Human Rights Watch Report : Arbitrary Detention in South Sudan -JUNE 21, 2012
This 105-page report documents violations of due process rights, patterns of wrongful deprivation of liberty, and the harsh, unacceptable prison conditions in which detainees live. The research was done during a 10-month period before and after South Sudan’s independence, on July 9, 2011.
“I don’t think about the future. It is only God and the Government who know whether I will stay or be released.”
–Female prisoner, Bentiu prison, October 2011
There are several categories of people in South Sudan’s prisons who simply should not be there. Some are imprisoned in order to compel appearance of a relative or friend. Others are accused or convicted of adultery or other sexual crimes. Police, judges, and medical workers imprison people with mental disabilities, even when they have committed no criminal offense. Such detentions – like those resulting from serious procedural flaws described in the last section of this report – are also “arbitrary” under international law because they cannot be justified by any legal basis, or otherwise violate basic rights and freedoms.
Those who are detained for failure to pay civil debt, court fines, or compensation awards should also not be in prison. These detentions are arbitrary because they are often indefinite, discriminatory on the basis of sex, directly depend on a persons’ socio-economic status not the offense they commit, and are in direct contravention of the ICCPR’s prohibition against imprisonment for failure to fulfill a contractual obligation.
Imprisonment is also an inappropriate sanction for many of the children in conflict with the law in South Sudan’s prisons. Detention is given for petty crimes as a matter of course, not as a last resort, as is required under international law. Sentencing and imprisonment of children often violates provisions under domestic law, and no single prison in South Sudan provides conditions for the detention of children in line with international standards.
There has been repeated criticism over the past years of the practice of detaining relatives or friends of criminal suspects in order to compel their appearance. Human Rights Watch met women being held in lieu of their sons in both Rumbek and Bentiu and heard anecdotes of proxy detentions in other prisons, demonstrating that people continue to be imprisoned for other’s crimes.
The file of a 60-year-old woman in Bentiu prison indicated that she was convicted in October 2011 by a customary court for kidnapping and sentenced to one month in Bentiu prison. She told Human Rights Watch: “My son took a girl that he loved. Her family refused to let her marry him, so they went off to Khartoum in July… The girl’s brother brought me to the police… The court put me here so that my son will return.” When Human Rights Watch spoke to her, she had been in prison for 10 days.
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Proxy detentions are arbitrary and illegal because the detained person did not commit any crime, and there is no legal basis on which to justify the detention. Police, prosecutors, judges, and chiefs should immediately cease detaining, charging, or convicting individuals simply because the primary investigation target or accused person cannot be found. They should collaborate to secure the immediate release of all those currently in proxy detention.