South Sudan urged to end death penalty as evidence shows children among dead

Rise in state-sanctioned executions condemned by Amnesty International as ‘outdated and inhuman’
A prison guard walks along a perimeter wall at the central prison in Rumbek, in South Sudan’s Lakes state. Photograph: Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images

Children are among those being executed in South Sudan, in an “extremely disturbing” escalation of the state’s use of the death penalty, according to Amnesty International.

This year, seven people, including one child, were hanged, the highest number since the county gained independence in 2011 , according to evidence provided to Amnesty by legal professionals and government officials.

In 2017, two of the four people executed were children at the time of their conviction, the organisation said.

Among the 342 people currently on death row – more than double the number recorded in 2011 – are a secondary school pupil, who was sentenced to death when he was 15, and a breastfeeding mother. The country’s lack of transparency on its use of the death penalty meant the figures were likely to be underestimated, Amnesty said.

The rise in executions is happening at a time when the world is moving away from death sentences.

Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty International’s east Africa director, said: “It is extremely disturbing that the world’s youngest nation has embraced this outdated, inhuman practice and is executing people, even children, at a time when the rest of the world is abandoning this abhorrent punishment.

“The president of South Sudan must stop signing execution orders and end this obvious violation of the right to life.”

More than 100 countries, out of 195 globally, have abolished the death penalty. South Sudan and Somalia were the only countries in the region that carried out judicial executions in 2017.

The use of the death sentence or penalty against a person under 18 at the time a crime was committed is a breach of the South Sudanese 2011 transitional constitution, in addition to international human rights laws and standards. The execution of a mother caring for a young child would also contravene South Sudanese law and international laws and standards.

Philip Deng* was found guilty of murder when he was 15, following a trial in which he did not have any legal representation. Deng claims the crime was an accident.

Deng, who will turn 17 in December, said: “Before the accident, I was in secondary school. I was a runner, a very good one, and I was also a singer of gospel and earthly songs … My own aim was to study and do things that can help others. My hope is to be out and to continue with my school,” he said.

Deng, who said he told the judge he was 15, was sentenced to death by hanging on 14 November 2017. He finally gained access to a lawyer, who appealed against the court’s decision. He was transferred from Torit state prison to Juba State central prison in September and is awaiting his appeal.

Since independence, 140 people have been sentenced to death and at least 32 executed. The country, which allows the death penalty for crimes including murder, terrorism, drug trafficking and treason, has carried out executions every year since it acquired independence, except for 2014, when Amnesty did not record any.

An inmate with shackles around his ankles skips over an open trench at Rumbek’s central prison in South Sudan. Photograph: Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images

This year’s spate of executions appears to have been prompted by a directive by the director-general of South Sudan’s national prison service on 26 April, in which all death row prisoners held at county and state prisons were ordered to be moved to two of the country’s most notorious prisons – Wau central prison and Juba central prison.

South Sudan, which has been embroiled in a civil war between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and rebel groups since 2013, signed a peace accord in October.

Before a person sentenced to death can be executed, the supreme court and the president must confirm the death sentence.

In all, 23 countries carried out 993 executions in 2017, with nearly 22,000 people on death row; worldwide, there was a small drop in the number of executions carried out.

In 2017, there was a significant decrease in death sentences imposed across Sub-Saharan Africa.

* Name changed to protect identity

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At scene of South Sudan mass rape, ‘no one could hear me’

9 DECEMBER 2018, 12:27PM / BY SAM MEDNICK

n this photo taken Friday, Dec. 7, 2018, an 18-year-old woman recounts the day in early November when she and a friend were bound, dragged into the bush and raped by four men with guns, as she sits in a hospital in Nhialdu, South Sudan. (AP Photo/Sam Mednick)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NHIALDIU — Wrapping an arm around her stomach, the young woman hung her head and recounted the day in early November when she and a friend were bound, dragged into the bush and raped by four men with guns.

“My body hasn’t been the same since,” the 18-year-old said. The men attacked during an hours-long walk home to the South Sudan village of Nhialdiu.

“I was crying and screaming but I was so far from the village that no one could hear me,” she told The Associated Press, which doesn’t identify survivors of sexual assault.

In an exclusive look at the aftermath, the AP joined a U.N. peacekeeping patrol where the attacks occurred as humanitarians, rights groups and South Sudan’s government scrambled to find out more.

Rape has been used widely as a weapon in South Sudan. Even after a peace deal was signed in September to end a five-year civil war that killed nearly 400,000 people, humanitarians have warned of higher rates of sexual assault as growing numbers of desperate people try to reach aid.

While some aid groups have quietly questioned whether all 125 people in the Doctors With Borders report were raped, they do not dispute that the problem has become grave.

The 18-year-old was not included in that report, and the real toll of sexual assault is not known.

