UN tells Kiir to reject security law changes Human Rights in South Sudan

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The United Nations Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan wants President Salva Kiir to return proposed security law amendments to parliament for revision.

The Commission said in a press release sent to Radio Tamazuj Wednesday that the National Security Service Act (Amendment) Bill, passed by legislators last week, would entrench arbitrary detention and further repression by National Security Service (NSS).

The Commission wants the Bill aligned with South Sudan’s human rights obligations.

“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,” said the Chairperson of the Commission, Yasmin Sooka.

The Commission has previously reported in detail on human rights violations by NSS, including the illegal prolonged and arbitrary detentions without judicial oversight or accountability, extraordinary renditions of civil society members and political opponents from neighboring countries.

Rights Commissioner Barney Afako 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.

“These security amendments were intended to open up civic space, but in their present form, their effect is the opposite,” he said.

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 are broadly and loosely defined in section 7 of the Act, resulting in many people being arrested and detained for legitimate civic and political activities. Although any detainee must be brought before a judge within 24 hours, this rarely happens. Section 55 of the Act empowers officers to arrest after obtaining a warrant, but this provision is rarely used.

On February 5, 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 NSS Act has been underway for over six years, with progress stalling due to disagreements about the arrest and the detention powers. On February 21, 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 show that on March 24, 2023, the Council of Ministers also resolved to abolish NSS arrest powers.

However, these positions were not reflected in the Amendment Bill sent to the Transitional National Legislative Assembly on April 28, 2023. On July 3, 2024, during a heated session, a two-thirds majority of legislators passed the Bill, which retains the NSS powers to arrest and detain.

South Sudan peace talks that almost reached completion faced a stumbling block with opposition groups demanding a newly passed bill allowing the detention of people without an arrest warrant scratched out in order to sign a proposed agreement.

Kenya has been hosting high-level meetings since May between government representatives and rebel opposition groups who were not part of a 2018 agreement that ended a five-year civil war, leaving about 400,000 people dead and millions displaced. Despite the agreement, violence often erupted in the country of 9 million.

South Sudan peace talks risk collapse over new security law ahead of first  election | Africanews

Pagan Amum Okiech, negotiating on behalf of the South Sudan Opposition Movement Alliance, told the Associated Press Tuesday night that it would be “meaningless to sign any agreement if the draconian National Security Act is signed into law by the president.”

Last week, parliament voted in favour of the 2015 bill and President Salva Kiir will have to approve it within 30 days for it to become a law. This comes ahead of the country’s first-ever election on Dec. 22.

“This law violates the fundamental rights and freedoms of South Sudanese citizens, it eliminates civic and political space,” Amum said. “There can be no peace or democracy under such a law.”

Attending the peace talks is the executive director of the Community Empowerment for Progress Organization, a non-profit that engages university students and fresh graduates. Edmund Yakani criticized the security bill and said it “created a negative spirit for the negotiations.”

Human Rights Watch has also called on Kiir to reject the controversial bill saying that it will further undermine human rights and strengthen national security agencies that have a history of longstanding rights abuses.

The talks — dubbed Tumaini, Swahili for hope — have resulted in a draft agreement proposing to extend the country’s transitional period and postpone the coming election to allow finishing up the country’s constitution and electoral laws, as well as set up constituency borders and a unified security force as proposed in the 2018 peace talks.

Some Western envoys also recommend delaying the poll “to guarantee a free and fair election.”

Kiir has been adamant about having the election in December and called out the envoys.

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

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