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UN: S. Sudan Failing Journalists, Rights Advocates

  • Lisa Schlein

The United Nations human rights office (OHCHR) is calling attacks on human rights defenders and the recent killing of a journalist in South Sudan an assault on freedom of expression.

Urging government officials to protect those committed to preserving basic rights and freedoms, OHCHR's spokesperson, Rupert Colville, referenced the Dec. 5 killing of well-known commentator and blogger Diing Chan Awol.

According to witnesses, Awol was gunned down near his home in Gudek, a suburb of the capital, Juba, after being lured outside by unidentified gunmen.

"He had been receiving a number of threats, including a clear ultimatum to stop writing or face the consequences," said Colville. "We welcome the fact that the President, Salva Kiir, has ordered the security services to conduct a 'thorough investigation' into the murder of Mr. Diing Chan Awol, who was also known by his pen name, Isaiah Abraham."

Colville called the killing the most extreme act to date in efforts to silence prominent public commentators, but noted that similar attempts to intimidate local human rights activists have occurred in the past six months.

Numerous members of the South Sudan Civil Society Alliance, he said, have recently come under attack, the most serious case of which involves the kidnapping and beating of two alliance members by unidentified armed men. Prior to the kidnapping, Colville said, the victims had publicly criticized corruption practices by senior government officials.

"We urge the Government of South Sudan to take remedial action and send a strong signal of its readiness to protect the safety of journalists and human rights defenders as part of a wider effort to bolster support for freedom of expression in this young and fragile democracy," said Colville.

The U.N. has also condemned recent attacks on students in Sudan, which culminated in the December 7 killings of four students from Darfur. The students reportedly had gone missing at the beginning of last week, after taking part in a protest about plans to repeal a tuition-fee exemption for Darfuri students.

On December 10, hundreds of students in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, continued a third day of protests against the killings, provoking violent clashes between students and police.

The U.N. is calling for swift investigations into the circumstances surrounding the murders of the students and stresses the importance of bringing the perpetrators to justice.