February 12, 2009

VIII. Abuses by Security Forces

Southern Sudan's large security forces comprise soldiers, police, wildlife service, fire brigade, and prison officials. The vast majority are ill-trained in their roles and responsibilities. In all locations visited, Human Rights Watch received reports of various types of abuses by security actors, ranging from harassment, assault, and beatings in the course of official duty to other crimes committed for personal gain. According to many observers, public disquiet over abuses by state actors is growing.[100]

The scale and gravity of offences vary depending on location, local dynamics, and personalities. In Warrab State, the UNMIS reported that soldiers were involved in at least eight killings, rapes, assaults, and stealing crops between July and October 2008.[101] In Juba, on New Years' Day, 2009, armed men believed to be security personnel shot and killed four civilians, prompting the GoSS Council of Ministers to convene and pass resolutions to improve security. 

In one high-profile case of abuse of power, soldiers acting on orders beat Rumbek journalist Manyang Mayom while he was investigating allegations that cattle keepers purchased weapons that had been collected in a previous disarmament campaign. "Two of the soldiers forced me out of my car and beat me on my neck with their gun, then on my chest and kidneys. My injuries were so bad I could not speak," he told Human Rights Watch.[102] The beating was so severe that he had to be transferred to Khartoum for medical treatment.

Reports of harassment and assault by police in the course of arrest are common. In Juba, police harassment increased in October 2008, when, acting on an order by the Juba County Commissioner criminalizing "all bad behaviours, activities and imported illicit cultures of what is now known as 'Niggers'," police arrested and detained at least 27 women including 11 girls for wearing trousers or short skirts. Many of the females reported they were beaten. GoSS officials condemned the arrest and the commissioner lost his job over the incident.

Similar harassment occurred previously in Juba and in Malakal and Yei, where police forced some girls to strip.[103] In Juba residents complained in November and December 2008 of military police operating illegal checkpoints demanding money in some cases and harassing passengers at night in what many believe to be a continuation of the harsh public order policy.

Trend of Criminality by Soldiers and Police

Since 2007, human rights monitors from UNMIS observed a trend of soldiers and police targeting foreign traders, most from Uganda, in robberies, assaults, and killings.[104] The crimes appear opportunistic, targeting East African traders who run lucrative business, also reflecting a resentment of the traders' economic advantage. In a high profile murder from September 2007, for example, a group of 15 policemen attacked the head of the Ugandan Trader's Association for trying to prevent them from beating another trader. One policeman stabbed and killed the trader. To date, the suspects have not been prosecuted.[105]

The trend continued into 2008 in main towns such as Juba, Torit and Yei. In March 2008, SPLA soldiers beat and detained a Ugandan taxi driver in Juba for allegedly helping a female passenger steal money from a soldier. The victim told Human Rights Watch that eight soldiers took him to their barracks, stripped him, beat him, and threatened to kill him before finally releasing him after three days. "They were torturing me, kicking me in the chest, they beat me with a stick and they pointed their guns at me," he stated.[106]

Security forces have also targeted female traders in the markets of various towns, particularly Juba and Torit, for sexual assault and rape.[107] Police and soldiers have assaulted Ugandan women who spend nights in the market to guard their goods or who work in restaurants and bars at night.[108] In June 2008 a group of police raped four Ugandan women in Bor, Jonglei State.[109]

The same month, police in Malakal, Upper Nile state, arrested a group of 11 Ugandan women, beat them, and accused them of prostitution and tried to force them to have sex with them.[110]  Soldiers in Malakal also used sexual violence against Sudanese women and girls in June and August 2008.[111]  As elsewhere in Sudan, victims of sexual violence often do not report crimes committed against them, especially by soldiers and other security forces.

Land Disputes Involving Abusive Soldiers

Southern Sudan had yet to establish a legal and regulatory framework for land use and ownership. The vacuum has opened the door to forcible land grabs, illegal occupations, coerced sales, and multiple sales of the same property, fuelling various types of land disputes during and after the war that have had an especially negative impact on returning IDPs and refugees.[112]

Many disputes in urban areas involve soldiers who occupy land that returning refugees and IDPs now claim. Several Juba residents, including recent returnees, reported to Human Rights Watch that soldiers intimidated and threatened to kill them for contesting the soldiers' occupation of their land.[113] One chief reported that soldiers put him in jail because he complained to SPLA that they had built their barracks on his land.[114] 

A resident of Yei, Central Equatoria, told Human Rights Watch that soldiers threatened to kill him whenever he attempted to regain his land, and soldiers occupying his neighbour's land beat the neighbour so severely that he had to be treated in a hospital.[115] In another case from Yei, soldiers told a returning resident who claimed the land that he would have to "use the gun to claim it back."[116]

