Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The transitional constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press. The government and its agents frequently violated these rights in the name of national security, however, and the downward trend in respect for these freedoms continued.
Freedom of Speech: Civil society organizations must register with the government under the law. The government regularly attempted to impede criticism by monitoring, intimidating, harassing, arresting, or detaining members of civil society who criticized the government.
Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The government maintained strict control of media, both print and electronic. The government suppressed dissenting voices, forcing some civil society organizations and media houses to shut down or flee the country. Government officials or individuals close to the government regularly interfered in the publication of articles and broadcasting of programs, and high-level government officials stated press freedom should not extend to criticism of the government or soliciting views of opposition leaders.
Violence and Harassment: Security forces commonly intimidated or detained journalists whose reporting they perceived as unfavorable to the military or government. Security forces confiscated or damaged journalists’ equipment and restricted their movements. During the year journalists were interrogated, harassed, detained, and imprisoned. NSS representatives frequently harassed journalists by detaining them at NSS headquarters or local police stations without formal charges. Government harassment was so pronounced that several journalists chose to flee the country. Journalists and media agencies that reported on news of the opposition could expect questioning and possibly closure. Journalists in Juba experienced threats and intimidation and routinely practiced self-censorship. On several occasions, high-level officials used intimidating language directed toward media outlets and representatives.
There were multiple reports of such abuses, such as the following example: On January 10, authorities in Torit, Eastern Equatoria, arrested and detained Ijoo Bosco Modi, a freelance journalist working for Torit Radio 97.5 FM, for reading on air a press release concerning international sanctions imposed on Vice President Taban Deng Gai.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Most organizations practiced self-censorship to ensure their safety, and authorities regularly censored newspapers, directly reprimanded publishers, and removed articles deemed critical of the government. Many print media outlets reported NSS officers forced the removal of articles at the printing company (where all newspapers are printed), often leaving a blank spot where the article was originally meant to appear.
Since the outbreak of conflict in 2013, the government tried to dictate media coverage of the conflict and threatened those who tried to publish or broadcast views of the opposition. The Media Authority advised international journalists not to describe conflict in the country in tribal terms and deemed such references as “hate speech.” The NSS regularly harassed, intimidated, and summoned journalists for questioning. The environment for media workers remained precarious throughout the year.
In March the NSS shuttered the English-language newspaper Agamlong following the publication of articles critical of a senior government official.
The government’s South Sudan National Communication Authority frequently blocked access to certain websites, such as two popular news websites, Radio Tamazuj and Sudan Tribune, and two blogs, Paanluel Wel and Nyamilepedia, accused of disseminating “nonpeace” messages considered not to be “in the best interest of peace building in this country.” There were credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The government also targeted and intimidated individuals–especially those outside of Juba–who were critical of the government in open online forums and social media.
The government restricted cultural activities and academic workshops. NSS authorization is required for public events, including academic workshops, which particularly affected NGOs and other civic organizations. To obtain permission, the NSS sometimes requested a list of national and international staff members employed by the organizations and names of participants. Permission was often predicated upon the expectation the NSS would be able to monitor the events. In February the University of Juba suspended Professor Lo Liyong after he wrote an article criticizing the government’s changing of state boundaries in the country. Professor Lo Liyong was reinstated in June and fined three months’ salary.
The government generally respected freedom of peaceful assembly but restricted freedom of association.
The transitional constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right, but many citizens did not gather due to fear of targeted violence. Security officials lacked nonviolent crowd control capabilities and at times fired live ammunition into the air to disperse crowds.
In June police and military officers shot live ammunition into a crowd of approximately 1,000 civilians protesting the killing of three persons by military officers regarding a land dispute in Juba. Security forces fired into the air to disburse a peaceful protest regarding the same incident in Bor, arresting a journalist and youth leader. In November the NSS arrested individuals planning a peaceful demonstration regarding the rising cost of living.
The transitional constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government did not respect this right for those suspected of associating with or having sympathies for opposition figures (see section 1.g.). Some civil society leaders interpreted a 2012 law as an attempt to suppress opposition to the SPLM (see section 3). Non-SPLM parties in the transitional government, particularly the SPLM-IO, noted increased ability to conduct activities during the year.
The NSS and other security actors widely enforced a 2016 law strictly regulating the activity and operations of civil society throughout the year. The law focused particularly on NGOs working in the governance, anticorruption, and human rights fields, and it imposed a range of legal barriers, including limitations on the types of activities in which organizations may engage, onerous registration requirements, and heavy fines for noncompliance. Human rights groups and civil society representatives reported NSS officials continued surveillance and threats against civil society organizations. Civil society organizations reported extensive NSS scrutiny of proposed public events; the NSS reviewed every proposed event and sometimes denied permission, rejected proposed speakers, or disrupted events (see section 7.a.).
