Civil Society Organizations Endorse “Guide on the National Dialogue Process in South Sudan” to Drive Grassroots EngagementSep 12, 2017
12 September 2017, Juba — A cross-cutting selection of civil society organizations gathered today to launch a collaborative “Guide on the National Dialogue Process in South Sudan” toolkit, designed to provide a framework for outreach and engagement of the public in the coming weeks and months on the National Dialogue. The launch also provided an opportunity for feedback and discussion between representatives of civil society organizations and members of the National Dialogue Steering Committee and Secretariat.
The new toolkit is the result of a recent workshop held to brief civil society organizations on their role in facilitating grassroots activities to engage the public as part of the consultative phase of the National Dialogue process.
The “Guide on the National Dialogue Process in South Sudan” and the workshop were funded by the Government of Japan as part of their support to creating a conducive environment for an inclusive and credible National Dialogue process in South Sudan.
“The National Dialogue must empower all South Sudanese, rural and urban, to express themselves. To this end, the toolkit is a guide and reference for civil society organizations to inform, empower and mobilize communities to participate in the National Dialogue process,” said Ambassador of Japan to South Sudan H.E. Kiya Masahiko.
Members of the civil society organizations thanked the Government of Japan and UNDP for the technical and financial support that went into the workshop and guide, as well as the National Dialogue Secretariat and Steering Committee for the progress made so far. During the discussion, inclusivity of the process was a leading principle which came up repeatedly.
“There are people who are far in the villages who have not yet heard of the National Dialogue,” said Lillian Riziq, a member of the National Dialogue Steering Committee, during the roundtable discussion at the launch event. “It is the role of civil society to take this good guide and translate the messages in a way that the people understand. Turn the messages into songs and dramas and storytelling. It will be your organizations who spread the word and get people involved.”
Ms. Riziq also outlined ongoing attempts to address concerns and challenges identified by civil society and the National Dialogue Steering Committee, including the revitalisation of the peace agreement, the cessation of hostilities, implementation mechanisms, and strengthening inclusivity of armed groups into the National Dialogue process.
Many suggestions were raised to ensure the meaningful participation of women, vulnerable populations, and people with disabilities. The need to protect the freedom of expression was emphasized, with attendees wanting to know what is planned to further demonstrate and guarantee safety of participants. Speakers also said it was essential for organizations and media outlets to have the freedom to cover the National Dialogue process without intimidation or fear.
“Freedom of expression is paramount to the National Dialogue process and we would really encourage the Steering Committee to take seriously this issue of talking freely,” said one representative of the Association of Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS).
To this point, Dr. Lual Deng, Coordinator of the National Dialogue Secretariat, responded strongly.
“Freedom of expression is very important and it’s your role as [civil society] to help us create the environment at the grassroots to allow everyone to speak out. From the top, there has been clear instructions on freedom of expression, security forces have clear instruction, all the governors have clear instruction, and so forth. Many people have been speaking freely here since April and no one has been arrested or intimidated. As long as it is not hate speech or abuse, then people need to be able to speak. We are committed to this,” said Dr. Lual.
Hon. Alfred Taban, Head of the National Dialogue Steering Committee Communications and Information Unit, further repeated the commitment of leadership to creating a conducive environment for a meaningful dialogue process, citing the initial release of a number of political detainees.
“All political detainees should be released, so we are not finished, and the National Dialogue Steering Committee will not keep quiet on this,” he said.
Representatives of media associations in attendance also urged the National Dialogue Secretariat to create a communication outlet to inform the public and the broader global audience of the day-to-day activities of the civil society working on National Dialogue initiatives.
“We want to emphasize this is a process,” said Dr. Lual at the close of discussions. “We want to do this right and when you bring your concerns to us, they will be addressed. The sub-committees of the National Dialogue Steering Committee have the support of the Secretariat. We are a train gaining steam…Civil society cannot and will not be left behind. We need your full involvement.”
Japan and UNDP further reiterated their commitment to supporting a genuinely inclusive process.
“UNDP’s technical support and contributions seek to facilitate participatory mechanisms and sustainable solutions that serve the genuine needs of the people,” said UNDP South Sudan Country Director Dr. Kamil Kamaluddeen. “We see the National Dialogue as one opportunity and a good example of such processes we are continuing to support, so that the outcomes of reconciliation, healing, transparency, and trust, are achieved. Civil society gathered here today will be the critical enablers of such outcomes. We look forward to this guide being used as a tool to reach as many South Sudanese as possible and bringing them into the conversation of the National Dialogue.