In cases reported to Human Rights Watch, soldiers often expressed a sense of entitlement from having fought in the war.[117] In one case a soldier who encroached on the land of a sub-chief and cut down some trees refused to pay compensation saying he "was part of the liberation of Yei."[118] By the same token, when a soldier tried to occupy land owned by the Southern Sudan Human Rights Commissioner, she challenged him to show his legal title to the land but he replied "we don't need law because we liberated this land."[119]

This sense of entitlement is reinforced by the de facto impunity soldiers and other security personnel enjoy. "The soldiers are operating without being accountable to anyone," said one lawyer who handles land cases.[120]

According to judges and lawyers working on land cases in Yei and Juba, soldiers frequently flout court orders to vacate land or pay compensation.[121] In some cases, soldiers do not respond to court summonses. In other cases, they appear in court but simply ignore court orders. When judicial authorities request police to enforce the judgments, police often feel powerless to take action against soldiers. According to the lawyers, soldiers only comply when SPLA commanders order them to. In some areas, including in Juba, SPLA has agreed to move barracks in response to the community's request.

[100] See "State Agents Top Human Rights Violation List," The Southern Eye, December 14, 2008, http://www.thesoutherneyeltd.net/newsdetails.php?newsid=2064&categoryid=13&PHPSESSID=3762f0f46e556b156fa1c73dbb66cfa9 (accessed February 3, 2009)

[101] Report of the Secretary-General, October 20, para. 58

[102] Human Rights Watch interview with Manyang Mayom, Rumbek, December 18, 2008.

[103] Correspondence with international humanitarian organization staff (names withheld) in Yei, July 27, 2008, on file with Human Rights Watch; see also "Trouser-wearing women worsening harassment and Kenya Sudan border," Gurtong news, August 22, 2008, http://www.gurtong.org/ResourceCenter/weeklyupdates/wu_contents.asp?wkupdt_id=2326 (accessed October 2, 2008); "Sudan: Fashion Police Make Arrests,"  Reuters, October 7, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/08/world/africa/08briefs-FASHIONPOLIC_BRF.html?ref=world (accessed October 8, 2008).

[104] UN Human Rights Council, "Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Sudan, Sima Samar," March 3, 2008, para. 67, http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/47df89002.html (accessed February 3, 2009).

[105] UNMIS Human Rights bulletin, July 24, 2008, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[106] Human Rights Watch interview with Ugandan taxi driver (name withheld), March 27, 2008.

[107] Human Rights Watch interview with Ugandan Traders Association official (name withheld), Juba, March 27, 2008.

[108] UNMIS Human Rights bulletin, July 24, 2008, on file with Human Rights Watch; "Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Sudan, Sima Simar," Human Rights Council, A/HRC/7/22, March 3, 2008, para. 68.  http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/47df89002.html (accessed February 3, 2009).

[109] UNMIS Human Rights Bulletin, August 21, 2008, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[110] Ibid.

[111] UNMIS Human Rights Bulletin, September 15, 2008, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[112] Sara Pantuliano, "The land question: Sudan's peace nemesis," HPG Working Paper, Humanitarian Policy Group, December 2007, http://www.odi.org.uk/hpg/papers/wplandsudan.pdf (accessed February 3, 2009). The legal vacuum has also had a negative impact on rural communities that rely on traditional land tenure systems, and on women whose land and property rights are not protected in the absence of a legal framework.

[113] Human Rights Watch group interview with Juba men and women, Juba, March 29, 2008.

[114] Human Rights Watch group interview with Juba men and women, Juba, March 29, 2008.

[115] Human Rights Watch interview with man from Pojulu/Central Equatoria State (name withheld), Yei, March 31, 2008.

[116] Human Rights Watch e-mail correspondence with Norwegian Refugee Council staff, September 18, 2008.

[117] Human Rights Watch interview with Central Equatoria State Assembly member working on land and natural resources   (name withheld), Juba, March 17, 2008. 

[118] Human Rights Watch e-mail correspondence with Norwegian Refugee Council staff, September 18, 2008.

[119] Human Rights Watch interview with head of Southern Sudan Human Rights Commission Joy Kwaje, Juba, March 18, 2008.

[120] Human Rights Watch interview with Dong Samuel Luak Kok, Juba, July 4, 2008.

[121] Human Rights Watch interview with judge (name withheld), December 1, 2008; e-mail correspondence with Norwegian Refugee Council staff, September 2008.