Zeinab Badawi speaks to Angelina Teny of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement In-Opposition and husband to former vice president Riek Machar.
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Welcome to HARDtalk, with me, Zeinab Badawi.
The people of South Sudan have known little peace for many decades,
and independence in 2011 has brought them nothing but war,
increasing poverty and starvation, and suffering.
Tens of thousands have died, and more than 3 million have been
forced to leave their homes in the past three years.
The United Nations says, "The current spate of fighting
amounts to ethnic cleansing, and could spiral into genocide."
The main rebel group is headed by the former Vice President,
Riek Machar, who is now in exile.
My guest today is his wife, Angelina Teny, who is a senior
member of the movement.
How much responsibility do they bear for the suffering in South Sudan?
Angelina Teney, welcome to HARDtalk.
Thank you very much.
The situation in South Sudan is dire.
What are you hearing about what's going on on the ground?
Well, you said it is dire.
The humanitarian situation has reached a level of catastrophe.
The war is escalating even further, and the economic situation,
what we could say is it is no longer on a free fall,
but rather it has crashed the country.
So, in a nutshell, you can say that the situation for the normal
citizen, for the person there, is really one of desperation.
The United Nations humanitarian chief, Stephen O'Brien,
says that 6 million people, that's half of the population,
are in need of humanitarian assistance.
5 million are in danger of starvation.
3 million have been forced to leave their homes.
A million refugees, 2 million internally displaced people.
Who do you think is responsible for this?
Well, I can say that we are responsible for ending it,
and this is where the responsibility...
We'll all come to that, about ending it, but who do
you think is behind all this?
I would say the way our president, President Salva, led the country has
really led to this situation, because what had happened
is that our country, just before starting,
from 2011, was turned into a police state.
So dissenting views are really not accepted.
Then, when members of the ruling party, the SPLM, tried to start
a dialogue within the party in order to recreate a vision and a direction
for the country, the President did not welcome that.
You claim President Salva Kiir of South Sudan, but I have to put it
to you that your husband, Riek Machar, who is the main rebel
leader, has been a significant player in South Sudan
for three decades.
He's been a Vice President, on and off, for 15 years,
and he has to share the blame for the situation that the people
of South Sudan find themselves in today.
Well, definitely I cannot say that he has been out of the system.
He has been in the system in South Sudan, but what you have
to know is that my chairman, when he decided to actually raise
the concerns that our country was facing, that is what brought
the fallout, and that is what actually led President Salva
to introduce violence, in order to rest finally peaceful
dialogues within the party and within the country.
You're talking about the recent fallout that the two men
had last year?
About that one, not just from 2013, because you know we've been engaged
in trying to, during the interim period, really to ensure
that the referendum succeeds.
While we were doing that, President Salva was also
asserting his dictatorship.
Our disagreements started...
He was elected, and your husband, Riek Machar, you were referring
to the referendum in 2011 that brought independence to South Sudan,
has been an ally, a deputy to him.
But let me just carry on my train of thought for you,
which is that Riek Machar must share the burden of responsibility
for what's going on.
South Sudan analyst, former deputy defence minister
Majak D'Agoot refers to the gun class in South Sudan,
"Sectarian warlords, like Riek Machar, who have
historically used violence, channelled through appeals to ethnic
nationalism, to hijack the state for personal gain."
Well, I would dispute that as an accurate statement,
because also Majak, as you know, is another politician from South
But he has been allied to your...
However, I want to establish the fact that my husband,
or let me say my chairman...
Chairman of the SPLM-in Opposition.
..has been on records all the time trying to correct the situation,
trying to introduce institutional reforms, systems of governance that
will ensure a democratic transformation, and this is actually
what brings the fallout between the leaders.
I want to make it...
I am not here to say that there aren't many abundant
criticism of President Salva Kiir's government.
There are many, from the international community,
from within South Sudan.
But I am talking to you, as a senior member of
the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-in-Opposition.
If there are issues to put to the government of South Sudan,
we on HARDtalk will do that when we talk to them.
But if I may just continue with putting to you some
of the criticisms that are made about your movement.
So, you say that civilians are being killed on the basis
of tribal affiliations, but there are reliable reports that
rebel forces of your opposition movement, or affiliated
with your movement, have also killed and raped civilians.
What is your response to that?
