The NSS saga is cancer ailing our nation, including the peace. Why will a government-owned security service be used to frustrate the implementation of the peace agreement hence destabilizing the nation?
Below is the full text of the report released by Human Rights Watch:
South Sudan’s National Security Service (NSS) was established in 2011 after the country gained independence. The 2011 Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan, mandates the NSS to collect information, conduct analysis, and advise relevant authorities.
But since its establishment, the NSS has gone much further than merely collecting information. Within months of its establishment, its agents were arresting and imprisoning journalists, government critics, and others, and conducting physical and telephonic surveillance. Today, it has become one of the government’s most important tools of repression.
Based on interviews with 48 former detainees and 37 others including policy analysts, activists, former military, security, and intelligence personnel, and family members of people detained by the NSS between 2014 and 2020, this report documents serious human rights violations by the NSS in South Sudan, including torture and other ill-treatment of detainees, arbitrary arrests, unlawful detentions, unlawful killings, enforced disappearances, forced returns and violations of privacy rights. The report describes obstacles to accountability for these abuses, including denial of due process for detainees, the lack of any meaningful judicial or legislative oversight of the agency, and legal immunities for NSS agents.
With the outbreak of civil war in December 2013 and a resurgence of fighting in July 2016, the NSS engaged in extensive crackdowns targeting people who are deemed to be anti-government. They also used ethnicity to profile targets with the assumption that people from certain ethnicity belong to armed or political opposition groups. It has targeted government critics, suspected opponents and rebels, aid workers, human rights defenders, businessmen, journalists and students, and routinely used violence and intimidation, including threats, beatings, and surveillance against them.
The NSS has three main facilities in Juba that are considered de facto, “official” Blue House, Riverside, and Hai Jalaba – but also uses “unauthorized” places such as residential homes as detention sites. None of these places of detention are legally recognized.
Detainees interviewed for this report, experienced, or witnessed beatings, being pierced with needles, having melted hot plastic dripped on them, being hung upside down from a rope, shocked with electricity, and raped. The NSS held detainees in prolonged, arbitrary, and incommunicado detention, often in congested cells with inadequate access to food, water, and medical care. Other authorities cooperate freely with the NSS, even as they commit these abuses. For example, detainees have been transferred to NSS custody from military and police facilities, and vice versa-without relevant paperwork being completed, or due process being followed.
The NSS has also detained people with disabilities, children, and pregnant and lactating women. Many were released without ever being interrogated, charged, or presented in court.
The NSS has extended its reach into neighboring countries. Its agents have harassed, intimidated, and abducted people in Kenya and Uganda whom they deemed to oppose the government, sometimes with the tacit support of authorities from these countries. This has created a climate of fear and suspicion among the diaspora in neighboring countries, in effect stifling criticism of South Sudan’s government even outside the country.
It has acquired and deployed intrusive surveillance tools, demanding that telecommunications companies’ hand over user data. Its agents have also carried out the functions of the South Sudan National Police Service, taking over law and order duties, including arresting and detaining criminals and maintaining law and order in major towns affected by fighting.
This expansion of NSS’s role and mandate has not been accidental. The service is supervised by the president and under his watch the NSS has evolved into an agency that operates outside the law and is used to maintain the government’s grip on power.
Human Rights Watch research indicates that efforts to hold NSS officials to account have been too few and opaque. Although South Sudanese law provides victims a right to a remedy, there is in practice little recourse for victims of such abuses.
Human Rights Watch calls on the government of South Sudan to end NSS’s de facto powers of detention and close all places of detention used by the NSS. They should immediately release all detainees in NSS custody or bring them before a court of law to be charged with a cognizable offense and either released on bail or remanded to the custody of South Sudan’s National Police Service in accordance with the law. They should ensure that all persons in NSS detention who are brought before a court enjoy their full due process rights, including the rights to a lawyer of their choice, to challenge the detention and charges, and, are guaranteed a fair trial.
The Revitalized Transitional National Legislature of South Sudan, once established, should amend the 2014 National Security Service Act and exclude its powers of detention from its mandate and limit it to intelligence gathering, analysis and provision of advice to relevant authorities, consistent with the country’s constitution. South Sudanese authorities should also ensure that former NSS detainees and victims of NSS abuses receive justice and redress, including provision of physical and mental health services.
The NSS’s well-documented record of serious crimes warrants a much stronger response from the international community. South Sudan’s partners, including the African Union, neighboring countries, the United States, Norway, and the United Kingdom should privately and publicly call on the South Sudanese authorities to end NSS abuses, reform it, and conduct credible and independent investigations into all allegations of abuse.