February 21, 2012 (JUBA) - South Sudan has dismissed a report from a human rights campaign group claiming tensions are spiralling in its Western Bahr El Ghazal state, following a series of arrests by the state authorities and a security clampdown on civilians in the aftermath of last year’s violent clashes.
- South Sudan’s minister of information, Barnaba Marial Benjamin
In a report released on Thursday, Amnesty International (AI) says at least 24 people died and more than 60 were injured after security forces clashed with demonstrators protesting the relocation of Wau county headquarters to Bagari, about 19kms away.
“On 8 and 9 December 2012, security forces killed 11 people following roadblocks and protests in Wau town”, the report reads in part.
However, South Sudan’s information and broadcasting minister, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, has described the report as “untrue”, adding that its contents clearly show the campaign group “is behind time”.
“That is not true. What Amnesty International is saying is devoid of the situation on the ground. I would invite them to come and see what is actually being done”, Marial said by phone on Thursday.
AI’s Africa director, Netsanet Belay, said the authorities’ failure “to ensure proper investigations into the events in Wau county in December 2012 has allowed tensions to mount.”
However, Marial said both the national and state government had formed an investigation committee to look into what happened in Wau.
“Investigations are going on and the legal structures will go ahead and punish those who will have been found to have contravened the law,” he said.
He accused Amnesty of working towards “stirring up” fights and further conflict between the various ethnic groups in the state.
Since the unrest in December, Amnesty says scores of people deemed to be opposed to the policies of the state government have been arrested and accused of instigating the protests in addition to their alleged involvement in events in the lead up to the demonstrations. Around 13 people were detained 12 February.
With trials due to take place this week, Amnesty has expressed concern that “no members of the security forces have been held to account for shooting and killing protesters”.
“Those responsible for unlawful killings, including the security forces responsible for killing protesters, must promptly be held to account.”
It added, “These arbitrary arrests contravene the law in South Sudan. Many of the detainees were initially held for up to two months, without being questioned about any offence they are alleged to have committed, with no access to a lawyer and with no arrest warrant ever being shown,” added Belay.
However, Marial says the report is largely “exaggerated” and contrary to the actual facts on the ground.
“This is [a] democratic government, whereby you cannot arrest people without an arrest warrant. Our investigation is covering everybody, including the security forces and if they are innocent, then they will be released,” he said.