Amnesty International has warned against the rise of state-sanctioned executions in South Sudan, flagging the issue that some of the convicts were children when the crime took place and should not face death penalty.
Amnesty urged the South Sudanese authorities to use these findings as a prompt to investigate the use of the death penalty more closely instead of resorting to denying the truth.
“We urge the government to use the findings as an opportunity to take positive steps to abolish the death penalty and establish an actual official moratorium on executions. The government must also immediately put in place measures that will ensure the death penalty is not used against persons below 18 years of age at the time of the commission of the crime,” according to a report published last week.
Between 7 and 10 December 2018 in various media articles, South Sudan’s government denied findings on the use of the death penalty. In one article, government spokesperson, Ateny Wek Ateny, said that no one had been executed in South Sudan since 2011 and that the government had put a moratorium on the death penalty since 2013. In the same article, he, however, said “If you killed a person, you will be executed.”
In another article, Ateny was quoted saying, “the South Sudan government cannot carry out executions because it has signed the international charter.”
In response to Amnesty’s finding that a person who had been a child at the time of the crime was among the seven people executed in 2018, Ateny said that “the culture of South Sudan cannot accept it.”
However, human rights organisations challenged these arguments. In Amnesty’s report, it documented from multiple independent sources that these executions took place.
“South Sudan has carried out more executions this year than it has done in any year since gaining independence in 2011, with a child among seven people known to have been executed so far in 2018,” Amnesty International revealed. It added that it fears for the lives of another 135 people on death row.
“It is extremely disturbing that the world’s youngest nation has embraced this outdated, inhuman practice and is executing people, even children, at a time when the rest of the world is abandoning this abhorrent punishment,” said Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty International’s Director for East Africa, the Horn, and the Great Lakes.
“The President of South Sudan must stop signing execution orders and end this obvious violation of the right to life.”
In 2013, just two years after declaring independence, South Sudan was plunged into a bloody civil war that has claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced millions.
An earlier peace deal signed in 2015 broke down after a year, when clashes broke out between rebels and government forces and Machar was once again forced to flee the capital Juba. As many as 5.2 million people – nearly half of the population of 11 million – are predicted to continue facing severe food shortages at least up to March 2019.
Amnesty International has established that at least 342 people are currently under the sentence of death in South Sudan, more than double the number recorded in 2011.
The use of the death penalty against people who were children at the time of the crime is strictly prohibited under international human rights law and South Sudan’s 2011 Transitional Constitution. Article 37(a) of the Convention on the Rights of a Child, to which South Sudan is a party, stipulates that ‘neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below 18 years of age’.
Since independence in 2011, South Sudanese courts have sentenced at least 140 people to death, and the authorities have executed at least 32 people.
South Sudan declared independence in 2011, after 22 years of fighting between the rebels and the government in Khartoum. The breakaway region claimed three quarters of the Sudanese oil, estimated at 5bn barrels of proven reserves.
Two years later, the power struggle between South Sudan President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Machar plunged the country into renewed fighting. The conflict between the two rivals is aggravated by tribal divisions—President Kiir belongs to the dominant Dinka tribe, and Machar is an ethnic Nuer.
On Monday, the South Sudan government has protested against the new US sanctions and the termination of financial support. This commendation took place after the US last Friday imposed sanctions against two South Sudanese nationals and one Israel ex-military officer “for fuelling the war in the young nation.”