South Sudan's President Salva Kiir has fired a dozen judges who went on strike in May to demand better pay and improved working conditions. Before the firings, only 274 judges had been employed across the entire country.
The president’s decree was announced on the government-run television station Wednesday night.
Information Minister Michael Makuei said he could not provide an explanation to South Sudan in Focus on why the judges were fired at a time when the government is preparing to address citizen grievances in a national dialogue.
Khalid Abdulla Mohamed, chairman of the Judges and Justices Committee, confirmed that he and several other judges were dismissed, but declined to elaborate.
Repeated phone calls to the president's office went unanswered Thursday.
South Sudanese legal expert Modi Ezekiel said the move undermines the independence of the judiciary system.
“The judges may not feel free to utter out their views because they fear the executives will sack them, so they will be working according to the will of the executive yet an independent judiciary is crucial for any country that wants to build a better future,” said Ezekiel.
He said the president’s decision surprised him because it only increases the load on the remaining judges, who already are overworked.
“The country was faced with a shortage of judges right from its independence up to now. Some judges died, they were never replaced; others ran out of the country due to insecurity,” Ezekiel said.
And Ezekiel said the young generation is not willing to join the judiciary “because of the low pay.”
He said the president should have first run his plan to fire judges past South Sudan’s Judicial Service Commission.
The judges’ strike began May 1 after the government refused to address their grievances.
Besides calling for better pay and working conditions, the judges asked President Kiir to fire chief justice Chan Reec Madut, who they said had not responded to their concerns.