learned from their trip when they return to South Sudan. They intend to engage victims to voice out their own ordeals.