June 22, 2012 (JUBA) - South Sudan on Friday reacted to what it described as an “unbalanced” Human Rights Watch (HRW) report which calls on the new nation stop arbitrarily arresting its citizens and improve its "dire" prison conditions.
The report released on Friday observed that a third of South Sudan’s 6,000 inmates are held on remand and some without charge; an observation minister of interior, Alison Manani Magaya, vehemently denied, describing the report as “not objective” and claiming that HRW “deliberately ignored” the “substantial improvements” made in various prisons.
However, Biel Butrous Biel, executive director of South Sudan Human Rights Advocacy Association (SSHURA) on Friday commended the report and said South Sudan should act to improve the image of the country instead of “being defensive”.
He told Sudan Tribune that the report is “objective”, citing an incident on 24 December 2011 in which four people were killed and 15 injured in attack in Fangak county, for which no suspects are being held.
The HRW report said "flawed processes, unlawful detentions, and dire conditions in South Sudan’s prisons reflect the urgent need to improve the new nation’s fledgling justice system.”
HRW visited 12 of the country’s 79 institutions and found that most of the facilities were either “damaged or crumbling" with cells that were "unhygienic, severely overcrowded” and without “sufficient ventilation".
The report claims many of the prisoners are incarcerated following flawed arrests or for behaviour “that quite simply should not be criminalized as to do so is a violation of basic rights and freedoms".
Of the 15 deaths in two prisons last year, most were from treatable diseases, according to the report.
Judges often handed down long sentences and death penalties to people who do not understand the charges out against them claim HRW, suggesting that an effective judiciary in South Sudan is "a fundamental building block for establishing rule of law and accountability".
Rodento Tongun, the spokesperson for South Sudan Prisons Service told Sudan Tribune on Sunday that the HRW report was "untrue" and "lacking grounds".
"What is mentioned in the report is not true. We may have challenges in the prisons department as a new nation, but the situation has not reached the level of what has been written by these people [HRW]," Tongun said by phone.
He remained optimistic that the situation in prisons across the country will improve, saying several mechanisms have been put in place to address existing problems.