Joining the U.N. patrol on Friday, the AP traveled the potholed road where the recent assaults took place. Shrouded by trees and elephant grass, some stretches provide cover for perpetrators to lurk.

Several local women said the violence is escalating.

Nyalgwon Mol Moon said she was held at gunpoint last month while two men in civilian clothes, their faces covered, stole her clothes, her shoes and the milk she meant to sell at market. Standing beside the road, pointing to her borrowed, oversized sneakers, she said she now tries to take alternative routes on her weekly walks to Bentiu.

She has no other choice. Food in Nhialdiu and nearby villages is scarce. Most people could not cultivate last season because of fighting and too much rain. Many rely on monthly aid from the U.N.’s World Food Program.

That means a walk of almost 40 kilometers (24 miles) to Bentiu town. Unable to carry the heavy rations back in one trip, most women leave some behind with relatives and make several journeys throughout the month.

Some said they make the 11-hour trek at least six times.

Alarmed by the sexual assaults, the World Food Program said it is prepared to bring distribution points closer to communities. The U.N. is now clearing the road from Bentiu to Nhialdiu of debris to make access easier.

No one has taken responsibility for the wave of assaults that the U.N. and African Union have condemned as “abhorrent” and “predatory.”

South Sudan’s government has acknowledged the assaults occurred in areas it controls, on the road between Nhialdiu and Bentiu and in surrounding villages. But it blames them on “unregulated youth” who fought alongside warring factions before the peace deal, Laraka Machar Turoal, deputy governor of Northern Liech state that was once part of Unity, told the AP.

Youth who were never officially integrated with armed groups have been left idle, guns in hand, to take what they want by force, Turoal said.

South Sudan’s government has called on all sides to demobilize the youth. It said it has deployed troops to areas in Unity state suspected of harboring criminals.

And yet the army in Nhialdiu has not detained anyone in the assaults and denies responsibility for finding the perpetrators, said John Dor, army commander for the area. He said they took place far from town, outside his jurisdiction.

But several local people said they knew of attacks in villages less than 15 kilometers from the army base. Some who were attacked at gunpoint said they believe the armed youth are affiliated with government troops. The government has done nothing so far to stop the violence, one woman explained.

The U.N., which has increased patrols, is pushing South Sudan’s government to take more responsibility. The U.N. Security Council in a statement on Saturday noted its willingness to impose sanctions on those who threaten the peace, including by sexual violence.

“They’re obliged to make sure everyone’s protected … it’s not enough just to sit in one place and not be involved,” said Paul Adejoh Ebikwo, the U.N. mission’s senior civil affairs officer in Bentiu.

Unity state was one of the hardest-hit areas in the civil war, and Bentiu has changed hands several times. Government and opposition forces remain at odds, even as factions across the country try to reconcile. A meeting on Thursday to build trust was canceled because the parties couldn’t agree on a place to meet, said the independent monitoring group charged with overseeing the peace deal’s implementation.

Meanwhile, many women and girls are terrified.

Cautiously peering through the trees, several hesitantly emerged from the bush, inching toward the side of the road.

“We’re walking here because we’re scared of coming on the main path,” said Nyachieng Gatman. Three days ago, she said, she met a breast-feeding mother and young girl who had been raped in a nearby town.

Standing beside her, 11-year Anchankual Dood lowered her heavy bag of grain and gulped from a bottle of water.

“It’s a long distance to go and come from Bentiu,” the girl said. “But we do it because we need food and because we’re suffering.”

AP

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Air fares in Sudan soar due to local currency’s devaluation

KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Air fares in Sudan skyrocketed this week after aviation authorities ordered airlines to price tickets in line with a new exchange rate mechanism that sharply devalued the local currency.

Under the exchange regime introduced in October in a bid to tackle an acute shortage of foreign currency, the Sudanese pound was devalued to 47.5 per U.S. dollar from 29 pounds per U.S. dollar previously.

That has led to a surge in the cost of many goods and services, but air ticket prices had been set according to the customs exchange rate — 18 pounds per dollar — until Wednesday when the country’s Civil Aviation Authority announced the hike in a memo sent to airlines.

The order caused prices to jump about 66 percent, according to travel agencies’ estimates. Prices in dollars were not affected, but only foreigners and Sudanese residents of other countries may buy tickets in dollars.

“This decision has led to a drastic 60 percent drop in travel in the last two days. This situation puts the aviation industry in Sudan and travel agencies at risk of unbearable losses,” said Mahjoub Almack, head of the Sudanese Association of Travel and Tourism Agents.

Despite October’s devaluation, the pound remains under pressure and the gap between the official and black market rates has continued to widen. A dollar cost 57 pounds on the black market on Saturday.

Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Writing by Yousef Saba; Editing by Helen Popper

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