Although an agreement on the resolution of South Sudan’s civil war was agreed in August 2015, civic space remains seriously degraded following more than two years of devastating armed conflict.read more
According to the report, years of civil war, with the resulting lack of infrastructure and access to many areas of the country, have created a divide between urban and rural HRDs, with the latter finding themselves insufficiently supported and lacking access to protection mechanisms.
On 8th May 2018, the UN Security Council unanimously renewed sanctions on South Sudan for another year, which includes travel bans and asset freezes against individuals responsible for threatening peace and stability in the country. In early May 2018, the South Sudan Equatoria Community in Diaspora group began publicly lobbying the International Criminal Court in the Hague to indict President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
In late April 2018, regional NGO DefendDefenders released a report detailing the situation for human rights defenders (HRDs) in South Sudan since the July 2016 Juba crisis. The report shows that HRDs face a multitude of challenges, including targeted intimidation and attacks, most notably by the by National Security Service (NSS).
According to the report, years of civil war, with the resulting lack of infrastructure and access to many areas of the country, have created a divide between urban and rural HRDs, with the latter finding themselves insufficiently supported and lacking access to protection mechanisms. Attacks against activists and civil society organisations (CSOs) are largely committed with impunity and a significant number of such incidents go unreported.
CSOs have begun the process of documenting and preserving evidence for a future Hybrid Court for South Sudan (HCSS) to prosecute crimes committed from December 2013 through the end of the transitional period. The HCSS was mandated under Chapter 5 of the 2015 Peace Agreement, but has yet to be established. The above-mentioned report states that there are concerns within civil society over organisations' ability to effectively preserve and present evidence at a level necessary for prosecution as well as their capacity to safeguard the evidence and protect their sources.
Hassan Shire, Executive Director of DefendDefenders, stated that:
“So much has changed in South Sudan since the civil war resumed in July 2016, and we see civic space shrinking by the day…in this conflict context, it is imperative for human rights defenders to be able to operate in the country, and we reiterate our commitment to making sure they can continue their vital work without fear".
On 30th April 2018, ten aid workers, all South Sudanese citizens, were released by the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLA-IO), after being held for almost a week. The United Nations in South Sudan said that the aid workers had gone missing in the southwest of the war-torn country, close to the town of Yei. In another incident, seven aid workers were released on 15th April after being held for nearly three weeks. Rebel forces had accused them of being government spies.
In late April, a humanitarian aid worker was shot and killed while returning to check on a health clinic that had been looted in Leer County; 100 aid workers have been killed since the conflict began in December 2013.
In a statement, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan Alain Noudehou stated:
“I am deeply concerned by the insecurity faced by aid workers in South Sudan, who are risking their lives to save others…I strongly urge the parties to the conflict to abide by international humanitarian law and ensure that humanitarians are safe while delivering assistance and services to people in need”.
On 19th April 2018, authorities from the South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation (SSBC) shut down the BBC’s FM relay stations in the cities of Juba and Wau, alleging that the broadcaster had failed to pay certain bills.
In a statement, the BBC "regretted SSBC’s decision to shut down its news service that reach an audience of more than 400,000 in South Sudan". The BBC is in talks with SSBC to restore the service.
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.
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.
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.