Rights groups urge South Sudan to suspend executions

Inmates are shackled together at the ankles as they bathe at a water point at Rumbek's central prison in South Sudan. (AFP)

Inmates are shackled together at the ankles as they bathe at a water point at Rumbek's central prison in South Sudan. (AFP)

"South Sudan has continued to use the death penalty despite well-documented weaknesses in the country's legal system, which prevent it from ensuring the basic legal rights of people accused of crimes," Amnesty International (AI), Human Rights Watch (HRW) and local civil society groups said Monday in a joint statement.

The rights groups say "the vast majority" of around 200 death row inmates "shackled and crowded into cramped and dirty cells" never had a lawyer, "leaving many unable to adequately prepare their defence or to appeal convictions".

"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 AI.

The groups are also concerned about the lack of information about those sentenced to death, their trials and executions.

"Transparency is fundamental to the administration of justice and critical to allowing South Sudanese to evaluate how the death penalty is being imposed," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at HRW.

The groups also sent a letter to South Sudan's Foreign Minister Nhial Deng Nhial asking for the world's newest UN member to vote for a moratorium on the death penalty at an upcoming meeting.

Death penalty
A country born in July 2011 from decades of civil war, South Sudan is in a process of building its police force and judiciary from scratch.

On August 28, two men were hanged in Juba prison, where over 100 death row inmates await their fate.

While over two-thirds of the UN's 137 members and the African Union's 54 states have abolished the death penalty, most recently Burundi, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Rwanda, Senegal and Togo, South Sudan is among the few that still practices it. – Sapa-AFP



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