The United Nations Security Council should signal clearly when it meets today that it will maintain an arms embargo on South Sudan as well as individual travel bans and asset freezes on government officials as long as widespread abuses continue. South Sudan’s National Security Service (NSS) spreads fear and terror throughout the country and serves as the government’s tool to suppress critics. But authorities have failed to reform the secretive agency or hold those responsible for abuses to account.
In a new report, Human Rights Watch documents serious NSS abuses committed from 2014 to 2020, including extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, and other inhumane treatment of detainees at the Blue House and two other detention sites in Juba. The stories we documented are horrific.
Created in 2011 to “collect information, conduct analysis, and advise relevant authorities,” the NSS has instead evolved into a super agency with policing and combat functions that operates with unchecked power and impunity.
Moreover, the UN Panel of experts recently found the NSS has repeatedly violated the UN’s 2018 arms embargo on South Sudan and obstructed humanitarian access to the country. The Panel found that top officials at the agency were involved in provoking long-standing hostilities between the Murle, Gawaar Nuer, and Lou Nuer and Dinka Bor communities of Jonglei state by providing them with weapons and other military support. The consequences were devastating. Thousands were displaced and hundreds killed and maimed between February and August this year. Civilian, including humanitarian, property such as health centers and schools were also attacked and destroyed.
Other organizations, including the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, have found the NSS responsible for enforced disappearances and torture.
These abuses are not only in violation of international human rights law and South Sudan’s constitution, but threaten communities and long-term stability in South Sudan. In war time abuse of detainees, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings could constitute war crimes and given how widespread and normalized NSS abuses are, they could amount to crimes against humanity.
As the South Sudanese government has not shown the political will to rein in the NSS, strong action is needed from the UN Security Council to put pressure on authorities to take meaningful steps to end abuse.