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The Human Rights Watch has urged the government of South Sudan to ensure the ongoing investigation into the killings at Sherikat in Juba is thorough and those found responsible are promptly held accountable in a transparent civilian process.
Last Friday, President Salva Kiir formed an Investigation Committee to gather facts surrounding the killing of civilians and a soldier during a confrontation over a burial ground in the residential area.
According to eyewitnesses, the SSPDF officer – Lual Akook, reportedly shot at civilians indiscriminately over the land dispute, killing five and wounding seven others.
Lual’s family, however, refuted the narrative saying their son was caught off-guard by a mob while in a meeting to resolve the issue.
The incident led to a protest at Sherikat and Bor town where hundreds of residents took to streets demanding justice for the victims.
Lieutenant Colonel Lual – who was President Salva Kiir’s relative – was later pronounced dead that evening after suffering injuries to his head.
The President then formed a seven-member investigation committee to submit their findings within seven days.
So far, the Ministry of Interior says some soldiers have been arrested.
In a cautious statement seen by Eye Radio, the Human Rights Watch says past government-led investigation committees formed to probe abuses by security officers have failed to carry out effective investigations and have not led to criminal proceedings or accountability.
It stressed the authorities should ensure that the investigation is effective and capable of establishing the facts surrounding the land dispute including abuse of public office.
The human rights watchdog also wants the committee to investigate the unlawful use of force against the protesters in Juba and Bor by the security forces.
Witnesses said security forces arrested two people, including a journalist who was documenting the protest in Bor, when the youth gathered in a public market to protest the incident in Juba.
The report stated that those arrested were reportedly detained in a container at the National Security Service compound in Bor, but a group of youth broke them out later, fearing they would be tortured and forcibly disappeared.
According to the Human Rights Watch, South Sudanese authorities have in the past shown intolerance to protests and failed to hold anyone responsible for unlawful killings and other harm resulting from the use of excessive and lethal force on peaceful protestors.
It warned the government against repeating past mistakes but set new standards of accountability and respect for fundamental rights.
The group urges the committee to make its findings public and ensure the victims or their families have access to the investigation and that those accused should also be guaranteed the right to a fair trial.
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