JUBA (AFP) – South Sudanese lawmakers have proposed granting security forces the ability to make “virtually unrestricted powers of arrest” in the war-torn nation, Amnesty International warned Wednesday, calling a bill under debate “flawed”.
The proposal to set down powers of the National Security Service (NSS) in the world’s youngest nation would give “excessive powers of arrest, detention, search and seizure,” the rights group said.
The NSS “will be granted sweeping powers to arrest, detain, seize property and conduct searches if a fundamentally flawed bill currently before parliament becomes law,” Amnesty’s Elizabeth Deng said.
Thousands of people have been killed and almost two million have fled more than nine months of fighting between government troops, mutinous soldiers and ragtag militia forces divided along tribal lines.
The much feared NSS has cracked down on journalists, suffocating debate on how to end the fighting.
The bill proposes officers can arrest without a warrant, and also offers immunity for the NSS, stipulating that “no criminal proceedings” can be taken against members without permission from the minister.
The bill is “at odds with South Sudan’s Transitional Constitution and with regional and international human rights law and standards,” Deng added. “It grants officers immunity from criminal proceedings, opening the door to impunity.”
South Sudan’s civil war broke out in December after a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his sacked deputy Riek Machar. Civilians have been massacred, patients murdered in hospitals and churches, and entire towns including key oil-producing hubs have changed hands several times.