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

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.