By Julius N. Uma
May 30, 2012 (JUBA) — The government of South Sudan has strongly denounced the US department of states report on human rights on the country and instead reiterated its commitment to protect the fundamental human rights of citizens in the word’s newest nation.
- South Sudan Minister of Information, Barnaba Marial Benjamin (AP)
A report released by the US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor documents a series of extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, and other inhumane treatment of civilians that allegedly occurred in South Sudan between January and December 2011.
Approximately 250,000 people, it says, were displaced as a result of the conflict reportedly emanating from fighting between South Sudan army (SPLA) and Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), clashes with renegade militia groups or cattle-related disputes among communities.
“The government seldom took steps to punish officials who committed abuses, and impunity was a major problem,” the report says.
Barnaba Benjamin Marial, the spokesperson of South Sudan government refuted the authenticity of the US report, describing it as a “mere concoction” to tarnish the image of the country, less than a year after it attained independence.
“We have seen many of these reports claiming that people have been raped, killed and abducted. Others have blamed the police, army and the security organs of human rights abuse. But I want to tell you [that] our government is truly committed towards protecting the lives of its citizens,” Marial said on Tuesday.
He challenged the authors of such reports to visit South Sudan, carry out interviews with the people in order to understand the actual situations on the ground.
“As a government, we are more than willing to facilitate whoever is interested in visiting any part of this country to collect information. The government is mandated to protect its people, not abuse their rights,” said Marial, who is also South Sudan’s information and broadcasting minister.
The dossier further reveals cases of politically motivated abductions by ethnic groups; harsh prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention, including prolonged pre-trial detention; and an inefficient and corrupt judiciary as other forms of abuse allegedly committed by the government.
For instance, in 2011, the report says the government restricted freedoms of privacy, speech, press, assembly, and association, adding that even displaced persons were “abused and harassed”.
“The government restricted the movement of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and NGO workers were attacked and harassed. Violence and discrimination against women were widespread. Violence against children included child abuse, child abduction, and harmful traditional practices such as girl compensation,” it noted, accusing the Police and renegade militia groups of recruiting child soldiers into their ranks.
It however remains unclear if these child soldiers allegedly recruited were released, especially after the government and the United Nations signed a revised action plan on child soldiers early this year, seeking to discourage child recruitment into the army.
Also of concern, according to the US document, were alleged cases of trafficking in persons; discrimination and violence against ethnic minorities and homosexuals; governmental incitement of tribal violence; and child labour, including forced labour in various parts of the country.
South Sudan became independent in July last year following an overwhelming vote for separation in the country self-determination referendum conducted in January 2011. The vote was a key part of the 2005 peace deal which ended over two decades of war between Sudan and South Sudan.
While the country’s transitional constitution provides criminal penalties for acts of corruption, the US report accuses South Sudan government for its alleged failure effectively implement the law, and officials continued to “engage in corrupt practices with impunity.”
According to the report, the South Sudan Anti-Corruption Commission (SSAC) lacks enough powers to prosecute those implicated in corruption-related practices. Instead, it says, the mandate to prosecute is directly placed under the country’s Justice Ministry, which has reportedly done very little.
To-date, over $1 billion, between 2005-2006, reportedly remained unaccounted for in transfers of oil revenues from the Government of National Unity - the power and wealth sharing partnership in Khartoum created by 2005 peace deal - to the autonomous Government of South Sudan (GoSS) in Juba
However, despite corruption being recognised as a major problem within the southern government, no official has been prosecuted for the practice since the region gained self-rule in 2005 after a peace deal.