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Many times, however, SSDF officers and soldiers told Human Rights Watch that if they captured a Nuer combatant, he would be required to fight with them, i.e., switch sides. The fate of those who refused is not known. Requiring a captured combatant to change sides is a violation of international humanitarian law because of the inherent coercion involved.602 Unfortunately, as the Nuer-Nuer fighting heated up in 2000 and after, the Nuer could no longer claim that they did not kill their “own people” whom they captured. (See below) Rebel and Government Militia Recruitment of Child Soldiers The escalation in fighting in Western Upper Nile in 1999 resulted in increased recruitment of child soldiers by all sides.
By the Paulino Matiep Militia The displaced Nuer complained in 1999 that—unlike 1998—Maj. Gen. Paulino Matiep’s militia forces were recruiting boys603 as soldiers by force on the spot, without going through the chiefs, the usual 600 Former aide to Cmdr. Tito Biel, interview, August 21, 1999.
601 Elijah Hon Top, interview, July 26, 1999.
602 Geneva Convention III of 1949, art. 444.
603 Michael Wal, interview, August 18, 1999. It was not the custom to recruit or conscript girls because traditionally young women enriched their families at marriage, when bridewealth was paid in cattle to be distributed mostly among the bride’s male family members over time. This also cemented the relations between the two families. If a girl were to be killed or maimed in battle, it
practice. “They did not take boys or young men in 1998. The jallaba [northerner] does this. It arms the Bul Nuer [Maj. Gen. Matiep’s forces] to come and cause destruction.”604 In 1999, witnesses observed that there seemed to be an explicit policy among Maj. Gen. Paulino Matiep’s forces of abducting and recruiting boys by force. One young boy who had been abducted into Maj. Gen.
Paulino Matiep’s forces returned home to Ler and told local authorities and families that there were many other young Dok Nuer men who had been forcibly recruited by Maj. Gen. Paulino Matiep.605 Once a group of recruits had reached platoon size (thirty-six) or company size (two hundred), all including the underaged boys would be sent for training.606 During 1999, Maj. Gen. Paulino Matiep trained them in Boaw, unless there was insecurity there. During this time, the training lasted about fourteen days, and the youngsters and young men were taught how to shoot, load, and clean guns. Maj. Gen. Paulino Matiep organized them into fighting units by section or ethnic subgroup. Each unit was headed by a section leader who would be responsible for all members. The boys were generally used for guard duty and to occupy captured locations.607 By the SSDF The recruitment practice in Nuer and Dinka areas, when carried out by the armed rebels of the same ethnic origin as the recruitment pool—that is, Dok Nuer commanders in the Dok area of Western Upper Nile/Unity State—was based on appeals to the chiefs to cooperate with the rebel movement. The chiefs would in effect serve as conscription officers, designating boys from the village to serve with the rebels. These conscripts often complained they had no choice. One Bul Nuer man said that when he was would be a considerable economic loss to her family. Therefore neither families nor chiefs would usually consent to female conscription.
604 Adok chief, interview, August 20, 1999.
605 Simon, age seventeen, from Mayandit, Western Upper Nile, Human Rights Watch interview, Paliang, Tonj County, Bahr El Ghazal, August 15, 1999.
606 Michael Wal, interview, August 18, 1999 (based on his debriefing of a displaced boy in Pabuong).
607 Ibid.; boy soldier, interview, August 19, 1999.
sixteen, in about 1998, a local commander went to the chief of his village, who selected for soldiers the first born and the youngest brother of the families. This young man thus was forced to go against his will.608 This “chiefs’ system” of recruitment applied to all recruits, not just the underage ones. In about 1996, a Jagei Nuer man with two wives and several children was ordered by his chief to join the Riek Machar forces. Cmdr. Gatluak Damai, a Jagei Nuer commander then with Riek Machar, threatened that if this married recruit tried to escape, the commander would seize his cattle609—an extremely effective way to force compliance.
Many visitors noted the presence of underage soldiers (under eighteen years of age) among SSDF troops.
SSDF leaders denied they recruited children and said they released young Nuer combatants they captured to their parents. This proved to be untrue.
