Last Updated: Thursday, 14 December 2017, 13:52 GMT

Human Rights and Democracy: The 2012 Foreign & Commonwealth Office Report - South Sudan

Publisher United Kingdom: Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Publication Date 15 April 2013
Cite as United Kingdom: Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Human Rights and Democracy: The 2012 Foreign & Commonwealth Office Report - South Sudan, 15 April 2013, available at: [accessed 14 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

In 2012, the human rights situation in South Sudan deteriorated in some respects and the government was slow in addressing areas of concern. This was partly the result of a challenging political and economic environment – in particular, tensions with Sudan, which saw an increase in military action across the border in March. The dispute led to a shutdown in oil production, resulting in the loss of the majority of government revenue. The subsequent austerity measures reduced the resources available to address areas of human rights concerns, pushing many further down the political agenda. Delays to the planned constitutional review and to some important pieces of legislation – including laws on the media – hindered progress in securing legal safeguards for rights such as freedom of expression. The actions of both the national security forces and tribal militias during recurring inter-communal conflict, with instances of civilians being raped, tortured and killed, large-scale displacements, arbitrary arrests and summary executions, were a major area of concern.

We pressed hard for South Sudan to ratify or accede to regional and international human rights instruments, but progress was undermined by the country's immediate economic and political difficulties and by the slow pace of domestic legislation. We supported the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) in its mandate to monitor, investigate and verify reports of human rights violations and helped the government develop its capacity to address these.

We supported mediation efforts between Sudan and South Sudan to reach agreement on outstanding issues in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. In September, the two governments signed a series of cooperation agreements, including one which enshrined the "four freedoms" principle, granting nationals the freedom to reside, move, acquire and dispose of property and undertake economic activities in both states. We also worked with the South Sudan government to address a number of specific human rights issues, including the continued use of the death penalty and the arbitrary arrest and detention of journalists and political commentators.

If inter-communal violence continues in 2013, it will pose a continued risk of human rights violations and abuses, particularly violence against civilians. Sustained failure to implement the agreements with Sudan will also prevent progress on human rights, as the conflict will continue to divert government resources and attention, as seen in 2012. If the agreements are implemented, however, we anticipate a heightened focus by the government of South Sudan on human rights, driven by the rise in national and international awareness of the violations and abuses which have taken place, and increasing public discontent at the perceived lack of government action to investigate and prosecute those responsible.

The UK will therefore continue to press South Sudan to implement the cooperation agreements and to resolve outstanding areas of disagreement with Sudan. It is disappointing that this process stalled at the end of 2012, and we have been urging both states to continue to make full use of African Union assistance in 2013, including at the African Union Summit in January 2013. We will also focus on the Foreign Secretary's Preventing Sexual Violence in conflict Initiative. Work will begin shortly on identifying areas which would benefit from the deployment of experts, in coordination with the UN. We will also monitor how South Sudan follows up in practice its vote at the UN General Assembly in favour of a global moratorium on use of the death penalty.

Freedom of expression and assembly

In December, violence broke out when a group of civilians in Wau protested against the relocation of the county headquarters. The South Sudanese armed forces were brought in to police the demonstration. Unable to control the crowd, they opened fire, reportedly killing 10 protesters. The UK has pressed the government and UNMISS to investigate the incident with a view to learning lessons about managing public order at demonstrations in future. We have also urged the government to pass proposed media legislation as soon as possible to provide legal protection of freedom of expression for civilians and journalists.

On 5 December, Isaiah Diing Abraham, a political commentator and senior officer with the Employees Justice Chamber, was murdered at his home in Juba. Mr Abraham had recently written articles critical of the government, including of its decision to sign the cooperation agreements with Somalia in September. Government security agents were suspected of being behind the killing. The government pledged to carry out a full investigation and has formed an inquiry team, which includes support from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Human rights defenders

In July, it was reported that Deng Athuai Mawiir, an anti-corruption activist who played a role in demanding action from the government of South Sudan on corruption, was kidnapped, assaulted and interrogated by unidentified security personnel. The UK has pressed strongly for an investigation by government authorities into the incident, but his attackers have yet to be identified.

Access to justice and the rule of law

Both detentions without trial and arbitrary arrests increased in 2012. The situation was made worse by weaknesses in the judicial system. Most detainees do not have access to legal representation and are not aware of their rights. Inadequate training and poor levels of English, the official language of South Sudan, mean many police officers do not fully understand the law. Junior officers are thought to be undertaking arrests without authority. There is little accountability when abuses take place. Current UK-funded projects in the security and justice sectors will continue to 2015. Our Safety and Access to Justice Programme will contribute towards more professional and accountable policing. A new Justice Programme currently being designed will support the delivery of justice at the community level, with a specific focus on access to justice for women. In addition, the UK is leading international efforts on accountability and tackling corruption in South Sudan by participation in a high-level dialogue with the government of South Sudan and providing technical support for the South Sudan Anti-Corruption Commission to enhance its ability to fulfil its mandate.

