The United Nations human rights office today called on authorities in South Sudan to stop the use of the death penalty, stressing that the country’s nascent judicial system may not have ensured fair trials for the more than 200 people on death row.
“We are particularly concerned about the limited access to legal representation during trials, including for people sentenced to death,” the spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Cécile Pouilly, told journalists in Geneva.
The overwhelming majority of individuals in prison in South Sudan do not have legal representation or the right to free legal aid in serious criminal, civil, land and family matters, OHCHR said.
It also noted that police and prosecutorial services are not available in much of the country and, when available, do not have the resources to conduct proper investigations and prosecutions. Unclear bureaucratic procedural requirements also hinder the exercise of the right of appeal.
“In these circumstances, the high threshold set by international law for the use of the death penalty fails to be met,” Ms. Pouilly said.
Today’s comments follow reports that at least four people have been executed in South Sudan since the beginning of the month. Two of the men had been convicted of murder and hanged in Juba on 12 November and two others in Wau on 18 November.
It is unclear whether the four individuals had any access to legal representation, Ms. Pouilly told the press.
International law requires that the death penalty only be carried out pursuant to a final judgement rendered by a competent court after a legal process with all possible safeguards to ensure a fair trial, including legal representation and the right to appeal to a court of higher jurisdiction.
Since 2007, the General Assembly has adopted four resolutions calling on States to establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty with a view to its abolition.
South Sudan voted in favour of the Assembly resolution on a moratorium in 2012. Since then, its authorities are believed to have executed at least 14 people, according to OHCHR. The Government does not publicly disclose information about death sentences or judicial executions.