The newly formed nation of South Sudan, which gained its independence in July 2011, is at the center of an international death penalty debate.
In December, South Sudan will vote on a U.N. General Assembly resolution to put a moratorium on executions, a step toward abolishing the practice. From 1976 to March of this year, 141 nations worldwide have abolished the death penalty. South Sudan is one of the 57 countries that retains the practice.
Human rights groups report on the overall maladministration of justice in the country. With a poor record for providing due process, it is an example of how unjust deaths can occur in nations that retain capital punishment.
The French Embassy in South Sudan has urged the nation to abolish the death penalty.
“Although there is a constitutional right to government-funded legal aid for cases in which the death penalty could apply, most prisoners are not aware of such rights and the legal aid systems has yet to function effectively,” reads statement from the embassy, according to the Sudan Tribune.
Revenge murder is sometimes sanctioned under customary law as blood compensation.
The custom among many of the local communities dictates that compensation be paid to the victim’s family in the form of livestock or other assets, according to a Human Rights Watch report. Revenge murder is also, however, sometimes sanctioned under customary law as blood compensation.
The Death Penalty Worldwide website reports that South Sudan executed seven people in 2010, five people after gaining independence in 2011, and two people in 2012.
Among human rights activists, the call for abolition of capital punishment in South Sudan has become tied to reformation of the whole justice system in the new nation.
“President Salva Kiir Mayardit should immediately declare an official moratorium on executions, and the government should urgently address the continuing shortcomings in the country’s administration of justice,” said Audrey Gaughran, Africa director at Amnesty International, in a statement Monday.
A fundamental problem with the justice system is an overstaffed, undertrained, and illiterate police force, according to the findings of Human Rights Watch (HRW).
A HRW report, released in June, “‘Prison Is Not For Me’ Arbitrary Detention in South Sudan,” found that about 55,000 police personnel are currently on the payroll in South Sudan. Many of them are demobilized soldiers from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army.
Salaries ate up 95 percent of the 2011 Prison Services budget, leaving little for infrastructure, food, and other necessities. About 90 percent of the police force is illiterate, making it difficult to follow due process for inmates and maintain proper documentation. Inadequate training often means the people in charge of inmate welfare are unaware of human rights requirements.
Inhumane Prison Conditions
A 15-year-old boy was arrested for minor theft. He spent more than seven months in prison without trial nor any indication that a trial would occur, recounts a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report. He is one of many youth in South Sudanese prisons, cut off from education and family, held in cells with adult prisoners.
Women comprise 7 percent of the prison population, yet they cook for the entire population. Women and men are sometimes not separated or guarded, according to HRW.
Sanitation is lacking. The HRW report describes a Juba, South Sudan, prison in which male inmates with mental disabilities are kept together.
“In one room [of the Juba prison], some are chained to the floor day and night, naked, and soiled in their own excrement,” reads the report.
“There is no soap and detergent so that they can be really cleaned,” an inmate told HRW. “The last time we had soap was six months ago. … Now, we only pour water on the floor.”
Inmates at the prison sleep on concrete floors without bedding.
Incarceration was not part of the traditional justice system in the region. With increased police and court activity, prison populations have sharply increased since 2005—from about 1,500 in 2005 to about 6,000 in 2011. The population of the Juba prison has increased fivefold since 2005.
The report found that 168 of the inmates were children sentenced or accused of crimes, with another 55 children accompanying their mothers. As South Sudan does not have mental institutions, people with mental disabilities (about 90 inmates in total) are also part of the prison population.
About 30 percent of the inmates were on remand, awaiting police investigations or trials to be finalized. In some cases, this continued for months.
A 2008 survey in nine major prisons showed the crimes for which inmates are incarcerated: 38 percent for murder, 35.7 percent for theft, 10.9 percent for debt, and 8.7 percent for adultery.
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