24th July 2024
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Passed NSS Bill will entrench arbitrary detention, repression -UN

Author: Obaj Okuj | Published: Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Yasmin Sooka [Right], the chairperson of the UN Human Rights Commission, and Barney Afako [Left], UN Human Rights Commissioner during a press briefing in Juba - credit |Atem Jenifer/Eye Radio | February 11, 2022

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan says the National Security Service Bill passed by legislators last week will entrench arbitrary detention and further repression by South Sudan’s National Security Service.

It urges President Salva kiir to return the bill to the legislators to align it with South Sudan’s human rights obligations.

In a statement shared to Eye Radio Newsroom, the Chairperson of the Commission Yasmin Sooka said: “If accepted by the President, these amendments to the National Security Service Act would signal that rights violations by this powerful institution are endorsed not just by the rest of government, but legislators as well. The Bill should be returned to legislators to work on amendments that align with the government’s commitment to scrap this institution’s arrest powers, which are systematically abused and unlawful.”

The Commission has previously reported in detail on human rights violations by the National Security Service, including the illegal practice of prolonged and arbitrary detentions without judicial oversight or accountability.

It stated that victims were tortured, with many having died in detention.

Rights violations have included extraordinary renditions of South Sudanese civil society members and political opponents from neighboring countries, into National Security Service detention.

Over the past week, civil society leaders critical of government policies have been pursued and threatened with detention or worse.

For his part, Barney Afako a member of the Commission stated that as South Sudan prepares for its first elections since independence, the citizenry must be able to exercise their civil and political rights without fear of retribution.

Afako said these security amendments were intended to open up civic space, but in their present form, their effect is the opposite.

According to him, section 54 of the 2014 National Security Service Act empowers officers to arrest and detain, without a warrant, any person suspected of committing an offence against the State.

These offences, Afako said, are very broadly and loosely defined in section 7 of the Act, resulting in many people being arrested and detained for legitimate civic and political activities.

The Human Rights Commission said although any detainee must be brought before a judge within 24 hours, this rarely happens.

Despite section 55 of the Act empowers officers to arrest after obtaining a warrant, the commission said, this provision is rarely used.

Meanwhile, Carlos Castresana Fernández, another member of the Commission said: “In a democratic society, intelligence services should not and do not have powers of arrest and detention. The unchecked powers of the National Security Service are yet another manifestation of the lack of rule of law and any judicial oversight. Courts lack independence, are chronically under-resourced, and thus unable to protect citizens against arbitrary detentions.”

On 5 February 2024, South Sudan acceded to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which includes protection from arbitrary arrest and detentions, and requires that anyone arrested or detained be brought promptly before a judge.

The process of amending the 2014 National Security Service Act has been underway for over six years, with progress stalling due to disagreements about the arrest and detention powers of NSS officers.

On 21 February 2023, media reports quoted the Minister of Cabinet Affairs announcing that the President and First-Vice President had agreed to remove all NSS powers of arrest.

Government documents reviewed by the Commission showed that on 24 March 2023, the Council of Ministers also resolved to abolish NSS arrest powers.

However, these positions, according to the UN rights experts, were not reflected in the Amendment Bill sent to the Transitional National Legislative Assembly on 28 April 2023.

But after a heated session on 3 July 2024, a two-thirds majority of legislators passed the Bill, which retains the NSS powers to arrest and detain.

Nonetheless, the President can return the Bill to legislators for revision, within 30 days.

The UN Human Rights Commission experts say, it is imperative that he does so, to ensure that South Sudan meets its human rights obligations to prevent further arbitrary arrests and detentions, to avoid further abuses, and to enable accountability regarding the National Security Services.

The Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan is an independent body mandated by the United Nations Human Rights Council.

First established in March 2016, it has been renewed annually since.

Its three Commissioners are not UN staff, they are not remunerated for their work as Commissioners, and they serve independently in their capacity as experts. They are supported by a Secretariat based in Juba, South Sudan.

The Commission is mandated to investigate the situation of human rights in South Sudan, and to make recommendations to prevent a deterioration of the situation, with a view to its improvement.

The Commission is also mandated to determine and report the facts and circumstances of human rights violations and abuses, including by clarifying responsibility for crimes under national and or international law.

The Commission’s findings were informed by independent interviews conducted with victims and survivors of human rights violations, as well as witnesses, service providers, and related experts and stakeholders.”

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