Human rights in South Sudan
|This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
Human rights in South Sudan are a contentious issue, owing at least in part to the country's violent history.
- 1 Constitutional provisions
- 2 History
- 3 Civil liberties and freedoms
- 4 Social rights
- 5 International law framework
- 6 See also
- 7 Footnotes
- 8 External links
The Constitution of South Sudan describes the country as “a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-racial entity where such diversities peacefully coexist." Part One of the Constitution also states that “South Sudan is founded on justice, equality, respect for human dignity and advancement of human rights and fundamental freedoms."
Part Two of the Constitution of South Sudan includes the Bill Rights and provides a comprehensive description of rights and liberties protected under the Constitution. It states that “[all] rights and freedoms enshrined in international human rights treaties, covenants and instruments ratified or acceded to by the Republic of South Sudan will be an integral part of this Bill.” The Bill covers a wide range of rights in political, civil, economic, social, and cultural spheres and places an emphasis on the rights of women, children, and the disabled. The Bill also protects freedoms, such as freedom from torture, freedom of assembly and association, freedom of worship, and freedom of expression and media, among many others.
Throughout the 20th century, South Sudan was a part of Anglo-Egyptian Sudan and under British and Egyptian rule. Sudan gained its independence in 1956 but was soon locked into civil strife between the northern and southern regions of the country. After two decades of civil war with Sudan, South Sudan gained its independence in July 2011. However, South Sudan still faces violent inter-ethnic conflicts today, some committed by its own security forces who are meant to protect the South Sudanese people.
In the government's Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA)'s anti-insurgency campaign to disarm rebellions among the Shilluk and Murle, they burned scores of villages, raped hundreds of women and girls and killed an untold number of civilians. Human Rights Watch alleges that both the SPLA and the rebel group led by Johnson Olony were responsible for atrocities.
Civilians alleging torture by the SPLA claim fingernails being torn out, burning plastic bags dripped on children to make their parents hand over weapons and villagers burned alive in their huts if rebels were suspected of spending the night there. In May 2011, the SPLA allegedly set fire to over 7,000 homes in Unity state. The United Nations Human Rights Council reported many of these violations, and the frustrated director of one Juba-based international aid agency called them "human rights abuses off the Richter scale".
Amnesty International researchers claim security forces committed widespread torture against civilians, including children as young as 18 months, in its disarmament campaign called Operation Restore Peace in Jonglei state that began in March 2012.
During the war for independence, more southerners died at each other's hands than were killed by northerners as a result of the infighting. In the Bor massacre in 1991, an estimated 2000 civilians were killed by SPLA-Nasir and armed Nuer civilians and another estimated 25,000 died from the resulting famine in the following years.
In 2010, prior to South Sudanese independence the following year, the CIA issued a warning that "over the next five years ... a new mass killing or genocide is most likely to occur in southern Sudan." The Nuer White Army of the Lou Nuer released a statement to "wipe out the entire Murle tribe on the face of the earth as the only solution to guarantee long-term security of Nuer’s cattle." Activists, including Minority Rights Group International, warned of genocide in Jonglei.
The conflict has killed up to 300,000 civilians, including notable atrocities such as the 2014 Bentiu massacre. There are ethnic undertones between the Dinka and Nuer in the fighting. The United Nations rights office has described the situation in the country as "one of the most horrendous human rights situations in the world." It accused the army and allied militias as allowing fighters to rape women as form of payment, as well as raid cattle in a agreement of "do what you can, take what you can." A 2015 United Nations report accused the army of gang raping and burning alive of girls and women. A 2015 African Union report accused both sides of rape, torture and forced cannibalism. Amnesty international claimed the army suffocated to death in a shipping container more than 60 people accused of supporting the opposition.
Civil liberties and freedoms
After South Sudan gained its independence in 2011, Salva Kiir Mayardit was elected president and revised the South Sudanese constitution to give great power to the executive. Kiir used his broad powers, which include the inability to be impeached and the authority to fire governors and dissolve parliament, to dismiss his entire cabinet and vice president Riek Machar in 2013.
Abdel Rahman Sule, the leader of the key opposition group United Democratic Forum, has been under arrest since November 3, 2011 over allegations linking him to the formation of a new rebel group fighting against the government. The SPLA is generally intolerant of opposition, and although there are officially five opposition parties in South Sudan, none of them have the resources or experience necessary to gain true political power.
Beginning in 2014, Kiir and the ruling elites have ruled the country in an increasingly opaque manner. The public had little say in policymaking and was ignored in discussions of the creation of a new constitution and peace talks to end the civil war.
In 2015, Salvar Kiir threatened to kill journalists who reported "against the country". In August 2015, after journalist Peter Moi was killed in a targeted attack, being the seventh journalist killed during the year, South Sudanese journalists held a 24-hour news blackout. As a result of the deterioration in the operating environment for journalists, many practice self-censorship or have left the country altogether.
The justice system of South Sudan has insufficiently upheld equal rights for the South Sudanese people. According to Amnesty International, the government has failed to guarantee due process and fair trials, and it has also arbitrarily arrested and detained people without ensuring their right to legal counsel. The defection of many police officers, as well as other internal conflicts, has decreased the police and judiciary’s ability to enforce the law, especially in areas like Jonglei, Unity, and Upper Nile.
Many women in South Sudan are living “without basic forms of human security, health care or economic stability”. According to the United Nations, 33 percent of South Sudanese women are moderately or severely food insecure.
