Investigate Officials and Security Forces; End Killings, Other Abuses in Warrap State
H.E. President Salva Kiir Mayardit and the newly appointed Governor of Warrap State Hon. Aleu Ayieny Aleu meet for a briefing on February 26, 2021 prior to Aleu's departure for Warrap State to assume his official duties as the Governor. © Presidential Press Unit
(Nairobi) – South Sudanese security forces summarily executed at least eight suspected criminals, including two children, as part of their anti-crime campaign in Warrap state, Human Rights watch said today. The executions apparently were carried out on the orders of Governor Aleu Ayieny Aleu. South Sudanese authorities should immediately halt and ensure justice for the unlawful killings, which constitute serious violations of international law.
Warrap state, in northern South Sudan, has perennially experienced violence linked to intercommunal conflict and cattle raiding since the country’s independence in 2011. During 2020, there was an escalation in violence against civilians, including killings, sexual violence, and abductions as political elites manipulated local rivalries. President Salva Kiir appointed Governor Aleu in January with a mandate, among other things, to curb violence and crime.
“If Governor Aleu authorized summary killings instead of legal proceedings against suspected criminals, he is abusing his power and undermining the rule of law,” said Nyagoah Tut Pur, South Sudan researcher at Human Rights Watch. “President Kiir should ensure credible and transparent investigations into these serious violations of the right to life, bring those responsible to account and ensure compensation for the victims’ families.” Between June 4 and June 25, 2021, Human Rights Watch interviewed eight witnesses and relatives of victims of state security forces’ violations in Warrap state, as well as seven lawyers, activists, and journalists with knowledge of the killings. Interviews were conducted by telephone and secure messaging applications in English and, using an interpreter, in Thuuk Muonyjang (Dinka/Jieng dialect). Human Rights Watch also reviewed reports by the United Nations, community groups, and the local media as well as videos posted on social media platforms. Credible sources informed Human Rights Watch that, between April and June, on the governor’s orders, security forces executed at least 21 people accused of murder, theft, and other offenses, including in the towns of Kuajok, Romic, Alabek, Twic, Aliek, and Warrap. Human Rights Watch verified eight killings in Kuajok and Nyang Akoch. The UN Mission in South Sudan also documented executions of 29 males in the state, including boys and elderly men.
Map of South Sudan © Human Rights Watch
Government and media sources said that after becoming governor, Aleu toured Warrap state for months, meeting with community members, state and county authorities, and security forces, as part of his security, peace, and reconciliation strategy. He however encouraged violence in some instances. A YouTube video posted on March 10 shows Governor Aleu, in military fatigues, briefing a new army battalion known as the “Tuek Tuek” in Tonj North County briefing them on his security strategy and encouraging violence. “What will you do when there are thieves and criminals killing people and stealing their property?” he said, addressing the soldiers in Thuuk Muonyjang.“Just like tuek tuek[a woodpecker] cuts into trees, you can do the same to a human and know you will all be promoted...Are you going to fail in your mission?” Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that local authorities in Nyang Akoch village, in Tonj North, detained four people between April 6 and 11. Six witnesses said that the governor visited the village on April 11, along with security forces, arrested a fifth person, and ordered the execution of all five by firing squad. The victims were two boys, ages 14 and 17, andthree men. “The governor came in the morning with many soldiers, and we saw our children being thrown up in the car with soldiers chasing people away and making noise,” said a family member of one victim. Three witnesses to the executions told the victims’ relatives that their loved ones were shot in a place called Keet. In a move to silence criticism, the governor is pursuing criminal defamation charges against a lawyer originally from the region who spoke about the executions on Voice of America. On April 26, in Kuajok, the state capital, soldiers executed by firing squad three men accused of murdering a woman and injuring her child. Witnesses, as well as a local official who was not authorized to speak on the record, said that the three had confessed and that community members and traditional chiefs demanded the killings to calm tensions and prevent violence between the communities of the alleged killers and victims. Governor Aleu, who had opened a local peace conference that day, gave permission for the killings based on the community’s demands, a local official said. Human Rights Watch also reviewed Facebook posts showing that the governor opened the meeting on April 26and hosted a farewell gathering for chiefs there on April 28. Customary chiefs govern at local levels, including with customary courts, acting as intermediaries between the national government and communities. Chiefs have the authority to make arrests but must hand suspects over to the police “without unnecessary delay,” and national law enforcement generally carry out the chiefs’ and their courts’ decisions on petty criminal and civil matters. However, customary chiefs have no legal authority over murder cases and the proceedings and judgments from customary courts routinely contradict human rights principles. By allowing customary authorities to sanction killings, the state authorities are violating domestic criminal laws and international human rights law, ranging from the rights to a fair trial and due process, to their right to life. On July 19 Human Rights Watch shared a written summary of research findings with Governor Aleu and requested government response. The government did not respond. In July 2020 President Kiir warned newly appointed governors that he would fire them if they did not address violence in their states. Kiir has since dismissed the governor of Lakes state and the chief administrator for Ruweng administrative area. Human Rights Watch believes this pressure may have contributed to Warrap authorities’ heavy-handed methods. Government and UN sources said that the limited capacity of the state police and judiciary contributes to the Warrap governor’s hard line and abusive approach. The government sources noted that the local police are poorly resourced and frequently outgunned by armed civilians. Kiir should mandate that anti-crime campaigns respect human rights and publicly announce that human rights violators will be held accountable. South Sudanese authorities, with international assistance and cooperation as necessary, should develop the police and judiciary’s ability to deal effectively with intercommunal violence, other crimes, and their punishment. “These killings have occurred within a context of systemic abuses –committed with impunity –by security forces,” Pur said. “President Kiir needs to end these abuses and give South Sudanese reason to believe that, after 10 years of independence, they will finally live by the rule of law.”
For further details about the executions, see: https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/07/29/south-sudan-summary-executions-north
© 2021 Human Rights Watch