JUBA - Members of parliament from the Equatoria region in South Sudan have urged President Salva Kiir not to sign into law the national security bill that was passed last month, warning that it could deepen divisions in the country.
"This document has the potential to divide our people, which shouldn’t be the case," Julius Ajeo Moilinga, the acting chair of the Equatoria Parliamentary Caucus, said.
"Any bill which comes here to the parliament should be discussed and then should be finally passed to unite us, not to divide us. We are very concerned," he said.
South Sudanese lawmakers passed the national security bill early last month, after a raucous, three-hour debate that saw scores of lawmakers, including many from the Equatoria region, walk out to protest the draft law. Key among the lawmakers' objections to the bill is a provision that would give security forces the right to arrest suspected criminals without a warrant.
In a three-page letter sent by the 100-member Equatoria Parliamentary Caucus to President Kiir this week, lawmakers say the draft law gives excessive powers to the security services, effectively placing them above the law.
South Sudanese and international rights groups have objected to the bill, saying parts of it violate South Sudan's transitional constitution and international law. The United States, United Kingdom and Norway have also called on President Kiir not to sign the bill into a law.
Some lawmakers have also questioned whether there was a quorum -- the minimum number of lawmakers needed for a vote to be considered legitimate – in parliament when the bill was passed. Assembly Speaker Manasse Magok Rundial said there was because, even if scores walked out of the session, more than half of the 323 lawmakers showed up for the start of the debate.
South Sudan's transitional constitution says that for the National Assembly to pass a bill or make a decision on an issue, a majority of the members present and voting, must vote for it.