JHR in South Sudan has worked with the University of Juba to develop a curriculum for the Human Rights Reporting Course with the Head of Development Communication at the University of Juba, Chaplain Kara Yokoju.
1) What is the purpose of the Human Rights Reporting Course at the University of Juba?
South Sudan has a lot of challenges when it comes to human rights abuses. The country went through 200 years of colonialism. During that time, there were many human rights violations against our people and we had to fight for our independence. But we still continue fighting now. This country has a lot of violence in its history.
So, how do we at the University of Juba contribute to creating a new generation of journalists that are sensitive to these issues? The only way to do this is to take into consideration the suffering and violence of this nation. Every person in this county has experienced trauma. This curriculum is for the new generation. I’m trying to help create a new generation of journalists who are aware of human rights issues and conflict sensitive reporting. So that when they go out reporting about violence or ethnic tensions among South Sudan’s 64 different ethnic groups, they will take care in approaching these types of sensitive stories. The only way to to prepare them to tackle conflict sensitive issues is to train them properly. And that’s what this curriculum is for.
2) Can you talk about some of the challenges of human rights reporting in South Sudan currently?
One of the challenges is that there is no freedom of speech, freedom of expression or free access to information. Before the media laws were introduced to this country, journalists were using their own instincts and their own censorship. Before the laws, everything journalists said was seen by the government as intruding on their power. Journalists are accused of not being professional and not properly trained. It’s true most of the journalists have not been trained or have school certificates in media studies. Many don’t know journalism ethics or approaches to conflict sensitive reporting and are forced to operate in a climate without the proper knowledge and skills. And that creates a huge issue with security forces. Journalists are detained, arrested, newspapers are shut down and radio stations are closed. We know of ten journalists who have been killed over the recent years.
Another challenge is that the government is using South Sudan’s current media laws to control what journalists say. They interpret the laws to use in a way that exerts control over what journalists report. Journalists are also interpreting the laws to think it means they have the freedom to say whatever they want, what they think is news and what they think people want to hear. And that is also dangerous. There is no agreed understanding yet on what these media laws mean and how they should be used.
3. What are you most excited about with this course and the upcoming school year?
I’m very, very happy that by the end of January 2018, the full curriculum for my department will be ready. By February, the human rights module will be sent to the Curriculum Committee for approval. And by April, the new School of Journalism and Communication Studies will be launched. It will be a whole new school and the human rights curriculum will be offered as a cross-cutting course to students at all levels. It will run through all the modules. The new school will be the first of its kind in the history of the University of Juba. I’m most excited for the new campus radio broadcasting center where students will have hands-on training, the fully-equipped multimedia studio where students can work, and the new human rights curriculum. I’m also excited for the seven new lecturers I will be getting to help teach it once they graduate from their masters’ programs soon.
- What do you wish more people outside South Sudan knew about the country’s human rights situation and the experiences of journalists reporting on it?
People outside of South Sudan, I could describe as poorly informed about the conflict and human rights violations taking place in the country. Reporters are silenced so they’re not reporting on what’s taking place on the ground. And that allows rumors to generate. The use of mobile phones and information sent out by citizen journalists is also contributing to the spreading of rumors. Journalists are restricted when it comes to reporting on human rights, corruption, killings done by security forces, rape and other abuses…therefore most information outside of South Sudan about these issues is misinformed. Journalists not being able to report on human rights issues- that is a major source of misinformation.
Another factor is that the government is going through a lot of transformations. As you know, we are the youngest country in the world and there are institutions missing that handle human rights issues. Even when it comes to MPs engaging with their constituents, many live in rural areas and many of which are conflict areas. So MPs have no access to speak to their constituents or see what’s going on. They have no voice. The legislative bodies to defend human rights are not functioning even though they are there. Even the judiciary does not function as it should. The laws of the country are not functioning even though they are there. If there were institutions that functioned properly, things would be better. This also contributes to misinformation to the outside world.
Another factor is some foreign journalists who come and report on the conflict but don’t understand the root causes of the conflict or the cultural background of the country. They don’t know about Nuer or Dinka culture and exaggerate some information. They may exaggerate about the conflict or human rights violations because they don’t understand the cultural sensitivities behind them. Finally, NGOs have also taken on duties meant for journalists, writing reports about human rights issues and that’s not their job. They have come here to help with the humanitarian situation but some have taken on the duty of acting like human rights reporters. And this is something the government has complained about. This is all contributing to misinformation outside of South Sudan.
5. Anything to add?
I really want this war to end. Forget about the political struggle, the most important thing is the human rights situation in the country. People’s basic human rights are missing because of the war. People don’t have access to water, food, shelter, children don’t have the right to play freely, people can’t even move around freely. The basic human rights that we all have since birth are all being deprived because of the war. The government really must implement the peace agreement that was signed in Addis Ababa, to allow internally displaced people to return home, all those living in UN camps to return to normal lives and let all refugees come home.
We will not enjoy the freedom and independence we have fought for unless the government creates an atmosphere of peace: a peaceful coexistence among the 64 tribes in this nation. Then we can start focusing on development like building schools and roads. Institutions needs to be created or become operational. The war has stopped, we can say this. We have entered a new era. And people are returning. We have everything here, rains, animals, oil, many natural resources. God has been generous to us. But we have lost it all to a political struggle. We need peace, security, democracy, good governance and free movement. Then we can be what we want to be: the free, prosperous and democratic nation that we know South Sudan can be.