CIVICUS

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South Sudan

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Last updated on 08.03.2019 at 08:22

South Sudan - Overview

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.

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Corruption and ethnic violence undermine peace deal

Corruption and ethnic violence undermine peace deal

According to an investigative report by The Guardian newspaper in February 2019, South Sudan’s government has used over half of the funds meant for implementation of the peace deal to the renovation of politicians' homes The government had originally pledged more than $1.4 million to the peace fund but only deposited $400,000 into the account.

Edmund Yakani, executive director for Community Empowerment for Progress Organisation, a local civil society group said:

“The parties’ signatory to the peace deal say the implementation is slow due to a lack of funds but surprisingly they are allocating money to renovate public officials’ houses. So it’s disturbing when they then challenge donors for lack of interest [in funding] the peace deal.”

Meanwhile, on 19th January 2019, clashes began between the army and a rebel group known as the National Salvation Front in Equatoria state. Thousands of civilians fled from Equatoria state, seeking safety in neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Over 8000 people have been internally displaced near the town of Yei.

In positive developments, on 9th February 2019, a three-day peace conference that brought together representatives from Jonglei and Eastern Lakes States ended with calls to end crimes along River Nile. Twic South County commissioner, Daniel Deng, said the two neighbouring communities resolved to end hostilities over the Nile River where conflicts often arise over fishing rights. Parties agreed to control the flow of weapons and ensure that consent from relevant authorities is provided prior to crossing each other’s waters.

In other good developments, on 11th February 2019, 119 children were released from an armed group in Yambio where they were associated with the South Sudan National Liberation Movement. There have been reintegration programs set up to assist children and their host families smoothly transition back into society. This release coincided with the International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers.

Expression

On 17th January 2019, judicial oversight over investigations into the disappearance of two South Sudanese activists in Nairobi was officially ended by the Kenyan courts. As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, in 2017, Dong Samuel Luak, a prominent South Sudanese lawyer and human rights activist, and Aggrey Idri, a member of the political opposition were snatched off the streets of Nairobi. The activists' disappearance is believed by their families to be the result of collusion between South Sudan and Kenya, but both governments have denied having custody of the men or knowledge of their whereabouts. In April 2017, the two families had sought judicial review and an order to the police to investigate the disappearance of the two men more thoroughly, which resulted in the order for judicial oversight of police investigations. In delivering its ruling, the court stated that the police had acted “prudently and within the law.” The court said it is required to respect the police approach and timeline, and that families should pursue alternative administrative remedies such as filing a complaint with the Internal Police Oversight Authority. 

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.