South Sudan: Calls for reform in oral statement on UN Universal Periodic Review

ARTICLE 19 is gravely concerned about the severe deterioration of the situation for freedom of expression in South Sudan.

As the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan has observed, the country “is today one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists to work,” and that space for civil society has been severely limited.

Since December 2013, at least 8 journalists have been abducted, tortured, and murdered, including five in a single January 2015 ambush; at least two other journalists remain forcibly disappeared; more than 27 journalists have been arbitrarily arrested and detained, with many remaining in detention.

We are seriously concerned at the findings of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan that may of these violations have been at the hands of State security agencies.

While welcoming that broadly framed recommendations on the safety of journalists have been supported, ARTICLE 19 regrets the recommendation for the Transitional Government of National Unity (TGNU) to notify UNESCO of the status of judicial inquiries into the murder of journalists was not supported. Ending impunity will require action, with full cooperation with international human rights mechanisms.

More than seven media outlets have been forcibly closed, with only two reopening: in 2016 this includes the Juba Monitor newspaper, the Nation Mirror newspaper, and the Eye Radio Station. Many media outlets have had their publications confiscated. We are concerned that the Directorate of Information regularly interferes with editorial independence.

We welcome commitments to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and to harmonize national legislation with the TGNU’s international obligations.

This requires reform to the National Security Services Act, we specifically direct the delegation’s attention to Section 12, which gives NSS officers sweeping powers of arrest, search and seizure, without independent judicial oversight, and is often abused.

ARTICLE 19 is encouraged at commitments to ensure civil society space, but stress that this will require authorities to desist in harassing NGOs, and also reforms to the 2015 Non-Governmental Organisations Act, a recommendation which was not supported.

Further, reforms to the Broadcasting Corporation Act and the Media Authority Law will both be necessary to remove obstacles to the work of journalists and media workers.

We encourage the provision of technical assistance to the TGNU to fulfil its commitments to legislative reform.