JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN - Amnesty International said Friday that it was shocked by the increase in executions recently carried out in South Sudan, noting that at least seven men were put to death in February.
The London-based rights group said the deaths represented "as many [people] as were executed in the whole of 2018" in the east-central African country.
Seif Magango, Amnesty International deputy director for East Africa, the Horn and Great Lakes, called on South Sudanese authorities to enact a moratorium on executions and take steps to abolish the death penalty.
"That is something we condemn in the strongest terms, because this issue of the death penalty is unacceptable. They should not be executing people in secrecy without even letting their families know. That is not how they should be handling matters of justice," Magango told South Sudan in Focus from Nairobi, Kenya.
3 from same family
Amnesty International said in its release that at least three of the seven executions in February involved men from the same family. It said the family of the men learned of their deaths only after they had been executed.
South Sudan's Penal Code Act 2008 allows for execution by hanging for several crimes, such as murder; bearing false witness resulting in an innocent person's death; and aggravated drug trafficking.
Magango said Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases.
"Regardless of the crime, it is unacceptable to use the death penalty, because it actually does not prevent future crimes. It could be a terrible injustice if new evidence shows a person was executed in error," he said.
Magango said the rights group was urging South Sudan to immediately commute all death sentences.
"We are calling on South Sudan government ... to stop executing its citizens. They can still punish people with prison terms up to life imprisonment," he said.
South Sudan Minister of Cabinet Affairs Martin Elia Lomuro confirmed that death by hanging still happens in South Sudan but indicated that the practice might change.
Laws 'will be studied'
"Establishment or changing laws is a process. We are currently in the process of building a country. This development has been delayed by internal conflict. So laws which do not conform to the aspirations of international organizations will be studied as the country establishes its permanent constitutions and relevant laws," Lomuro told South Sudan in Focus.
He noted the Commission on Truth, Reconciliation and Healing was established to play a crucial role in determining how perpetrators of crimes should be punished after the new Transitional Government of National Unity is established later this year.
"That commission is not only supposed to reconcile the people after the conflict but also be able to address issues where somebody has been murdered by a certain person. People can choose to forgive them, but first of all, those [who] committed the crimes accept that they have committed the crimes and [those crimes] call for apology," Lomuro told VOA.
Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United States and China still have the death penalty, but according to Amnesty, more than 140 countries have either abolished the death penalty in law or in practice.