South Sudan has carried out more executions this year than it has done in any year since gaining independence in 2011, with a child among seven people known to have been executed so far in 2018, Amnesty International revealed today.
Amnesty International fears for the lives of another 135 people on death row, who have this year been rounded up from other prisons across the country to two prisons notorious for executions.
“It is extremely disturbing that the world’s youngest nation has embraced this outdated, inhuman practice and is executing people, even children, at a time when the rest of the world is abandoning this abhorrent punishment,” said Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty International’s Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
“The President of South Sudan must stop signing execution orders and end this obvious violation of the right to life.”
Amnesty International has established that at least 342 people are currently under the sentence of death in South Sudan, more than double the number recorded in 2011.
Last year, South Sudanese authorities executed four people, two of whom were children at the time of the crimes for which they were convicted. The executions were a blatant violation of national and international laws, which strictly forbid the execution of anyone who was below the age of 18 at the time of their alleged crime.
This year Amnesty International interviewed a 16-year-old boy, who is languishing on death row at Juba Central Prison, after being convicted of murder. Waiting for his appeal to be considered by the court, he described the crime as an accident.
“Before the accident, I was in secondary school. I was a runner, a very good one and I was also a singer of gospel and earthly songs. […] My own aim was to study and do things that can help others. My hope is to be out and to continue with my school,” he said.
He said he had told the judge that he was 15 during his trial.
The use of the death penalty against people who were children at the time of the crime is strictly prohibited under international human rights law and South Sudan’s 2011 Transitional Constitution. Article 37(a) of the Convention on the Rights of a Child, to which South Sudan is a party, stipulates that ‘neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below 18 years of age’.
Since independence in 2011, South Sudanese courts have sentenced at least 140 people to death, and the authorities have executed at least 32 people.
This year’s spate of state-sanctioned killings seems to have been sparked by a directive by the Director-General of the National Prison Service of South Sudan on 26 April 2018. In it, he ordered all death row prisoners held at county and state prisons to be moved to two of the country’s most notorious death chambers – Wau Central Prison and Juba Central Prison.
In May, 98 death row prisoners were transferred from Kuajok, Tonj, Rumbek and Aweil state prisons in Bahr el Ghazal region, in the north-western part of the country, to Wau Central Prison.
Another 37 death row prisoners, including at least one child and a breastfeeding mother, were also transferred from prisons in the Equatoria region in the south of the country to Juba Central Prison. Thirty-four people were moved from Torit State Prison in September 2018 and three from Kapoeta State Prison in November 2018 to Juba.
“The transfer of 135 death row prisoners to prisons in Juba and Wau where all executions have taken place so far is deeply alarming. The South Sudanese government must immediately establish an official moratorium on executions, commute all death sentences to prison terms and abolish the death penalty altogether,” said Joan Nyanyuki.
Any attempt to execute a breastfeeding woman would also contravene South Sudanese law and international human rights law and standards.
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception regardless of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender, or the method used by the state to execute the prisoner. The death penalty – the premeditated and cold-blooded killing of a human being by the state in the name of justice – is the most fundamental denial of human rights. It violates the right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.
In South Sudan, the Penal Code provides for the use of the death penalty for murder; bearing false witness resulting in an innocent person’s execution or for fabricating such evidence or using as true evidence known to be false; terrorism (or banditry, insurgency or sabotage) resulting in death; aggravated drug trafficking; and treason.
Hanging is the method of execution provided for in the Code of Criminal Procedure. Before a person sentenced to death can be executed, the Supreme Court and the President must confirm the death sentence.