National Security versus Basic Liberties: Human Rights Challenges in South Sudan

Although South Sudan publicly commits to a culture of human rights protection, whether through the bill of rights in the national constitution or by creating a cabinet level human rights commission or the establishment of a parliamentary committee on human rights or other public pronouncements to this effect, human rights violations have remained a constant feature in the brief history of the country’s sovereignty. These violations are primarily born of the murky legal environment, allowing some security elements to act above the law, political leaders to order unconstitutional arrests of citizens, suppression of opinion, seizure of media outlets and latently sanctioning rogue security elements to get away with crimes. The violations have also emanated from the weakness of the justice system or its absence in the rural areas and small towns, a long history of liberation war that has militarized the whole society, elite competition for public office, and government’s lack of confidence to withstand public criticism. This policy brief is an assessment of human rights situation in South Sudan, how the civil war situation contributes to human rights abuses by the state and the rebel movements, what human rights issues are born of the local traditions and cultures and how gender, political opinion, ethnic background and types of employment have influenced the human rights situation in the country, either by pressuring the government to abide by the country’s laws or prompting it to crack down on its critics. The analysis reviews the regional and international human rights history to help situate South Sudan in a wider context.