Fighting Disrupts Demobilization of SSDF Child Soldiers in Ler, May 1999 The SSDF under Riek Machar admitted that it had some child soldiers in its ranks, and in 1998 agreed to participate in a UNICEF/Rädda Barnen program to demobilize its child soldiers. Rädda Barnen (Swedish Save the Children) collaborated with the Relief Association of South Sudan (RASS), the relief wing of Riek Machar’s forces, in running a transit camp in Thonyor near Ler for demobilized child soldiers originally from the Ler area.610 Most child soldiers had been “given” to Riek Machar’s local commanders by the chiefs, so the commanders knew where the boys came from.
608 Leek Nuer former combatant, Human Rights Watch interview, Lokichokkio, Kenya, August 4, 2000.
609 Jagei Nuer former combatant, Human Rights Watch interview, Lokichokkio, Kenya, July 29, 2000.
610 Social worker, Human Rights Watch interview, Nairobi, August 23, 1999. Interviews, assessment, and registration of the first group of child soldiers for the Thonyor camp began in October 1998. In April 1999, a team conducted psychological social work with the boys identified, all between ages ten and eighteen. Simon Kun, interview, July 23, 1999.
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The Thonyor camp held some 280 boy soldiers, all of whom were interviewed and registered by social workers. Just before the fighting started in Ler in May 1999, staff working with these children were evacuated because of insecurity; all 280 boys in the transit camp scattered. Of this 280, an estimated one hundred to two hundred were redrafted by Maj. Gen. Paulino Matiep and Riek Machar in mid-1999, defeating the purpose of the demobilization. By August 2000, about 200 of the original group of 280, plus eighty-eight new child soldiers, had been reunified around Nyal and were under the supervision of Rädda Barnan and RASS.611 Cmdrs. Peter Gatdet and Riek Machar said they would demobilize the boy soldiers but they did not know what to do with them. Cmdr. Peter Gatdet, by then with the SPLM/A in the Bul Nuer corner of Western Upper Nile, demobilized the boy soldiers under his command in exchange for the promise of UNICEF school materials.612 611 Ibid.; social worker, interview, August 23, 2000. RASS negotiated with the SSDF to secure the re-release of the boys. No humanitarian agencies had access to Maj. Gen. Paulino Matiep’s forces at the time. When his second in command, Cmdr. Peter Gatdet, defected at Mankien in September 1999, most of his forces went with Cmdr. Peter Gatdet, including the formerly demobilized child soldiers. Child welfare worker, Human Rights Watch interview, August 10, 2000, Nairobi.
612 By August 2000, however, he complained to U.N. officials that no supplies had arrived. John Noble, briefing, August 5, 2000.
Overview From May to September 1999, the government continued to fight behind its Nuer militia headed by Maj.
Gen. Paulino Matiep and his zonal commander Peter Gatdet. This militia received weapons and other assistance from the government army. Their enemy, Riek Machar’s SSDF, in turn received ammunition from the SPLA as of June 1999, marking the first material rapprochement between the SPLA and Riek Machar’s forces since the SPLM/A split in 1991.
The SSDF forces did not then join the SPLM/A, but their realignment to an anti-government position in Western Upper Nile/Unity State marked the first step in what took two and a half years to become a formal reconciliation with the SPLM/A. It was only one of many realignments of Nuer forces that are ongoing as of the writing of this report.
At the time, this first step was significant. The second significant realignment of Nuer forces took place only a few months later, also seemingly provoked by the government’s attempts to monopolize oil pumped from Nuer territory. Cmdr. Peter Gatdet, who beginning in early 1999 led Paulino Matiep’s marauding pro-government militia through Block 5A, mutinied from Paulino in September 1999. Peter Gatdet captured the Mankien base, with its stores of ammunition and weapons. Most of Paulino Matiep’s Bul Nuer soldiers mutinied with him, leaving Paulino with a shell of a militia.
