News / Africa

Rights Groups: No Justice on South Sudan's Death Row

The women's side of Juba prison, holds 75 female inmates, including 11 "lunatics" and 10 children, and there are over 1 000 packed into squalid cells on the men's side. (VOA/Hannah McNeish)
The women's side of Juba prison, holds 75 female inmates, including 11 "lunatics" and 10 children, and there are over 1 000 packed into squalid cells on the men's side. (VOA/Hannah McNeish)
Hannah McNeish
Rights groups are calling for a moratorium on the death penalty in South Sudan, the world’s newest nation where the legal system may be sending people to the gallows who have not been granted basic rights and may well be innocent.

The clinking of shackles has followed 45-year old Mary Sezerina for seven years, reminding her of a crime she says she committed when not of sound mind.

Speaking through a translator, Widow Sezerina says that she killed her sister-in-law in the heat of the moment, on one of her trips to steal things from the family home as Sezerina was struggling to feed five young children.

“She says that that time she killed was the devil’s intention and it was stronger than me," said the translator. "Now that she is in prison, her heart is free and she has nothing against this person and the other relatives, but this is the life," she said.

No legal aid

Under South Sudanese customary law, Sezerina could have paid for her blood crime in cows. But a lack of money meant she had to go to court, and without a lawyer.

There, she says there was no opportunity to try and save herself from the gallows.

Jehanne Henry, Africa Researcher for Human Rights Watch, says that the vast majority of those put on death row never had a chance to defend themselves in court, where proceedings are often carried out in a language they don’t speak.

"There are not very many lawyers operating in South Sudan and people sometimes don’t know what the role of lawyers is, but it is very clear that some of the people that are sentenced to death don’t understand the legal system in which they have been sentenced - they do not know how to defend themselves," said Henry.

Some people in Juba prison admit they killed, but claim factors like self-defense, the line of duty or a crime of passion - all factors that never came up in court where they said they were speechless or silenced.

Many inmates say they were never given a chance to defend themselves against charges and have little hope of getting out after no response to appeals made months/years ago.Many inmates say they were never given a chance to defend themselves against charges and have little hope of getting out after no response to appeals made months/years ago.
x
Many inmates say they were never given a chance to defend themselves against charges and have little hope of getting out after no response to appeals made months/years ago.
Many inmates say they were never given a chance to defend themselves against charges and have little hope of getting out after no response to appeals made months/years ago.
Others are baffled at how they have been branded murderers, claiming they were not at the scene of the crime and there were no eyewitnesses or evidence to implicate them, but that finger pointing by relatives was enough.

David Deng, of the South Sudan Law Society, says that meting out capital punishment without legal representation is unacceptable.

“No one knows whether innocent people are being executed. Much less, it’s not even a question of guilty or innocent, there could be any number of mitigating circumstances that aren’t being considered because the accused isn’t in a position to build his case," he said.

Weak justice system

The government admits that police are poorly trained and there are very few judges, with varied and often little experience, but denies that innocent or not legally culpable people are slipping through these ”loopholes.”

Stella Juwa Felix didn’t even get a chance to deny shooting her husband in the head as he slept, let alone say that she had never fired a gun or find out why three other suspects that did have the money for lawyers had been released.

Like many, she says the words of the accusers were final in a trial that took five minutes.

“I’m here because someone shoot my husband at home. I’m sleeping inside, and my husband sleep outside. So I found him at morning - he died. And I called his parents. The parents came there (and decided) that I’m the one. They took me in court - that is why they have judged me like this," she said.

Deng says that South Sudan’s rebel movement-turned government used death by firing squad during the war to control the population - and it’s not ready to let go.

"I think some of that mentality has stuck around after independence, when the policy makers, the leaders, look at society, they see people who are traumatized by conflict and they think the only way to control this population is through strict measures, and so for them capital punishment is an indispensable deterrent to try to keep a lid on some of the crime in South Sudan," he said.

Rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say that more than 200 people are thought to be on death row in South Sudan, and half of them are languishing in cramped, dirty cells in the capital.

Death row

Only six of them received legal aid, breaking international standards stating that the death penalty should only be imposed “when the guilt of the person charged is based upon clear and convincing evidence leaving no room for an alternative explanation of the facts.”

Henry hopes that South Sudan will vote for a moratorium on the death penalty at an upcoming UN general assembly,

“South Sudan as a new country has a nascent justice system that has many weakness and it is simply incapable of providing people with their basic due process rights. South Sudan should place a moratorium on the death penalty, not only because the death penalty is in and of itself is an affront to human rights, but also because it operates a system that cannot protect people’s basic rights,” said Henry.

But until South Sudan calls a halt to executions, rights group fear that hundreds more people will find themselves shackled to a fate they had no chance of escaping.

You May Like

Multimedia Ferguson, Missouri Streets Calm After Days of Violence

Police official says authorities responded to fewer incidents, noting there were no shootings, Molotov cocktails or fires More

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

For Chanthy Sok, rap infused with Cambodian melodies is a way to pay respect to the survivors of the victims of Khmer Rouge genocide More

Study: Our Life with Neanderthals Was No Brief Affair

Scientists discover thousands of years of overlap between modern humans and their shorter, stockier cousins More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebolai
X
George Putic
August 20, 2014 8:57 PM
While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls for Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid