South Sudanese lawmakers on Wednesday passed the hotly debated and, in the eyes of some, controversial National Security bill, which gives security forces the right to arrest suspected criminals without a warrant.
The bill was passed into law in its fourth reading after a sometimes raucous debate that lasted three hours. Some lawmakers, including Onyoti Adigo, the leader of SPLM-DC minority in parliament, walked out during the debate to show their opposition to the bill.
Adigo had called for the sitting to be adjourned for at least 72 hours, to give MPs more time to read amendments that had been attached to the bill. Even though his request is covered by the parliamentary rules of order, it was rejected.
The official opposition in parliament is made up of only six MPs out of 325, so their walkout hardly impacted parliamentary proceedings. But shortly after they left the chamber, other 116 MPs, representing Central, Eastern and Western Equatoria states, also walked out in protest.
Henry Odua, a member of the ruling SPLM party who represents Eastern Equatoria state, said he walked out because he felt the bill is being rushed through without thorough debate on some issues. Odua also said he does not agree with the sweeping powers the bill grants to security officers, such as being able to arrest someone without a warrant.
“The speaker decided to bulldoze his way... There is less than a third in that house now and they are going to push through a controversial bill, to govern this country, I think that leaves a lot to say about which direction this country is going,” he said.
Oliver Morri, who represents Central Equatoria state, did not join the walkout. He said the protesting MPs do not represent Equatoria as a region and insisted the security bill protects the national interest.
Checks and balances
The new law does have checks and balances against abuse of power, including the creation of a complaint board and a five-member advisory group. The heads of both bodies will be appointed by President Salva Kiir and must have a legal background of not less than seven years.
The bill that was passed also removed immunity granted to members of the security forces in previous drafts.
Even the contentious article 51, which allows security officers to arrest anyone suspected of committing a crime against the state, has its checks and balances: it stipulates that anyone who is arrested has to be brought before a magistrate within 24 hours.
Samuel Duwar Deng, the chairman of the parliamentary committee for defense, security and public order, and an author of the bill, said the new law is long overdue. He said it will benefit everyone in South Sudan.
“It is actually very good, it is joyful to the people of South Sudan and to the services itself because, from here, we will be assured the work of the (security) service will be running smoothly,” said Deng.
President Kiir is widely expected to sign the bill, which is the last step remaining before it becomes the law of the land.