If you go back to the records, including even the UN report,
you will find since when we officially established the SPLM-IO
in April 2014, that those those incidences have,
in one way or another, what ever that had happened before
that we have investigated, and we have actually addressed,
since that, our movement has not made it a policy,
and therefore, you will not find that there are incidences actually
attributed to us since we established organised.
Well, I'll give you one.
Sorry to interrupt you.
Human Rights Watch says in October 2016, rebels claiming affiliation
with Riek Machar ambushed a convoy of cars and trucks carrying
civilians fleeing Yei, killing mostly Dinka.
The Dinka, of course, are the tribe of President Salva Kiir -
according to the CIA World Factbook, about 36%
of South Sudan's population.
Then Nuer tribe, from which you and your husband
hail, about 15%.
I know the figures are disputed, that they are the most recent
ones we have.
Anyway, the point is that Dinka were killed, mostly,
in this incident in Yei.
An 11-year-old boy said, "They started to shoot,
and I lay down.
Others fell on top of me.
The rebels then burned the truck, killing dozens of occupants inside."
We have come across that.
Actually, my chairman has directed an investigation if these are people
truly affiliated to us, because our people on the ground
are under orders, with clear and specific instructions,
that they are not fighting a war with anyone.
Rather, they are resisting the onslaught from the government.
So that incident that has been attributed
by the Human Rights Watch, we have investigated.
Our forces on that part of South Sudan have actually denied
any responsibility, or being part of it.
I give you another example.
Have you done anything about this?
The United Nations Mission, UNMISS, in South Sudan,
said in a very detailed report in 2014, "Pro-Riek Machar forces
sacked the oil town of Bentiu in April 2014, killing hundreds
of civilians, notably in the mosque, the hospital, the market
and surrounding areas."
Definitely, actually, the ICRC has done a report
and we have a commission, and we have actually made the report
public, and the people that were identified by the ICRC
were brought to book by...
The International Committee of the Red Cross, yes.
I could go on and on, actually.
I don't want to keep on doing that, but there are...
You know, UNMISS, the United Nations mission, says there are reasonable
grounds to believe that violations of international human rights
and humanitarian law have been committed by both parties
to the conflict.
I would not deny absolutely to say nothing had happened,
that I would say it is not a policy, and we are very determined
to always, when something like that happens, it is addressed,
it is investigated, and the culprits are actually brought to account.
War is tragic.
Yes, it is tragic, but we, as a responsible organisation,
don't believe you should allow people who do that to get
away with it.
UNMISS, the UN, is urging both sides to control their forces.
Can you control your forces?
We have, because if you go back to the incidences of the Juba crisis
on July 8th, you would find that the way the SPLM-in-Opposition
conducted themselves, you would find civilians telling
you that we have actually got directives and protections,
and we have shown what to do and where to go, and so on,
whereas after we'd withdrawn, the catastrophe that happened
in Juba after that, well, everybody knows
about it, the killings...
You are talking about the active combat that broke out in July last
year in the South Sudanese capital, Juba, between Salva Kiir
and Riek Machar's forces.
But I have to say to you that you did not emerge without criticism
from that situation.
Human Rights Watch again said, "Regardless of the intentions
of Machar's forces, of going into civilian sites,
the impact of the manoeuvre was to endanger the thousands
of civilians who were sheltering in these UN protection sites,
and that would constitute a war crime of using human shields."
And they also said, "Any Dinka civilians who remained
in the town risked death."
So you raised one example of what went on there in July,
and I'm saying to you, again, that the forces
of the SPLM-in-Opposition had not emerged unscathed.
Well, we tried to withdraw...
Given that our side was very close to the UN protection site,
this is where the whole battle actually took place.
So we had no way of withdrawing other than through that route,
because the UN is very close.
But what ever your intentions were, you endangered civilians.
I think it is worth explaining that, as the conflict research
American Alan Boswell, based in Kenya, writing a book
about South Sudan, says," I think you have to different wars
going on in South Sudan.
You have a fight between President Salva Kiir
and Riek Machar's coalitions over who will be king,
but there are a bunch of smaller groups in South Sudan who are waging
war against the kingdom itself."
So we accept that there are a range of different perpetrators
and unnamed militia groups and so one, but the fact does
remain, and I ask you again, what do you say to the criticisms
that forces of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-in-Opposition
have committed some of these atrocities against civilians -
rape, looting, killing, violence, that you yourself had condemned?
What do you say?
