In South Sudan’s conflict, families at least have names of those killed

A small group of activists in South Sudan has taken on the big task of tracking down the names of those killed in a political rivalry that turned deadly. They’ve created a list of those who bore the brunt of the fighting in a project called “Naming the Ones We Lost.”

So far, they’ve gathered 572 names of children and the elderly, men and women, all of them a member of someone’s family. The list gives their name, age, location and date of death where possible.

“Many people were suspicious at first as you can imagine, but once they understood that it’s a memory project not intended for blame but just to recognize the losses of lives, they were more understanding,” said one of the organizers, Anyieth D’Awol, a member of Citizens for Peace and Justice and founder and director of the Roots Project South Sudan.

Remembering those who died and their legacy is a part of South Sudanese culture, yet in past conflicts there has been no such accounting, the activists say. They are hoping to correct that by collecting the names through the victims’ families and friends, news articles, websites, community lists and human rights reports.

Fighting between government and opposition forces in South Sudan broke out at a government meeting in mid-December 2013 and snowballed into violence within the general population in the capital Juba and elsewhere.

Efforts led by a coalition of neighboring countries called the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, or IGAD, to have South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar agree to a comprehensive peace deal have failed so far.

“Leaders must put the interests of their people above their own. The violence must end. A negotiated conclusion to this conflict is required now,” said Secretary of State John Kerry on March 2 as another deadline passed without a compromise.

The first list of names was released on Dec. 13, 2014, around the one-year anniversary of the war. The names were read aloud at commemorative ceremonies in Juba and Nairobi, Kenya.

Thousands have died in the conflict and more than a million people have been displaced. The list’s keepers know their accounting is incomplete.

D’Awol said an updated list will come out July 9, 2015 — the fourth anniversary of the day South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan with feelings of promise.

Updated: On Monday’s PBS NewsHour, co-anchor Judy Woodruff interviewed World Food Program executive director Ertharin Cousin, who recently returned from a trip to South Sudan:

Support PBS NewsHour: