South Sudan Forces Imposed Arbitrary Restrictions on Civil Society Leaders – UN

UN-appointed independent rights experts said on Wednesday that the country’s most prominent civil society leaders have been subjected to arbitrary restrictions by state security forces.

The Chairman of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, Andrew Clapham, said in a statement that security forces have issued “credible” death threats that have undermined peace efforts in the country.

Clapham alleged that security forces had prevented dissent so dramatically, that civic space in South Sudan had now eroded “at an accelerating pace,” causing rights defenders to flee and deterring others from taking their places.

“The State’s targeting of high-profile human rights defenders will have a chilling effect on civil society and will discourage public participation.

“It will also corrode confidence in the important processes of transitional justice, constitution-making and national elections, which are essential for the success of the transition envisaged by the 2018 Revitalised Peace Agreement,” said Clapham.

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The National Security Services (NSS) has conducted raids, detentions, a possible internet shut-down, and enhanced security presence on Juba’s streets, the panel said in a statement.

Threats, harassment, and intimidation have been levelled at prominent human rights defenders, journalists, and civil society actors. Many have played key roles in the peace and justice processes in the country.

“Jame David Kolok and Michael Wani are among those now sheltering outside the country in fear for their lives.’’

The UN Commission made this statement in regard to Kolok’s membership in the Technical Committee Conducting Consultative Process on Truth, Reconciliation and Healing – a position reaffirmed by the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs in May.

According to the UN panel, Wani was a youth representative on the National Constitution Amendment Committee. Both men’s bank accounts, as well as the accounts of non-governmental organizations they lead, have recently been blocked by the government.

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South Sudan’s Revitalised Agreement for the Resolution of Conflict in 2018 contains power-sharing agreements 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.

Although the implementation of these and other measures – such as public consultation requirements – has been slow, government leaders have renewed pledges and taken steps toward these in recent months.

“These latest restrictions and acts of harassment follow the formation on July 30 of a new civil society coalition whose members planned a public assembly to take place on August 30,” the UN Commission said.

According to the UN Commission established by the Human Rights Council in March 2016 to investigate crimes associated with the 2011 civil war, this assembly could not take place because of “detentions, raids on premises, an apparent internet outage, and an increased presence of security forces on the streets of Juba.”

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Several civil society leaders remain in detention and their wellbeing is unclear, the commissioners said.

“The State’s authorities must respect and protect the rights of human rights defenders; this is an obligation under international law.

“It would also demonstrate that South Sudan’s commitment to strengthening its systems for the consolidation of human rights is genuine,” said Commissioner Barney Afako.

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