Flawed processes, unlawful detentions, and dire conditions in South Sudan’s prisons reflect the urgent need to improve the new nation’s fledgling justice system, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
The report documents violations of due process rights, patterns of wrongful deprivation of liberty, and the harsh, unacceptable prison conditions in which detainees live. The research was done during a 10-month period before and after South Sudan’s independence, on July 9, 2011. “The experience of those in detention in South Sudan reveals serious flaws in the emerging justice system,” the African director at Human Rights Watch.
“South Sudan is a new country and badly needs an effective justice system that upholds human rights and dignity. It is a fundamental building block for establishing rule of law and accountability.” The research was carried out in 12 of the country’s 79 prisons, in areas with the largest prison populations.
Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 250 inmates and a range of justice officials, correctional officers, police, prosecutors, and traditional authorities. Researchers documented a litany of human rights concerns throughout the criminal justice system.
The vast majority of detainees have no legal representation, because they cannot afford a lawyer and has no functioning legal aid system. Judges pass long sentences and even condemn to death people who, without legal assistance, were unable to understand the nature of charges against them or to call and prepare witnesses in their defense, Human Rights Watch found. Frustration with, and confusion about, the criminal justice system are common among prisoners.
Many inmates interviewed by Human Rights Watch were held for marital or sexual offenses such as adultery and elopement – offenses in both statutory and customary laws that violate internationally protected rights to privacy and to marry a spouse of one’s choice. Others were ordered detained for indeterminate periods because they could not pay debts, court-ordered fines, or compensation awards, which are often defined as a number of cattle.
They had no idea when they would be released. Human Rights Watch found that some of those behind bars have not been accused of, much less tried for, any crime at all, and some were detained as proxies to compel the appearance of a relative or friend. About 90 people were in prison solely because they appear to have mental disabilities. The people of South Sudan have endured decades of wartime trauma, but the country has no mental health facilities.
People who show signs of mental disability are often summarily sent to prison, in the absence of any health facility where they can get appropriate care.
Source: Human Rights Watch