“Over-zealous” security undermining peace in South Sudan

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State security forces in South Sudan are responsible for new and potentially arbitrary restrictions against prominent civil society leaders, issuing “credible” death threats undermining peace efforts, UN-appointed independent rights experts said this week.

In an alert, the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan alleged “over-zealous” security forces prevented dissent to the extent civic space is eroding “at an accelerating pace”, forcing rights defenders to flee and discouraging others.

“The State targeting high-profile human rights defenders will have a chilling effect on civil society and discourage public participation and corrode confidence in important processes such as transitional justice, constitution making and national elections, essential for success of the transition envisaged by the 2018 Revitalised Peace Agreement,” Commissioner Andrew Clapham said.

Actions of the National Security Services (NSS) include detentions, raids, a likely internet shutdown and enhanced security presence in Juba, the panel said in a statement.

Those targeted by threats, harassment and intimidation include human rights defenders, journalists and representatives of civil society. Many are key to the country’s peace and justice processes.

“Jame David Kolok and Michael Wani are among those now outside the country in fear of their lives,” the UN Commission said in reference to Kolok’s membership of the Technical Committee to Conduct Consultative Process on Truth, Reconciliation and Healing – a position reaffirmed in May by the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs.

Wani was a youth representative on the National Constitution Amendment Committee, according to the UN panel, which noted both men’s bank accounts, “and those of the NGOs they lead, are among those recently blocked on government orders, with other civil society actors also affected”.

The 2018 Revitalised Agreement for the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan contains powersharing arrangements between President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar.

The accord requires the drafting of a permanent Constitution and the establishment of a Commission on Truth, Reconciliation and Healing.

Implementation of these and other measures – such as public consultation requirements – are slow, government leaders renewed pledges and moved forward in recent months, the UN Commission said.

“The latest restrictions and acts of harassment follow formation of a new civil society coalition at the end of July whose members planned a public assembly for 30 August.”

The UN Commission –appointed by the Human Rights in March 2016 to investigate crimes linked to the 2011 civil war – noted this assembly could not take place amid “detentions, raiding of premises, an apparent internet shutdown and enhanced security force presence on the streets of Juba”.

“State authorities must respect and protect the rights of human rights defenders; this is an obligation under international law. It would demonstrate South Sudan’s commitment to strengthening systems to consolidate human rights is genuine,” Commissioner Barney Afako said.