National, News

Rights defenders call for security bill review

By Staff Writer

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are urging South Sudan parliament to revise the pending National Security Service Amendment Bill to end abuse of rights.

The organizations made their call in a joint letter to the National Assembly, detailing the bill’s problematic provisions as well as several positive aspects.

They appealed to the national legislative assembly to strengthen oversight and further limit the broad, unqualified powers of the national security services (NSS).

“An in-depth review and revision of outstanding gaps in the law governing the National Security Service is critical to reining in the notorious agency,” said Mausi Segun, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

Mausi added that parliament needs to ensure that the pending law genuinely limits the security service’s powers and strengthens oversight of the agency’s activities.

The international rights groups stressed that the current National Security Service Act of 2014 gives the agency broad and unqualified powers that allow it to commit serious abuses with impunity, creating and sustaining a climate of repression and fear.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, among other rights organizations, have documented that the security agency’s broad powers have contributed to shrinking civic space.

The organizations said the NSS exerts its authority without meaningful judicial or legislative oversight, agents are rarely punished for abuses, and the government lacks the political will to address these widespread practices.

These abuses have left many victims with long-term physical and mental health conditions, according to rights groups.

The bill to amend the 2014 law, currently before parliament was drafted by the National Constitutional Amendment Committee (NCAC) as part of the reforms initiated by the 2018 Revitalized Peace Agreement.

Following a lack of consensus among committee members about the agency’s authority to make arrests, the bill was referred to the Justice Ministry in 2019 and then to the presidency in April 2021 for resolution.

In December 2022, the justice minister recommended to the cabinet and presidency that the agency’s authority to arrest and detain suspects be limited.

On February 22, 2023, several media outlets reported that the presidency had agreed to abolish the agency’s authority to arrest and detain people, with or without a warrant.

And on May 9, the media also reported that the bill would be presented for its first reading in parliament within two weeks, which has since elapsed.

 Bill’s positives

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, however, commended the amendment bill, saying it includes a series of positive provisions.

The bill introduces guiding principles founded on respect for human rights as it prohibits torture, cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, and detention or confinement by security agents.

It also gives the justice minister and civilian courts a greater role in prosecuting agency officials accused of crimes.

However, the rights organizations pointed out that the bill still contains vague and broad provisions that would allow the agency to continue to abuse human rights.

While the Bill revokes sections 54 and 55 of the National Security Service Act, which gave the agency the authority to arrest with or without a warrant, it retains its arrest authority “under emergency circumstances,” which could be subject to abuse, the organizations underlined.

It also allows arrests without a warrant in Section 57 if the person is suspected of broad “crimes against the state.”

The rights organizations now advocate that during the bill’s review, parliament should remove this power of arrest. Parliament should make it clear that the agency cannot detain civilians under any circumstances, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International stressed.

“The South Sudanese government should order the closure of all unauthorized detention sites operated by the security agency and release detainees or hand them over to legitimate law enforcement officials for charges and a fair trial,” the organizations urged.

They further cited that the government has in the past used trumped-up charges of crimes to restrict the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association, including the peaceful exercise of political opposition or public criticism of state policy and actions.


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