Press briefing notes on South Sudan

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Cécile Pouilly
Location: Geneva
Date: 29 November 2013
Subject: South Sudan

We have received reports indicating that South Sudan has carried out at least four executions since the beginning of this month. Two men convicted of murder were hanged in Juba on 12 November and two others in Wau on 18 November. More than 200 individuals are believed to be on death row throughout the country.

South Sudan's justice system is struggling to establish itself after decades of civil war. Police and prosecutorial services are not available in much of the country and, when available, do not have the resources to conduct proper investigations and prosecutions.

We are particularly concerned about the limited access to legal representation during trials, including for people sentenced to death. The overwhelming majority of individuals in prison in South Sudan do not have legal representation or the right to free legal aid in serious criminal, civil, land and family matters. As a result, they are often unable to mount an adequate defence or to contest the use of forced confessions in court. Unclear bureaucratic procedural requirements also hinder the exercise of the right of appeal.

In these circumstances, the high threshold set by international law for the use of the death penalty fails to be met. International law requires that the death penalty may only be carried out pursuant to a final judgement rendered by a competent court after a legal process with all possible safeguards to ensure a fair trial, including legal representation and the right to appeal to a court of higher jurisdiction. It is unclear whether the four individuals executed this month had any access to legal representation.

Although South Sudan voted in favour of the adoption of UN General Assembly’s resolutions 67/176 on moratorium of the use of the death penalty in December 2012, at least 14 individuals are believed to have been executed since the country gained its independence in July 2011. The actual number of individuals executed is likely to be higher, as the Government does not publicly disclose information about death sentences or judicial executions.


For further information and media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 or + 41 79 506 1088 /, Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 / or Cécile Pouilly (+41 22 917 9310 or +41 79 618 3430 / )

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