Violence against women is extremely prevalent in South Sudan. Prolonged conflict in the region leads to greater gender-based violence, such as “disruption of community and family structures, presence of arms, weakened legal and security institutions, and heightened tensions related to displacement”. The biggest threat of violence to women comes from within the home. In 2009, 41 percent of survey respondents reported that they had experienced gender-based violence in the past year, of which the most common forms were physical violence (47%), psychological violence (44%), economic violence (30%), and sexual violence (13%). In a 2011 Human Security Baseline Assessment, 59 percent of surveyed women had experienced gender-based violence at home, and 19 percent had experienced gender-based violence in their community. In a 2013 study, Jennifer Scott et al. found “an overwhelming acceptance of violence against women, by both women and men,” in many communities in South Sudan. The majority of survey respondents agreed that “there are times when a woman deserves to be beaten and that a woman should tolerate violence to keep her family together”.
The government of South Sudan has made efforts to eliminate child labor and promote children’s rights, but their attempts have been largely ineffective. Despite launching the Children, Not Soldiers campaign, a Ministry of Defense program that raised awareness about the issue of child soldiers in South Sudan, the government’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) continues to recruit child soldiers and station them in conflict-ridden areas or use them as bodyguards. The government deployed child soldiers on the front lines in opposition attacks from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army – In Opposition (SPLA-IO). The SPLA-IO also recruits child soldiers to fight for them in areas like Bentiu and other parts of Unity state. Even though the minimum age for voluntary military recruitment is 18, as determined by the Child Act, many child soldiers are much younger.
According to the United States Department of Labor, despite the Constitution and Child Act’s provisions of free primary education, parents usually end up having to pay the salaries of their children’s teachers, which is often a prohibitive cost for families. The cost of uniforms, high levels of food insecurity, high costs of living, and lack of access to schools due to poor infrastructure all contribute to the low levels of primary education completion in South Sudan. Only 32 percent of children ages 5 to 14 attend school, and the primary education completion rate is 37 percent. 46 percent of children ages 10 to 14 are working, and 11 percent combine work and school.
Under current laws, children are only required to attend school until age 13. However, children are not legally allowed to work until they are 14, which leaves them the most vulnerable to child labor violations during the ages of 13 and 14.
Law agencies in South Sudan have taken steps to combat child labor in creating government committees to establish referral mechanisms to report and address violations, but these agencies have been largely inactive.
Nearly half of girls ages 15 to 19 are married, with some girls forced into marriage as early as age 12. Because of child marriage, only 37 percent of girls attend primary school, while 51 percent of boys do. Despite a 2008 law that protects girls from early marriage, child marriage is still extremely prevalent. This is due to widespread cultural views that marrying early is in the best interest of girls, since it allows families to access resources that are traditionally paid in the dowry.
Ethnic minority rights
South Sudan is an ethnically diverse country, with over 60 different major ethnic groups. The largest ethnic groups are the Dinka, Nuer, and Shilluk. Because of its diversity, according to scholar Jok Madut Jok, “insecurity that adopts ethnic fault lines is likely to lead to erosion of the kind of political unity that had been sustained by liberation wars and opposition to north Sudan.” Ethnic violence has engulfed much of South Sudan and has undermined attempts at creating ethnic cohesion. It also reinforces poverty and strains ethnic relations, “leading to ethnic-based competition over limited resources and political offices.” Ethnic rivalries make development almost impossible due to the insecurity and violence it promotes.
The domestic law of South Sudan forbids hate speech and punishes incitement to violence with 1 to 20 years of imprisonment. However, hate speech against ethnic minorities in South Sudan has continued to be practiced. A UNMISS report states that “[widespread] stereotyping, the creation and use of ‘enemy’ images, [and] hate speech amounting to incitement to violence have also exacerbated the conflicts.” These messages include proposals of wiping out communities and removing ethnic groups from their lands.
Religious minority rights
The Constitution of South Sudan declares the separation of religion and state and prohibits religious discrimination. It states that “[all] religions shall be treated equally, and religion of religious beliefs shall not be used for divisive purposes.
The majority of the South Sudanese population is Christian, and there is also a sizeable Muslim minority.
In the past few years, the Central Equatoria State government destroyed three mosques on government land. The South Sudan Islamic Council worked with the executive office and state government to discuss compensation for the mosques that were destroyed. Religious leaders from both the Christian and Muslim religions frequently discuss the appropriate representation of religion in the government. Leaders from all major religious groups in South Sudan are present at ceremonial public events, like the opening of the National Assembly and Independence Day celebrations. Public primary schools in South Sudan have a mandatory religious education course, and students can choose between a Christian and an Islamic religion course.
International law framework
The Republic of South Sudan voluntary pledged in October 2013 for candidature to the Human Rights Council. It stated that its interest in joining the Human Rights Council stemmed from “its desire both to contribute to the promotion of human rights, based on the principles that inspired its liberation struggle, and to take advantage of its membership to enhance its knowledge of international human rights and build its capacity to promote and protect those rights”.
In 2013, South Sudan acceded to several treaties and submitted them to the Legislative Assembly for adoption. These treaties include:
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966
- International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, 1966
- African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, 1981
- Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, 1969
- Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and its Optional Protocol, 1979
- International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, 1965
- Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989
- Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment, 1984
- Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, 1997
In 2015, South Sudan ratified five international human rights treaties. These treaties are the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and its Optional Protocol, Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman of Degrading Treatment of Punishment and its Optional Protocol, and Convention on the Rights of the Child.
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- Transitional Constitution (human rights covered in Part Two)
- Structure of the Ministry of Justice, including human rights directorate
- Time to Act for Peace and Human Rights Protection FIDH 2012
- 2012 Annual Report, by Amnesty International
- Freedom in the World 2012 Report, by Freedom House
- World Report 2012, by Human Rights Watch