CIVICUS

MonitorTracking civic space

South Sudan

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Last updated on 22.03.2021 at 06:49

The Civic Space Developments

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Report: abusive surveillance created a climate of fear and self-censorship

Report: abusive surveillance created a climate of fear and self-censorship

On 29th January 2021, South Sudan's Cabinet approved the processes to establish of the Hybrid Court for South Sudan and other mechanisms for transitional justice as set out in the 2018 peace deal, the 2018 Revitalized Agreement for the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS).

General situation

Transitional justice and accountability mechanisms

On 29th January 2021, South Sudan's Cabinet approved the processes to establish the Hybrid Court for South Sudan and other mechanisms for transitional justice as set out in the 2018 peace deal, the 2018 Revitalized Agreement for the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS). The Cabinet reportedly instructed Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Rueben Madol to move forward with the establishment of the following mechanisms and institutions:

  • the Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing (investigation of and documentation of human rights violations and causes of conflict)
  • the Hybrid Court for South Sudan (investigation and prosecution of individuals for violations of human rights and humanitarian law, atrocity law)
  • the Compensation and Reparation Authority (administration of funds for reparation and compensation for victims)

The process to establish accountability mechanisms has been delayed for over two years. The move was welcomed by the African Union and the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan (CHRSS), which was established by the United Nations Human Rights Council in March 2016. The latter expressed concern a few months ago about the lack of progress in the implementation of transitional justice processes.

CSO's request extension of the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan's (CHRSS) mandate

Ahead of the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), a group of 38 CSOs, including DefendDefenders and CIVICUS, issued a letter on 5th February 2021 requesting the support of UNHRC's members in extending the mandate of the CHRSS. 

Expression

In the report "These Walls have Ears" - The Chilling Effect of Surveillance in South Sudan, published in February 2021, human rights organisation Amnesty International outlines how the South Sudanese authorities, through the National Security Service (NSS), have used surveillance abusively, including through phone tapping and infiltration, and have targeted critics. Reports on and the perceived surveillance capacity and practices of the state, in combination with a systematic harassment of journalists and civil society activists, has led to a climate of fear and self-censorship. Credible accounts from several sources have led Amnesty International to believe that NSS agents have infiltrated civil society, the media, private companies, security companies and hotels. Additionally, public meetings require approval by the NSS. Deprose Muchena of Amnesty International commented:

“Unchecked and unlawful surveillance by the NSS is having a chilling effect on civil society and peaceful activism. The threat of surveillance is a weapon in itself - government critics and human rights activists told us they live in constant fear of being spied on. Despite this, many courageous South Sudanese activists continue to stand up for their and others’ rights, braving surveillance, intimidation and harassment."

Association

On 30th January 2021, a humanitarian aid worker was killed in Upper Nile State when returning from humanitarian operations near Bentiu. 2020 saw a substantial rise in the number of humanitarian workers killed in South Sudan, which claimed the lives of nine people.

On 13th January 2021, Russian activist Pyotr Verzilov and blogger Ilya Varlamov, along with three others, were stopped and detained upon their arrival at Kapoeta City Airport after airport security found a remote for a drone in their luggage. The drone was reportedly confiscated in Uganda, where they had travelled before arriving in South Sudan. The group was released on 14th January with no charges being pressed.

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.