Juba — South Sudan's government has opened a special tribunal to try National Security Service (NSS) operatives accused of committing crimes.
The head of the NSS legal directorate said Thursday the tribunal is an attempt to end impunity and restore the image of the service, damaged by numerous reports of human rights abuses.
Five years ago President Salva Kiir signed into law the controversial National Security Service Act, which gave security agents the right to arbitrarily arrest, detain and investigate citizens or confiscate the property of any suspect deemed to be a threat to national security.
However, a section of the act provides for the creation of special court to try NSS officers suspected of committing crimes.
Jalpal Ubwech, NSS director of legal affairs, said the tribunal will prosecute hundreds of its officers accused of criminal offenses.
"It’s mandated to hold the members of the National Security Service accountable for all criminal acts and breaches of the National Security Act and any other laws and regulations. The tribunal also shall have the power to try and punish officers of the National Security NCO [noncommissioned officers] as an individual or as a member of the National Security [Service] if they are charged with offenses which include human rights abuses,” Ubwech told VOA's South Sudan in Focus.
Human rights advocate Issa Muzamil said the National Security Service must end impunity by its officers and stop the practice of arbitrary arrests of civilians if it wants to regain the trust of citizens.
“Let us avoid arbitrary detention of people, since we have a court in the army... and a court in the National Security. If the person commits a crime and the law says he must be produced in court within 24 or 48 hours, due process of law must be well observed, even if [a suspect has killed 1,000 people," Muzamil told South Sudan in Focus.
Muzamil said the tribunal must be accessible to all citizens.
Legal advocate Philiph Nyang said the tribunal is long overdue. Nyang said all national security suspects under detention should be brought to trial.
“They must be produced before this court. This goes to the institution that if you are holding someone now within your facility, we believe that, for the next few days from Monday, they should be produced before this court,” Nyang told South Sudan in Focus.
Eujin Endoara, director of the human rights division at the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, says he hopes the court will be a turning point for the National Security Service.
“It is also very important for the NSS to know that they have to be accountable if there is any abuse of power, because NSS is sometimes taking some action where people will be detained and they will stay in detention for months,” Endoara told South Sudan in Focus.
The National Security Service tribunal is composed of five members, including a high court judge.