We are saying that, as a movement, we do not condone any of this.
Even when we were negotiating the agreement, the agreement
and the resolution of the conflict in the Republic of South Sudan,
we stood very firm, and we are on record.
We fought for the inclusion of transitional justice.
Actually, we say justice and accountability.
And this is still the cornerstone.
And this is because we feel that we must end impunity,
and we must make people who actually commit crimes against other human
beings must be made accountable.
Including anybody from your...
Including your chairman, your husband?
We call for it, we call for it because we feel that it is needed.
It is what will end the situation in South sedan.
It will end impunity, and we say it without exception.
Including your husband?
We say it without exception.
Just on this point of genocide, which is a very, very important one,
because Adama Dieng, the UN Special Adviser
on the Prevention of Genocide, said at the end of last year,
after visiting South Sudan, "I was dismayed that what I saw
confirmed my concern that there is a strong risk
of violence escalating along ethnic lines with the potential
to spiral into genocide.
I do not say that lightly."
I mean, is that a possibility?
Our thinking is not even looming, but rather in progress.
Already the Obasanjo report, which is the report
by the Commission of the...
The former president of Nigeria.
..had already established that ethnic cleansing in Juba took
place in 2013.
In the span of one week, over 20,000 people were killed just
because they belonged to an ethnic group.
This was done by men in uniform, by government.
Well, that's your accusation, and I'm sure it will be looked at.
Now, when you come to this situation today, it is even worse,
because it has spread.
It is in Southern Unity, it is in Central Equatoria,
it is in Western Equatoria.
We have just walked from Juba, after July.
And we have seen it with our own eyes, and it is a plan organised
by the government.
President Salva is on record saying that we will hand them
down like rats.
Well, as I said, we are not here...
There are criticisms made about Salva Kiir,
but I have to put it to you that you are parties to this conflict,
and arguably, are fuelling a lot of the violence that
you yourself condemn.
For example, in September last year, your movement,
the SPLM-in-Opposition, declared war on what it described
as the "regime" in Juba, saying it wants to wage a popular
armed resistance against the authoritarian and fascist regime
of President Salva Kiir in order to bring peace,
freedom, democracy and the rule of law in the country.
We have not declared war.
We said resistance.
Because there is already a war going on, because already the regime
of Salva was already on offensive.
But you are parties to the conflict.
The evidence to that is that, unless you are telling us
don't protect yourself...
I have to say to you, but you know yourself,
Angelina Teney, that there was widespread condemnation
when that statement was made.
The US State Department's spokesman, John Kirby, 28 September,
said, "The US government strongly condemns Riek Machar's statement."
A joint statement by the troika powers, the EU, Norway and the US,
as well as other governments also condemned calls by the opposition
leaders for a renewal of armed conflict.
"Further fighting won't solve South Sudan's pressing political
and economic challenges.
It will only increase the suffering of South Sudan's
people", they said.
I could go on and on.
It was widespread condemnation.
I can tell you that if you saw the communique that we issued
during that meeting, it talks about a political process
that is needed for the resuscitation of this agreement.
That statement of the resistance was actually the last point
in that communique.
So it was an option for the people of South Sudan to continue,
to be defended from the onslaught that is going on.
So our declaration is actually for a political process.
Look, that is not how it is being seen at all.
Let me ask you this.
I'm correcting you.
The East African Group of Nations, known as EGAD, has said,
on the 9th of December in a communique, "We call
upon the SPLM-in-Opposition to renounce violence as a means
of solving the problems of South Sudan."
Do you renounce violence?
We say, tell the government in Juba to stop the offensive,
the pursuit of people based on ethnic affiliation,
based on political affiliation.
We say that if you hold the government to account,
because the government in Juba gets encouraged with this statement,
and they are being let off the hook.
In fact, they are the one on the offensive.
Whatever the opposition is doing, it's basically fighting
back, to resist.
So you won't renounce violence?
You're saying you're resisting, but you use violence to resist?
What else to we do?
The other options are, you go to be a refugee,
you go to be internally displaced, or you go to a UN protection camp,
but if you find yourself, that there is a way you can fight
back, these people will fight back, especially when there is no hope
now, without any peace process in place.
You talk about the peace process.
Of course, there was a deal in August 2015, known
as "the agreement" for a resolution of the conflict in South Sudan.
You think that there is still a way forward by resuscitating that?