Cmdr. Peter Gatdet’s mostly Bul and Leek Nuer troops, poised in Block 4, their home area, were in an excellent position to take the war to the GNPOC oilfields—as Paulino Matiep had been to block Dinka/SPLA forces from reaching these oilfields. In late 1999, Peter Gatdet’s troops turned around toward the oilfields and conducted ambushes that took the lives of several Sudanese, both oil workers and government soldiers, as army displacement from Block 1continued. Cmdr. Peter Gatdet did not consistently attack the oilfields, however, but became distracted by intra-Nuer fighting in which the government armed one side and the SPLM/A armed the other.
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In early November 1999 many Nuer commanders made peace, including Peter Gatdet and Tito Biel, and formed an Upper Nile Provisional United Military Command Council (UMCC). Only Paulino Matiep and three other commanders remained of the pro-government Nuer militia in Upper Nile at the end of 1999; only one of them, Gabriel Tanginya, was in Western Upper Nile/Unity State, on the far eastern edge.
Rapprochement Between the SPLM/A and SSDF 1999 The government oil offensive of 1999 pushed some previously opposing southern forces back into alliance with one another. In his speech marking SPLA Day in May 1999, John Garang spoke of his
willingness to welcome back all those who left the movement in 1991:
I wish to inform you that early this week, I personally talked over the HF [high frequency] radio with Cdr Tito Biel [of Riek Machar’s SSDF], who is leading the resistance against the NIF [National Islamic Front, referring to the National Congress party in power in Khartoum] in Bentiu, and I have given him, and all those with him, my personal assurances and congratulations for the patriotic action they have taken to stop the robbery and vandalization of the Bentiu Oil by the NIF regime.613 When the SSDF commanders were defeated by the government and its Paulino Matiep militia in May 1999 and pushed out of Western Upper Nile/Unity State, Cmdr. Peter Paar Jiek was sent to Bahr El 613 SPLA News Agency (SPLANA), “Message to the Sudanese People on the Occasion of the SPLM/SPLA 16th Anniversary,” by Dr.
John Garang de Mabior, Nairobi, May 18, 1999 (text of radio message).
Ghazal to see if the SPLM/A could assist them against the government.614 The SPLA provided ammunition on two occasions in 1999 to the SSDF Tito Biel forces.615 This was a significant development because, since the split in the SPLM/A eight years earlier, the two forces fought against each other much more than they had fought against the Sudanese government.
Now, the SPLA was providing ammunition to the breakaway faction—that was technically on the government side—to attack the government.
This realignment was the result of many factors, chief among them that the SSDF, its political wing the UDSF, and its leader head Riek Machar no longer trusted the government to live up to its agreement and share resources with them. Despite this new cooperation, however, SSDF Cmdr. Tito Biel did not join the SPLM/A but maintained a separate SSDF command. The SPLA did not send any forces into the Nuer area to participate in the fighting, for political/ethnic reasons—until Nuer Cmdr. Peter Gatdet joined them in early 2000 and the SPLA had “its” sizeable Nuer forces.
When Human Rights Watch asked Cmdr. Tito Biel if Riek Machar, still in Khartoum, knew and approved of the new relationship with the SPLA, he stated that Riek Machar had not been asked about this SPLA cooperation because “when we are facing a problem in the field we cannot wait for Dr. Riek.
We go to our brothers [southerners in the SPLA] and share our problem.” 616 Obviously, deniability was important for Riek Machar, the assistant to the president of Sudan, who remained in Khartoum with SSDF Chief of Staff Elijah Hon Top, ostensibly not fully informed of the 614 Cmdr. Peter Paar Jiek attended Wunlit as part of the Khartoum delegation sent by Riek Machar. Most of the SSDF officers already knew the SPLA officers, since most of them had been in the SPLM/A from 1983 until 1991, and had trained and/or fought together with them.
615 Tito Biel, interview, August 19, 1999. Cmdr. Salva Kiir, chief of staff of SPLA, approved the request in the period of June-August
1999. SPLA Chief of Staff Cmdr. Salva Kiir Mayardit, Human Rights Watch interview, Nairobi, August 11, 2000. There were two shipments. Thomas Duoth, Human Rights Watch interview, Nairobi, August 23, 1999; Riek Machar, interview, August 8, 2000.
616 Tito Biel, interview, August 19, 1999.
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