Death penalty

South Sudan maintained the death penalty on secession from Sudan and has carried out eight executions since independence. The constitutional review process would have provided an important opportunity for the government to seek informed discussion on its continued use, but this has been delayed. Human Rights Watch reported in September that more than 200 prisoners are currently on death row. Due to limitations in the justice system many did not have access to any form of legal representation, depriving them of the ability to defend themselves or appeal against their sentences. The Catholic Church, a powerful source of advocacy in South Sudan, has been vocal in its support for abolition of the death penalty.

We voiced UK opposition to the death penalty with senior government ministers, highlighting the lack of convincing evidence of its effectiveness as a deterrent. On 20 December, South Sudan voted for a UN resolution calling for a global moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty. The UK will monitor how this policy is reflected in practice, and urge South Sudan to follow through by abolishing the death penalty completely.


South Sudanese security forces committed serious human rights violations during a recent civilian disarmament campaign in Jonglei State, including the use of torture and rape. The UK pressed for action from the government. Some soldiers have since been arrested and charged. The UK is now calling for prompt prosecution of those involved and for the local community to be told that this has happened. We support the government's decision to suspend the disarmament programme, which will help to prevent the exacerbation of community grievances and avoid increasing their vulnerability at a time of heightened tension.

To prevent further violations the government has committed to measures to improve the transparency and accountability of the army and its respect for human rights. The UK is providing support through a Security Sector Development and Defence Transformation Programme.

Conflict and protection of civilians

Inter-communal violence in Jonglei State is estimated to have killed over 1,000 people since late 2011. The government initiated a peace process, which culminated in a Jonglei State Peace Conference in May, the launch of an Investigations Committee (though little progress has been made on this) and a civilian disarmament campaign. The disarmament campaign brought security improvements to some local communities but was also associated with serious human rights violations, including the incidents of rape and torture by the army detailed above. Médecins Sans Frontières released a report in November on the extent of civilian casualties and internal displacement in Jonglei. It singled out the increased targeting of women and children as a particular cause for concern.

Primary responsibility for the protection of civilians lies with the government of South Sudan. UNMISS has been mandated to help build the capacity of the South Sudanese security forces to do this. UNMISS has performed well in providing support to the work of the President's Committee for Peace in Jonglei state, and in broader civil society peacebuilding efforts.

It was therefore particularly disappointing that the government of South Sudan chose to expel an UNMISS Human Rights Officer in October. The UK expressed its concern to the government at the time about the message this sends about the seriousness of their commitment to human rights, including international monitoring. It is vital that human rights staff in UNMISS are able to carry out their work freely, in accordance with their mandate and without fear of expulsion.

Women's rights

Violence against women peaked during the inter-ethnic fighting in Jonglei State. Many were forced to leave their homes, often moving to temporary shelter or refugee camps, which offered little protection against rape and other acts of violence. The rule of law is weak and the majority of cases were dealt with using customary law, which discriminates against women. Women now hold 26.5% of seats in the National Legislative Assembly and constitute 12% of heads of ministries, departments and agencies, but are rarely visible as decision-makers.

Efforts by the government to increase gender equality meet challenges. The Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare lacks the resources to tackle harmful traditional and cultural practices, division of labour by gender, lack of awareness about human rights and violence. We will support the ministry's efforts to develop gender policies and legislation, including a domestic violence bill. The government of South Sudan recognises that poor discipline and limited organisational capacity have resulted in rape and other gender-based violence by state security personnel and is currently taking steps to tackle this.

Improving and embedding women's rights is central to the UK development effort in South Sudan. Our Basic Services Fund, Health Pooled Fund and Safety and Access to Justice Programme all support these aims. We are working with UNMISS, the UN Population Fund and UN Women to identify where the UK could most effectively increase capacity to support and protect survivors of sexual violence through the Foreign Secretary's Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative. DFID is also developing an extensive girls' education programme to accelerate the enrolment of girls, their retention and the completion of their studies at primary and secondary school. Up to 200,000 girls would benefit.

Constitutional review

Members of the National Constitutional Review Commission were mandated on 9 January, in accordance with the transitional constitution, to consult on and draft a new constitution for South Sudan. However, delays due to disagreements over membership meant that the Commission did not complete its work, and its mandate has now been extended to 09 January 2015. The UK welcomes this extension and the efforts by the National Constitutional Review Commission, its supporters and the government to ensure that the review process is comprehensive and transparent, and includes public consultation.

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