UN human rights commission dismayed by South Sudan state threats, intimidation

UN human rights commission dismayed by South Sudan state threats, intimidation
South Sudan's National Security Services have made credible threats on some people's lives, causing them to flee the country, according to a UN commission.
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Yasmin Sooka cautioned of the loss of 'civic space' [ALBERT GONZALEZ FARRAN/AFP via Getty Images]

The UN commission investigating human rights violations in South Sudan said on Wednesday it was dismayed by the ongoing harassment and intimidation of rights defenders, journalists and civil society figures.

The world's newest nation has suffered from chronic instability since independence in 2011, with a coalition of civil society groups urging the government to step down, saying they have "had enough".

The commission said credible threats to certain people's lives by the National Security Services (NSS) had caused some to flee the country, while the NSS continues to harass their colleagues and families.

"Civic space in South Sudan is eroding at an accelerating pace, undermining efforts to achieve a sustainable peace," the commission's chair Yasmin Sooka said in a statement.

"The role played by overzealous security services in preventing dissent and criticism, causing key stakeholders involved in constitutional and transitional justice processes to flee the country, discourages the participation of others."

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Commissioner Andrew Clapham said the state's targeting of high-profile human rights defenders would have a "chilling effect" on civil society and corrode confidence in processes such as national elections.

He said that while progress on a 2018 peace deal which ended a brutal civil war had been slow, in recent months government leaders had taken some forward steps.

However, such moves come while the NSS has been targeting prominent civil society figures.

"The NSS threaten peace and must be reigned in," said Clapham.

Numerous civil society leaders remain detained and the commission is concerned their detention is arbitrary.

"Any concerns authorities may have need be addressed within the rule of law, not through harassment and brutality, which only fuels further conflict and division," said commissioner Barney Afako.

The commission was established by the Human Rights Council in 2016. It is charged with gathering evidence on alleged gross human rights violations and related crimes, with a view to ending impunity.

It said it would continue to report on the erosion of civic space in South Sudan and engage with the national authorities on respecting human rights.