Juba — The death penalty debate in South Sudan has gone global, with a group of South Sudanese and human rights groups urging the young nation to join the great majority of United Nations members that have abolished the death penalty in either law or practice by placing a moratorium on all executions.
South Sudan, the group said in a statement, would in December this year, have its first opportunity to vote on a UN General Assembly resolution to establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.
"South Sudan should take the opportunity of the UN General Assembly resolution on the death penalty to join movement toward abolition across Africa and around the world," said Audrey Gaughran, Africa Director at Amnesty International.
"President Salva Kiir Mayardit should immediately declare an official moratorium on executions, and the government should urgently address the continuing shortcomings in the country's administration of justice," adds the statement addressed to South Sudan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nhial Deng Nhial.
The young nation has, in recent months, been in the spotlight after it hanged two men in Juba prison, despite widespread criticisms against use of the death penalty in a country said to have "well-documented weaknesses" in its legal systems.
In addition, more than 200 prisoners reportedly remain on death row in the country's detention centers, said to be overcrowded and dirty.
Globally, however, more than two-thirds of UN member states- 137 countries - have reportedly abolished the death penalty in law or in
practice, including 37 of the 54 member countries of the African Union.
Samuel Dong, the Secretary General of South Sudan Law Society (SSLS) said depriving someone of the right to life is an ultimate and irreversible punishment.
"Without even the most basic legal protections in place, the risk of arbitrariness and error is too high," he added.
Since 2006, South Sudan's Ministry of Justice has reportedly provided legal aid in a total of only six cases, while the vast majority of prisoners on death row were reportedly not represented by counsel, leaving many unable to adequately prepare their defence or to appeal convictions.
Meanwhile, the group in their statement urged the government of South Sudan to increase public information and transparency about its use of the death penalty, including by publishing statistics on the number of executions carried out and death sentences imposed and notifying prisoners' families of impending executions.
"The accessibility of such information is of particular importance during the current constitutional review process," the statement further reads, while advocating for informed discussions on substantive constitution provision such as the right to life.
Daniel Bekele, the Africa Director at Human Rights Watch said transparency is fundamental to the administration of justice and critical to allowing South Sudanese to evaluate how the death penalty is being imposed.
"However, the death penalty will remain an affront to basic human rights until there is an effective moratorium and it is ultimately abolished under statutory law," he said.
Last month, both the European Union (EU) and the French embassy in South Sudan called for immediate suspension of the death penalty in the young nation, citing the weaknesses in the country's judicial systems.
However, Lawrence Korbandy, the Chairperson of South Sudan Human Right Commission (SSHRC) recently told Sudan Tribune that the campaign for the abolition of the death penalty in the country should be a "gradual" process.