A section of human rights activists who attended the launch of a report documenting violations in South Sudan Prisons. [Gurtong| Waakhe Simon Wudu]
By Waakhe Simon Wudu
JUBA, 07 August 2012 [Gurtong] -The 105-page report titled “Prison Is Not for Me: Arbitrary Detention in South Sudan", documents violations of due process rights, patterns of wrongful deprivation of liberty, and the harsh, unacceptable prison conditions in which detainees live.
During the launch, South Sudan Vice President Dr Riek Machar said that the report will help his government in soliciting for suitable solutions to address the challenges facing the prisons department.
African Director at the Human Rights Watch Daniel Bekele said that; “the experience of those in detention in South Sudan reveals serious flaws in the emerging justice system.”
“South Sudan is a new country and badly needs an effective justice system that upholds human rights and dignity. It is a fundamental building block for establishing rule of law and accountability,” he added.
The research was carried out in twelve of the country’s 79 prisons during a 10-month period before and after South Sudan’s independence in areas with the largest prison populations.
It revealed that, a third of South Sudan's prison population of approximately 6,000 has not been convicted of any offense or in some cases even charged with one, but are detained, often for long periods, waiting for police, prosecutors, and judges to process their cases.
The vast majority of detainees have no legal representation, because they cannot afford a lawyer and South Sudan has no functioning legal aid system, adding that Judges pass long sentences and even condemn to death people who, without legal assistance, were unable to understand the nature of charges against them or to call and prepare witnesses in their defense.
South Sudanese authorities have welcomed the report and accepted its findings.
However, Machar pointed out infrastructural challenges, insecurity, budget constrains and other political problems that hinder government’s efforts to prioritise the improvement of the prisons in the country.
Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 250 inmates and a range of justice officials, correctional officers, police, prosecutors, and traditional authorities.
The launch was also attended by the Interior Minister, government and independent human rights activists.