The Pope in South Sudan: "Enough of the spilled blood" | International
On April 11, 2019, in one of the halls of the Vatican's Apostolic Palace, Pope Francis unexpectedly knelt down and kissed the feet of the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit. It was the end of the multi-day retreat that the president and his opponent — current vice president, Riek Machar — had agreed to undergo in Rome to reach a peace and national reconciliation agreement. And the unusual gesture, which went around the world, invited hope. But things did not go the way Francis would have liked that day, as he expressed on Friday afternoon, as soon as he landed in South Sudan, the second stop on his trip to Central Africa, after spending three days in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. "These are years of wars and conflicts that seem to have no end, even recently there have been violent clashes, while the reconciliation processes and the promises of peace remain unfulfilled," criticized the Pope in a speech at the Juba presidential palace, just in a week where at least 27 people have been murdered.
The political complication of this visit is much greater and has its roots in the independence war of this country, the youngest in the world (born July 9, 2011) and in whose peace the Vatican has been deeply involved. In fact, as soon as he made landfall, Francisco met with the president of the country and with the vice president —both of different religious denominations and politically at odds— so as not to raise misgivings on either side. A meeting that was longer than scheduled, which led to the president's promise—he officially announced it himself—to include opposition groups hitherto vetoed in the peace agreements. The idea of the trip is to promote reconciliation and accelerate the electoral process that brings order to a State with a Christian majority (70%) where Catholics abound (around half the population). Francis has arrived accompanied by Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of the Anglican Church, and Iain Greenshields, Moderator of the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian).
The first meeting, held with the president and his team, already marked the line of the trip to a country where armed conflicts have already caused more than two million internally displaced persons. "I come as a pilgrim of reconciliation, with the dream of accompanying you on your path of peace, a tortuous path, but one that can no longer be postponed," he said. “It is time to move from words to deeds. It is time to turn the page; It is time for commitment in favor of a transformation that is urgent and necessary. The peace and reconciliation process requires a new impetus. That the peace agreement be understood and carried out, as well as the road map”.
The Pope was referring precisely to the commitments broken by both factions. After that 2019 retreat in the Vatican, the community of Sant'Egidio (very close to the Pope) managed in 2020 to sit the Government and its opponents at the same table, to sign the Declaration of Rome, on January 13, 2020, which recognizes the political legitimacy of all opposition groups. But things do not go as expected. "So that this land is not reduced to a graveyard […] Mr President, gentlemen Vice-Presidents, in the name of God, of the God to whom we pray together in Rome; the time has come to say Enough, without conditions and without 'buts'. Enough of the spilled blood, enough of the conflicts, enough of the aggressions and reciprocal accusations about who was guilty, enough of leaving the people thirsty for peace. Enough destruction, it's time to build. We must leave behind the time of war and promote a time of peace”, requested the Pope.
Amnesty International recalls that in 2015 and 2018, parties to the most recent conflict in South Sudan committed to creating a Hybrid Court for South Sudan with the support of the African Union to investigate and prosecute war crimes and other human rights violations committed in the conflict since December 2013. But the creation of this tribunal has been delayed, leaving millions of survivors and victims with little or no prospect of being held accountable for crimes under international law.
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The apostolic visit is different from all the previous ones because the Pope is accompanied by Welby and Greenshields. A design that also responds to the need to build bridges between the two political factions, which are also religious (Protestants and Catholics). “In a world marked by divisions and conflicts, this country hosts a rare ecumenical pilgrimage of peace; hopefully it represents a gear changethe opportunity for South Sudan to once again navigate calm waters, resuming the dialogue without falsehoods and opportunism," he recalled.
The Pope, perhaps in a somewhat basic but necessary speech on democracy, tried to explain to the rulers how a new country should be founded today (the president was supposed to call elections for this year and has unjustifiably postponed them to 2024). The South Sudanese journalists union, in fact, denounced that several reporters were arrested in early January for reporting on a public act in which the president urinated on himself. “That whoever administers justice can exercise it without conditioning by those who legislate or govern. Democracy also presupposes respect for human rights, protected by law and by its application, and specifically presupposes the freedom to express one's own ideas”, he stressed.
The armed confrontations in the country have also caused the death of missionaries and cooperators, whom Francis recalled demanding that their work and physical integrity be respected. Rampant corruption was also one of the points he touched on before finishing his speech. “Iniquitous money trafficking, hidden plots to get rich, clientelist businesses, lack of transparency: this is the contaminated bottom of human society, which prevents the necessary resources from reaching where they are most needed; First of all, to combat poverty, which constitutes the fertile ground in which hatred, divisions and violence take root ”, he launched.
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