South Sudan: 'Rough Justice' in Lakes State
Human Rights Watch
24 June 2013
South Sudanese soldiers have unlawfully detained and ill-treated more than 130 civilians since February 2013 in response to armed violence and inter-communal fighting in Lakes state.
Soldiers rounded up dozens of young men, often detaining others if they couldn’t find the suspects they were seeking, and held them in harsh conditions for weeks or months without charge. At least some were severely beaten. Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 15 former detainees and family members of current detainees, as well as numerous government officials and other witnesses to arrests in Rumbek, the capital of Lakes state, in April and May.
“Having soldiers round up, detain, and beat civilians is no way to resolve conflict or to strengthen the country’s justice system,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director. “Civilians should never be held in military detention or subjected to this kind of illegal, inhumane treatment.”
On February 10, following inter-communal fighting between two groups of the Kok clan of the Dinka ethnicity, the state governor, Matur Chuot Dhuol, ordered soldiers to arrest 50 men from each side from two villages in Rumbek East county, regardless of whether there was evidence they participated in the fighting. Many of those arrested were relatives of people who participated but had fled. (…)
At least some of those arrested have been released but authorities should immediately release all remaining detainees. If the authorities intend to prosecute any of those detained, they should immediately charge them with a recognizable crime, respect their full due process rights, and ensure that any further detention is judicially authorized and in a lawful detention center.
Any detainee not released should be informed of charges against them, be given access to counsel, and brought before a judicial authority. The detainee should also be allowed to see family members and receive any needed medical treatment. South Sudan authorities should ensure that no civilians are held in military detention facilities.
Dhuol and other authorities have said that the failings of Lakes state’s police, judicial system, and prison service have forced the state government to use soldiers to fulfill their responsibilities to protect civilians from armed violence and to ensure accountability for crimes. Gun violence in Lakes state since South Sudan’s independence in 2011 has resulted in numerous deaths and displacement and has stymied desperately needed development in the region.
Police, prosecutors, and members of the judiciary expressed disappointment with Dhuol’s heavy-handed policies, which they said undermined both their own roles and the rule of law in Lakes state. No former detainee who spoke to Human Rights Watch has been charged with a crime and, except for in one case, the police, prosecutors, and officials from the judiciary did not authorize any of the arrests or detentions. (…)
“This kind of ‘rough justice’ violates human rights and undermines the country’s fledgling criminal justice system,” Bekele said. “This example of militarized response to crime completely ignores the established laws of South Sudan.” (…)
In mid-February soldiers operating under the command of the Rumbek Central County commissioner, Abraham Mayen Kuc, arrested 10 cattle herders from the Boor clan of the Dinka ethnicity. The soldiers killed two cattle herders in the process. Kuc told Human Rights Watch that he ordered the arrests because the young men refused to move their cattle camp and he was concerned their presence would lead to conflict. (…)
In interviews with former detainees, family members, police, and other authorities, Human Rights Watch identified 47 other detainees or former detainees in Langchok. The detainees were arrested for a wide range of reasons, from allegedly killing soldiers, to allowing prisoners to escape, to arguing with security forces. (…)
Authorities denied to Human Rights Watch that anyone was beaten in Langchok, although seven former detainees described specific instances of harsh beatings. Five of the detainees told Human Rights Watch they were forced to lie on the ground while two soldiers, one on either side, beat them on their buttocks with strips of rubber from tires 50 to 100 times and a third soldier counted the blows out loud. (…)
Relatives of detainees said that their family members had been hit, and a politician who visited the detention site said he saw about 20 men who had been beaten so badly on their buttocks that they ate lying down on their stomachs. (…)
International law prohibits all ill-treatment of prisoners, including corporal punishment and prolonged chaining of prisoners. South Sudan law prohibits disciplinary measures that are cruel or degrading or could compromise the physical or mental health of a prisoner.
“What has happened in Lakes state should be a wakeup call to South Sudan’s government and to international donors,” Bekele said. “The military is stepping in because the police, judiciary, and prisons are failing to meet justice needs. But the solution is to bolster the capacity of the police and prisons, not resort to a militarized response that is violating people’s most basic rights.”