CIVICUS

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South Sudan

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Last updated on 17.05.2022 at 09:45

The Civic Space Developments

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Surge in violence threatens implementation of the peace deal

Surge in violence threatens implementation of the peace deal

Surge of violence reported across the country and in particular in Upper Nile and Unity State, as well as the Equatorias; Government security forces surrounded the house of Lam Akol, an opposition leader; Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released its annual World Press Freedom Index, ranking South Sudan 128 out of 180 countries; Police arrest four activists for protesting outside Freedom Hall, where Members of Parliament had gathered to receive a bill on the constitution-making process

General situation

There has been a surge of violence across the country and in particular in Upper Nile and Unity State, as well as the Equatorias. According to United Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), 72 civilians died in Leer county, Unity State, between 17th February and 17th April 2022. Armed youth are allegedly responsible for 64 cases of sexual violence, including gang rapes. Additionally, humanitarian facilities were looted and burned down. Approximately 40,000 people fled Leer. The increase in violence, in particular attacks on opposition SPLM/A-IO forces, has led to mounting concerns over implementation of the 2018 Revitalized Agreement for Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS), and whether armed conflict could resume at the national level.

Association

On 24th April 2022, government security forces surrounded the house of Lam Akol, an opposition leader. Akol claimed that he ignored why the security forces surrounded his home, but he suspected it is linked to how vocal he has been about the rising cost of living and the ongoing armed conflict.

Peaceful Assembly

On 12th April 2022, the police arrested four activists for protesting outside Freedom Hall, where Members of Parliament had gathered to receive a bill on the constitution-making process. The protestors demanded that Dr. Joseph Manytuil, the Unity State governor, step down due to the ongoing violence in Leer County.

Expression

On 30th March 2022, security agencies withdrew an initial security clearance for a performance scheduled by famous South Sudanese singer and peace activist Emmanuel Jal Jock. The concert intended to unite the people for implementation the 2018 peace agreement.

On 3rd May 2022, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released its annual World Press Freedom Index, ranking South Sudan 128 out of 180 countries. The right to freedom of expression is under threat as journalists in South Sudan face threats, intimidation and arbitrary arrests, resulting in self-censorship. According to Irene Ayaa, a media development officer at the Association for Media Development, four articles were removed from the newspapers in April. 

Association in South Sudan

Although Article 25 of South Sudan’s Transitional Constitution guarantees the freedom of association, and although the purpose of the new transitional government is to ‘restore peace, security and stability’, people who operate civil society organisations do so in extremely difficult conditions.

Although Article 25 of South Sudan’s Transitional Constitution guarantees the freedom of association, and although the purpose of the new transitional government is to ‘restore peace, security and stability’, people who operate civil society organisations do so in extremely difficult conditions. At an operational level, CSOs face the threat of violent attack from both government forces and rebel groups, and the threat of arrest and torture from the state. In December 2015, 13 civil society members were arrested in Wau, accused of being allies of rebel groups and bringing public dishonour to the state government. It was reported that at least three of them were ill-treated or tortured. In many parts of the country, human rights defenders, even those working for the promotion of peace, are repeatedly beaten, attacked, harassed, intimidated and threatened by the National Security Services (NSS). Human rights defenders cooperating with the UN Human Rights Council have also faced intimidation and harassment. Procedurally, the formation of CSOs is governed by the NGO Act of 2003. CSOs must be approved by both the Ministry of Justice and the Relief & Rehabilitation Centre in Juba. CSOs may also be required to register with sub-national bodies. A restrictive new NGO bill approved by parliament in February 2016 empowers the government to monitor the work of civil society organisations, who must get approval to undertake any activities not specifically mentioned in their registration certificate and they face severe penalties for any breach of the new rules. The bill also limits to 20% the number of foreigners each NGO may employ, potentially hampering the work of international aid agencies operating in South Sudan.

Peaceful Assembly in South Sudan

During the recent civil war, protest was virtually impossible and the right to peaceful assembly enshrined in the Transitional Constitution was effectively suspended.

During the recent civil war, protest was virtually impossible and the right to peaceful assembly enshrined in the Transitional Constitution was effectively suspended. People who gather in public to promote any cause run the risk of deadly attacks by security services and rebel forces alike. Although some protests do occur, violence is common and the authorities frequently use excessive force to disperse crowds. A number of civil society activists were targeted in 2015 for protesting against a lack of protection at a local market. Instead of responding to their concerns, the authorities arrested the protestors. Previously, in December 2012, more than 25 protestors in Wau were reportedly killed by the South Sudan Armed Forces. From 2015, the state also made use of the National Security Service Act that gives intelligence officers broad powers to arrest, search and detain citizens.

Expression in South Sudan

The right to free expression is regularly and seriously violated in South Sudan, as the state aggressively denies citizens and the media the ability to impart and receive information and opinions.

The right to free expression is regularly and seriously violated in South Sudan, as the state aggressively denies citizens and the media the ability to impart and receive information and opinions. Numerous newspapers and radio stations have been shut down by the authorities, who have also seized the print runs of newspapers on several occasions when inconvenient stories are published. The situation worsened after the outbreak of civil war in December 2013 as the state and rebel factions sought to quell any reporting that might shine a light on atrocities and human rights abuses being committed by them. In August 2015, President Salva Kiir threatened to kill journalists who report negatively on the country. Individual journalists faced huge risks for reporting on the conflict as many were threatened, kidnapped, tortured, suffered forced disappearances or were killed; many others were forced to live in exile. This treatment of journalists continues even with the signing of a peace accord. In March 2016, journalist and editor of El Tabeer newspaper Joseph Afandi was abducted and later found with severe burns and torture marks on his body. Two months earlier he was held by the intelligence body for criticising the ruling party for failing to protect civilians. In these circumstances, people in South Sudan struggle to gain access to fact-based and impartial reporting. Internet penetration remains low in South Sudan, with just one in seven people online as of 2014.