Nairobi, Kenya | AFP |
Civil society activists who met with UN Security Council diplomats during last week’s visit to South Sudan are fleeing a government crackdown, groups said Friday.
Around a dozen activists met with the UN delegation when it visited South Sudan to push for peace after an outbreak of heavy fighting in the capital Juba in July that left hundreds dead.
Since then, one activist has disappeared — suspected killed — and at least two have fled the country while others fear for their safety.
Edmond Yakani, executive director of the Juba-based Community Empowerment for Progress Organization, said the situation is “very serious”.
On Thursday, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said it was “deeply concerned by reports it has received of threats and harassment against some civil society members who met with the United Nations Security Council delegation.”
During the meeting, activists spoke about the lack of respect for human rights, the prevalence of rape and of extra-judicial killings, and also discussed solutions to the crisis.
They voiced support for the proposed deployment of a 4,000-strong UN “protection force” to beef up the UN’s large peacekeeping mission and to bolster safety in the capital.
At the end of the visit, President Salva Kiir grudgingly agreed to accept the additional force, but his government continues to frustrate efforts to speed up its deployment.
– ‘Fearing for their lives’ –
Activist Emmanuel Wani, who was at the meeting, was last seen on September 6, and local media reports said he had been shot dead by suspected members of the security services.
“Up to now, his body is not yet found,” Yakani said. Other activists are seeking refuge. “They are going for hiding because they are fearing for their lives,” he said.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, another activist blamed “members of the national security service” for issuing threats intended “to shut down our voices.”
Attacks targeting activists who met the high-level UN delegation is just the latest example of the disdain South Sudan government has for the international community.
Peacekeepers and aid workers have been regularly targeted since the start of the civil war in December 2013, a well-marked US diplomatic convoy was shot up by government soldiers in early July and foreign aid workers were gang-raped in an attack on a hotel immediately after July’s battles.
A confidential report by UN experts, which was seen by AFP on Thursday, said Kiir and his top military commander had “directed” July’s violence and that the hotel assault was “well-coordinated”.
On Friday, South Sudan’s government denied any crackdown on civil society members.
“These are baseless lies. We believe in freedom of expression,” said Akol Paul Kordit, a government spokesman.