But there are also reports, as we had in October,
that Riek Machar announced that that agreement was dead.
It has collapsed.
The agreement has collapsed.
We feel that it needs to be renewed so that it is resuscitated,
so that the people of South Sudan are given a chance again to start.
Remember, we did take risks and we did go to Juba
to implement that agreement.
Only even based on some of the UN reports, as you know,
President Salva started to introduce violence,
and we had to leave Juba under that fire.
Now we are still committed to a political settlement.
This political settlement, we believe that this agreement has
a lot of good things in it.
It any needs to be revived, to be reviewed, so that we can also
embark now on its implementation.
But really, you've been marginalised, you've been pushed
to the sidelines, Riek Machar, the leader
of the SPLM-in-Opposition.
We've seen Taban Deng appointed as the new Vice President.
The international community have lined up behind him,
and President Salva Kiir, rightly or wrongly, is being seen
as somebody that the international community can deal with.
Festus Mogae, former president of Botswana,
who chairs the joint monitoring and evaluation commission,
has said, I applaud Salva Kiir's leadership.
So you've been written out of the picture.
Has the war stopped?
The war hasn't stopped, but the international community has
lined up a between Salva Kiir and his new deputy, Taban Deng,
who is from the Nuer tribe, as you are.
You've just spoken about a genocide looming.
This is a report by the UN.
If that government was doing something that was good
for the country, definitely there would be no reports talking
about genocide in that country.
So, in a nutshell, the peace agreement has collapsed.
There is no agreement in place.
The government continues to pursue a scorched earth policy
for targeting civilians, for targeting those that
are dissenting voices.
Now the war has escalated even more.
So if the international community believe, and President Salva Kiir
believes, that by having Taban Deng as his deputy,
replacing the person appointed by the government,
will bring peace, we should have seen peace now.
Well, they are working on it.
In December last year, President Salva Kiir announced
a new national dialogue.
Again, the international community have said they will support this
national dialogue in any way that they can.
Why don't you join this national dialogue and renounce violence?
The national dialogue can never be a replacement for a peace process
that would end the war.
A national dialogue, you need a conducive environment
where people can actually freely speak.
Something that is absent now in South Sudan.
For you to join a national dialogue, you first of all must create
the environment whereby you have that space for everybody to be able
to express themselves.
And this is what we are saying.
Let's create that space by resuscitating the agreement,
and once the agreement is resuscitated, we will have
the environment, and the agreement now provides the road map
for the dialogue.
How can you do that when Riek Machar is in South Africa?
By the way, is he in exile?
Is he under house arrest in South Africa?
He's not under house arrest.
Under country arrest, as it were?
The South Africans themselves have answered and said he's not
under house arrest.
So why isn't he going around lobbying governments,
and you're doing it instead?
Because I'm a member of the movement.
Remember, I negotiated our security...
But can he move around?
He can move.
Is he going to go back to South Sudan, not to Juba...
South Sudan is home.
But I really want to go back to...
He will go back?
Does he still think he's Vice President?
He's not Vice President, because there's no transitional
government of national unity in place.
The government in Juba is the regime.
Since the agreement has collapsed, that leaves you with a regime that
he's not part of.
Finally, in the last few seconds, a senior African statesman,
who is very aware of what is going on in South Sudan,
has told me that South Sudan will know no peace until both
Salva Kiir and Riek Machar quit the scene.
He's right, isn't he?
He's not right.
He's not right?
He's not right.
Because we, as in opposition, offer an alternative.
We have a programme in place that we believe we actually can
transform that country, and move it to the next level.
We know that President Salva Kiir cannot do that, because he has been
given many opportunities.
We try even to do it with him.
We even introduced, before the outbreak of the 2013 crisis,
a process of national reconciliation that would allow the South Sudanese
people to actually move on.
President Salva abrogated it.
Angelina Teney, we leave it there.
Thank you for coming on HARDtalk.
Zeinab Badawi speaks to Angelina Teny from the Sudan People's Liberation Movement In-Opposition. The people of South Sudan have known little peace for many decades, and independence in 2011 has brought them nothing but war, increasing poverty, starvation and suffering. The UN says the current spate of fighting amounts to ethnic cleansing and could spiral into genocide. The main rebel group is headed by former vice president Riek Machar, who is now in exile. His wife Angelina Teny is a senior member of the movement. How much responsibility do they bear for the suffering?