New York — South Sudan should carry out its commitment for a moratorium on the death penalty. On December 20, 2012, South Sudan, along with 110 other nations, voted in favor of a United Nations General Assembly resolution calling on countries that use capital punishment to place a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.
"South Sudan deserves congratulations for voting the right way," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Now, to ensure that the global trend toward ending the death penalty becomes the norm, South Sudan should start at home, and immediately halt all executions."
South Sudan has executed at least eight people since it gained independence in July 2011. Two men were hanged at Juba Central Prison on August 28. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) raised concerns that the men had not received proper legal assistance.
In addition to calling for a moratorium and abolition of the death penalty, the UN General Assembly resolution calls on countries to respect international standards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty. Minimum international standards require respect for fair trial rights, including the presumption of innocence, the right to adequate legal assistance at all stages of the proceedings, and the right of anyone convicted to appeal to a higher tribunal.
Human Rights Watch has documented weaknesses across South Sudan's criminal justice system and the resulting violations of the basic legal rights of people accused of crimes.
The UN General Assembly resolution also calls on countries to make available relevant information about their use of the death penalty to contribute to informed and transparent national and international debates. The information should include the number of people sentenced to death and the number of executions the country has carried out. South Sudan has not been keeping public records of its executions.
Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called on South Sudan to stop using the death penalty. In a November 5 joint letter to the South Sudan foreign affairs minister, Nhial Deng Nhial, Human Rights Watch raised concerns about South Sudan's continued use of the death penalty and urged officials to vote in favor of the General Assembly resolution. The letter was also signed by The Agency for Independent Media (AIM), Amnesty International, Comboni Missionaries, Comboni Sisters, Foundation for Youth Initiative, South Sudan Human Rights Society for Advocacy, South Sudan Law Society, South Sudan Women Lawyers Association, and Soweto Community Based Organization.
There are 137 nations around the world that have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice, including 37 of the 54 member countries of the African Union. In its 2008 resolution on the death penalty, the African Commission called for a moratorium on the death penalty and ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibits the death penalty.