The New York Times published an op-ed on Tuesday, purportedly by South Sudan’s president Salva Kiir and first vice president Riek Machar. The op-ed said there shouldn’t be any accountability for crimes committed during the recent civil war. Both Kiir and Machar are accused of having responsibility for troops who committed atrocities including murder and rape of civilians. Justice measures against perpetrators of such crimes are a major part of the peace deal the two men signed last year. Many South Sudanese citizens also talk about accountability as necessary for ending the country’s cycle of violence. Machar’s side has denied writing or approving the op-ed. They said Kiir’s side sent the op-ed to New York Times without their knowledge. The New York Times has yet to respond to questions about what happened.
(Update: New York Times SVP Communications Eileen Murphy says: “This piece came to us through representatives of the government of South Sudan with assurances that they were working on behalf of both President Kiir and Vice President Machar. Today we learned that Vice President Machar does not agree with the content of the op-ed. We should have sought direct confirmation of the argument of the piece from both parties.” She adds that Machar’s side did not ask for a correction. See more on this below. Update: Murphy says they received a request for correction Thursday night but it was not seen until Friday. Update: The New York Times added the following editor’s note to the op-ed: “Four days after publication of this article, one of the authors, First Vice President Riek Machar, disavowed the contents, saying that he had not been consulted about the essay, which was submitted by representatives of the South Sudan president, Salva Kiir. The president’s spokesman maintains that Mr. Machar had been consulted before the essay was written.”).
I interviewed Kiir’s spokesperson Ateny Wek Ateny Thursday morning to find out who wrote it. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation:
JMP: Can I ask a bit about the writing of the statement? So, did the two men actually sit together and write it together here in juba? Did they actually meet and write it together?
JMP: So how was it written?
AWA: Well, the articles, okay? You know, was the initiation, the two men intiated the articles, and then completed by my office.
JMP: So it was completed by your office?
AWA: Yeah, on their behalf.
JMP: And then did each of them approve the final copy of it before it was sent to the New York Times?
AWA: Yes. It was approved. Yes.
JMP: Was it approved by Machar himself?
AWA: I’m not sure, but it was approved in the office of the president here.
JMP: But was it approved also by the office of the first vice president?
JMP: And who was it that approved it in the office of the first vice president?
AWA: It was approved.
JMP: Okay, do you know who gave you that approval?
AWA: No. I don’t need to tell you.
JMP: Okay. And it was done entirely done within this office? It wasn’t done-
AWA: Yeah it was done in the office.
JMP: Because there are people who are saying that there’s these international groups, like Podesta Group, Independent Diplomat, KRL International?
AWA: Well, we work with them, but it comes, it emanate from our office.
AWA: It’s the right of anybody to employ consultancy-
JMP: And so-
AWA: You know to contract consultancy.
JMP: And so which of those consultancies are you contra-
AWA: No. It is not part of what I should tell you.
JMP: Okay, but so this was written in your office in conjunction-
AWA: Yes, yes.
JMP: Did you use KRL?
AWA: It is the responsibility of my office.
JMP: But was it with KRL International?
AWA: No I didn’t. I didn’t use any one of those.
JMP: You did not use Podesta, international – Independent Diplomat, or KRL International?
AWA: You don’t need it.
JMP: Well, I do, though.
AWA: No, you don’t need it.
JMP: Well, was it one of those three groups?
AWA: I told you you don’t need it.
JMP: Well, but that’s your opinion, but I do. I would like to know.
AWA: I don’t want to talk about it.
JMP: Because Machar’s side has said that they did not approve of this. Machar’s side said they did not approve of this. That they did not know about this.
AWA: That will be a matter for the presidency to address.
JMP: They said they’ve even asked the New York Times to issue a correction because they say that Machar did not co-author this. Can you respond to that?
JMP: I mean, is that, are they telling the truth?
JMP: So Machar was definitely part of it? Because they’re denying this now.
AWA: That’s why I said it’ll be addressed within the presidency, and when it is addressed, you will be able to know.
Update: Here’s a press statement by Machar’s spokesman, James Gatdet Dak:
“The article published by New York Times alleging that First Vice President, H.E. Dr Riek Machar, had agreed with President, H.E. Salva Kiir, to avoid justice or trials for those responsible for the atrocities committed in the war is NOT true. Somebody must have written it without the knowledge and agreement of the SPLM-IO leadership. We dismiss this allegation as false!!”
Update: Here’s an excerpt of what James Gatdet says is an email he sent to New York Times on Wednesday asking for a correction: