South Sudan: UN concerned of alarming wave of extrajudicial executions in Warrap State
Translated and edited by: Committee for Justice
Geneva: 29 July 2021
The Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan has expressed grave concern at the wave of extrajudicial executions carried out by government forces throughout Warrap State.
Killings under the eyes of the security services:
In a statement published by the Media Center of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, the Commission explained that starting in March of this year, coinciding with the appointment of a new governor in Warrap, dozens of individuals, including young boys, were extrajudicially murdered. In almost all of the cases reported, the Commission found that members of the SSDF, the National Police Service or the National Security Service carried out or were present in the vicinity of the executions.
“Extrajudicial executions have been an on-going violation in South Sudan for several years”, stated Commission Chair Yasmin Sooka. “This escalation in extrajudicial executions that we are now seeing in Warrap is utterly disturbing and seems well-planned and coordinated. The executions, which are often announced to communities via megaphone, appear to be systematically ordered by the local government outside any judicial process; they are manifestly illegal, and deny suspects their due process rights.”
How extrajudicial executions take place:
On how these unfair executions were carried out, the committee chairperson said: “Alleged suspects – including children – are then lined up and publicly executed by firing squads, including in community markets, in the perverse belief that this might deter others from offending. This reprehensible practice evinces a complete disregard for the rule of law and the rights of the accused persons.”
The statement noted that across South Sudan, extremely weak institutional capacities, including the judiciary, lead to prolonged delays in the administration of formal justice, and contribute to the near-total absence of the rule of law. The Commission found that authorities deliberately exploit these weaknesses by resorting to extrajudicial executions to gain public support in certain communities.
“Some local communities concerned about criminality appear to support extrajudicial and unlawful executions because they have simply lost faith in the justice system,” said Sooka.
“They mistakenly believe that such public executions will discourage others from offending and help restore law and order at the community-level”, she added.
“Perversely, while these unlawful executions are carried out in a bid to prevent crime and cycles of retaliatory violence between local communities, they instead promote impunity and seriously undermine the rule of law. Moreover, the brazen and cruel manner of these executions illustrates and reinforces a disturbing dysfunctionality of governance and society, and is in complete disregard of the human rights of alleged suspects”, she added.
The involvement of state security forces is clear:
“The absolute prohibition of extrajudicial executions is an extension of the right to life, and it means that those accused of criminal activity must be guaranteed due process of law, including access to a fair trial”, explained Commissioner Andrew Clapham. “The spate of executions in Warrap implicates State security forces and very clearly constitutes a violation of the right to life, liberty, and security of person under international human rights law, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, as well as South Sudan’s Transitional Constitution. Given their particularly systematic nature and the fact that the local government is ordering them, these civilian executions could also amount to the crime against humanity of murder”, he added.
“The Government of South Sudan has an obligation to prevent any acts of arbitrary killing by its security forces”, noted Commissioner Barney Afako. “It is deeply concerning that the State has not carried out any credible investigations into the numerous extrajudicial executions in Warrap State. It should do so urgently”, he added.
UN appeals to stop the executions:
The Commission called on the Government of South Sudan to ensure a halt to extrajudicial executions and prompt, impartial and independent investigations into all such executions in Warrap State, to determine the circumstances in which they are being committed, as well as determine the degree of involvement of those responsible and to prosecute them.
The Commission further urged the government and its regional and international partners to work quickly towards the full implementation of the revitalized peace agreement, the establishment of vital governance and security institutions, and the implementation of accountability and transitional justice mechanisms to ensure sustainable peace for South Sudanese women, men and children.