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South Sudan Government Reshuffle Emboldens Rights Abusers

Regional Partners Should Press for Action on Abusive Security Agency

In this government-issued photo, former National Security Service official Akol Koor Kuc (L) is pictured meeting with President Salva Kiir (R) in Juba, South Sudan, August 2020. 

On April 10 South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, with apparent disregard for the many crimes committed by the National Security Service (NSS), promoted one of its top officials, Akol Koor Kuc, to the rank of First Lieutenant General. This move is yet another slap in the face to the many victims of the NSS’s horrific and well-documented crimes committed under Kuc’s watch.

In a December report, Human Rights Watch documented how the NSS has become the favored tool for South Sudan’s leadership to carry out arbitrary arrests, abusive detentions, torture, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and illegal surveillance. It has regularly targeted journalists, activists, opposition figures, and critics. All of this has occurred with little to no accountability or justice for victims.

We found that Kuc, who heads the internal security bureau, together with the Minister for National Security, Mamur Obote, and outgoing head of the General Intelligence Bureau, Thomas Duoth Guet (now appointed as South Sudan’s ambassador to Kuwait), failed to end systemic human rights violations by the NSS or ensure credible investigations and criminal accountability for officers implicated in abuse.

Instead of rewarding Kuc with a promotion, President Kiir should ensure there is an effective investigation into him and his colleagues for their role in the abuses. The government should also rein in the NSS and ensure that the NSS law is reformed to genuinely limit the agency’s role and powers while strengthening judicial and parliamentary oversight.

This is not the first time South Sudan has condoned impunity for abuses. Several officials sanctioned by the United Nations still hold key government positions. In the same reshuffle that saw Kuc promoted, Santino Deng Wol, a man sanctioned by the UN for his role in a May 2015 offensive in Unity State during which government forces killed dozens of women, children, and older people, and looted civilian property, was appointed as the new army chief of staff.

As South Sudan continues to show no political will to hold senior officials to account for abuses, it falls on the country’s regional and development partners to step up pressure to promote the rule of law. They should insist that investigating and holding to account top leaders like Kuc for potential criminal responsibility be a top priority.

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