South Sudan to uphold death penalty
MACHEL AMOS in Juba | Wednesday, November 14 2012
South Sudan will continue to apply the death sentence to convicts of treason and murder until a new constitution is enacted, said Justice minister John Luk Jok.
Mr Jok seemed to be sidestepping calls by local and international human rights groups to abolish, or declare an official moratorium on capital punishment.
“If you look at the criminal statistics … you will notice the high level of murder cases throughout South Sudan. It means people have some disregard for human life, [that] there is no fear, there is impunity,” Mr Jok said.
“And particularly in societies or in communities where compensation is in terms of cattle or otherwise, you find that somebody kills and then he can pay only two cows, and then he goes free as if he has done nothing. So, those arguments have some degree of validity,” he added, referring to those in favour of the death penalty.
There are more than 200 convicts on the death row across the country, some of them who were possibly tried without legal aid.
Two inmates were hanged in Juba prison in August.
In a letter to Foreign Affairs minister Nhial Deng Nhial on November 5, human rights organisations asked the government to “immediately declare an official moratorium on executions” and “urgently address the continuing shortcomings in the country’s administration of justice”.
Referring to the death sentence, Mr Jok said: “At present, it is legal, it is constitutional.”
“Should there be a decision like that [to overturn the death sentence], it will mean amending the constitution and the penal law that we have,” he added.
Mr Jok promised that a new "fund basket" was being established to provide legal assistance to suspects who were unable to hire their own lawyers.
The issue of whether to abolish or maintain the death penalty was raised in South Sudan’s parliament in 2005, but the MPs decided to uphold the punishment.
That view has not changed so far, according Mr Richard Mulla, an MP since 2005.
“People still think that our society is not developed. Our people like to carry out lynching and we are not going to give them that benefit,” Mr Mulla said.
Awash with arms, and still affected by war trauma, civilians easily resort to killing across the country, the worst being the raids conducted among pastoralist communities.
The justice system in the country is also weak in terms of capacity and investigation, Mr Jok observed.
In December, the UN General Assembly plans to vote on a resolution declaring a universal moratorium on executions.