Sudanese Fellow Advocates Justice for War Victims

Spotlight on Wilson Center Fellow Jok Jok

Dec 01, 2003

The Republic of Sudan remains entrenched in a 20-year civil war that has consumed the lives of more than 2 million people and displaced 4.5 million more. After gaining independence 50 years ago, Sudan immediately was plunged into a series of civil wars, making this Africa's longest-standing conflict.

There are 175 different ethnic groups in Sudan but the main contention exists between the Muslims in the North and the Christians in the South. The latest round of fighting, which began in 1983, has pitted the government and the southern-based Sudan People's Liberation Army/Movement against one another. It is a fight over the cultural and political identity of the nation, religious differences, resources, and whether Sudan should remain united.

"Sudan is a microcosm for Afro-Arab relations on the continent," said Jok Jok, a Wilson Center fellow and assistant professor of history at Loyola Marymount University.

But the conflict is unique, he added, in its potential to split the country. The government has focused its resources in the north and most southerners, feeling exploited and resigned to second-class status, would prefer to secede from the union.

"The country is so big and diverse and the country is not flexible enough to accommodate the different sectors and ethnic groups," said Jok. "We need independence for the south. We need a truthful reconciliation, such as they had in South Africa."

Born and raised in Sudan, Jok grew up in an environment of political instability, dictatorial governments, economic uncertainty, and conflict. His first book, Militarization, Gender, and Reproductive Health in South Sudan, was based on his research in Sudan and refugee camps in neighboring countries and chronicles how violence spreads within communities and families during times of violent political conflict.

During his fellowship this year at the Wilson Center, Jok is chronicling the atrocities committed during the war, from enslavement to acts of ethnic, political, and religious genocide and mass murder, and the destruction of assets. Over the years, he said, the mediators have been trying to get the warring parties to detach themselves from the atrocities committed during the war in efforts to advance the peace process.

"They wanted the parties to sweep their grievances under the rug," said Jok. "They pushed for amnesty instead of prosecution of war crimes for the sake of reconciliation."

Meanwhile, the war threatens to drag on and the peace process teeters on collapse in what has become a vicious cycle. "To move forward," Jok said, "we must look for mechanisms to find justice by way of reparations and compensation for the victims."

As a start, Jok said the government should rejuvenate basic services in the south-from clean water and sanitation to building public health clinics and schools; from repairing roads and harbors to setting up telecommunications from scratch; from repatriating refugees to fostering economic development.
Recent U.S.-backed negotiations continue. A peace deal would be a major foreign policy success for President Bush in an election year. Jok is concerned that the interests of various Sudanese groups will get overlooked as the U.S. rushes to secure the deal.

"Even if a peace deal is signed, if the dividends of peace are not obvious to the people, there will be no real peace."

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