The transitional constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, and repatriation. The government, however, often restricted these rights, routinely blocked travel of political figures within the country, and denied them permission to travel abroad. Despite multiple pledges from the government to dismantle checkpoints, they remained a common problem. Security forces manning these checkpoints routinely used them as opportunities to charge illegal fees and discriminate against minorities.
The transitional constitution does not address emigration.
In-country Movement: IDPs remained in UNMISS PoC sites due to fear of retaliatory or ethnically targeted violence by armed groups, both government- and opposition-affiliated. The government often obstructed humanitarian organizations seeking to provide protection and assistance to IDPs and refugees. Continuing conflict between government and opposition forces and subnational violence restricted the movement of UN personnel and the delivery of humanitarian aid (see section 1.g.), as did restrictions due to COVID-19.
Between March and August, at the height of COVID-19 movement restrictions, the number of humanitarian aid workers in the country dramatically decreased, with those remaining working from accommodations in Juba or other town centers. The preflight testing requirement for all domestic travelers and the lack of laboratory capacity and capability restricted the ability to travel within the country. Humanitarian workers reported being turned away from the testing facility due to the backlog of samples to be analyzed.
Foreign Travel: Individuals, due to arbitrary restrictions, were sometimes prevented from leaving the country.
Significant levels of subnational violence continued, particularly in Jonglei, Warrap, and the Greater Equatoria region. The result was sustained mass population displacement, both within the country and into neighboring countries, and high levels of humanitarian and protection needs, which strained the ability of UN and international humanitarian personnel to provide protection and assistance. According to OCHA, as of September conflict and food insecurity had displaced internally more than 1.6 million persons. Of these, more than 180,000 persons were sheltered in UNMISS PoC sites. The increased violence and food insecurity forced relief actors to delay plans for the safe return and relocation of some IDP populations.
Violence affecting areas such as the regions of Central Equatoria and Jonglei continued to result in dire humanitarian consequences, including significant displacement and serious and systematic human rights abuses, such as the killing of civilians, arbitrary arrests, detentions, looting and destruction of civilian property, torture, and sexual and gender-based violence, according to the UNMISS Human Rights Division and other organizations.
The government promoted the return and resettlement of IDPs but did not provide a safe environment for returns and often denied humanitarian NGOs or international organizations access to IDPs.
f. Protection of Refugees
The government cooperated with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other organizations regarding treatment of IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. Overall, coordination with the government continued across all sectors, including with the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management, and Relief and Rehabilitation Commission. The coronavirus pandemic further deepened the plight of persons fleeing war, conflict, and repression and of vulnerable South Sudanese.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Refugees sometimes suffered killings and abuse, such as armed attacks, gender-based violence, forced recruitment, including of children, and forced labor, according to UNHCR. This abuse was often perpetrated by armed SPLM-N elements that crossed the border and visited or temporarily took up residence in refugee camps and sites.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for protection of refugees as well as the granting of asylum and refugee status. The government allowed refugees from neighboring countries to settle and generally did not treat refugees differently from other foreigners. While most refugees in South Sudan were from Sudan, the government also granted asylum to refugees from Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, the Central African Republic, Burundi, and Somalia.
Access to Basic Services: While refugees sometimes lacked basic services, this generally reflected a lack of capacity in the country to manage refugee problems rather than government practices that discriminated against refugees. Refugee children had access to elementary education in refugee camps through programs managed by international NGOs and the United Nations. Some schools were shared with children from the host community. In principle refugees had access to judiciary services, although a lack of infrastructure and staff meant these resources were often unavailable.
Due to continuing conflict and scarcity of resources, tension existed between refugees and host communities in some areas regarding access to resources.
Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees and returnees for reintegration, and efforts to develop a framework for their integration or reintegration into local communities were in progress. No national procedures were in place to facilitate the provision of identity documents for returnees or the naturalization of refugees beyond procedures that were in place for all citizens and other applicants.
Citizenship is derived through the right of blood (jus sanguinis) if a person has a South Sudanese parent, grandparent, or great-grandparent on either the mother’s or the father’s side, or if a person is a member of one of the country’s indigenous ethnic communities. Individuals also may derive citizenship through naturalization. Birth in the country is not sufficient to claim citizenship. While the country had a Nationality Act in place since independence, less than 10 percent of South Sudanese were believed to have obtained national passports or certificates. There were no statistics or estimates of how many inhabitants may be at risk of statelessness. The Nationality Act does not include any specific provisions for stateless persons, children whose parents are without nationality, or children born in the country who otherwise would be stateless.
According to a 2018 report from the National Dialogue, a government-sponsored initiative, it was more difficult for those from the southern region of Equatoria to rightfully claim citizenship due to discrimination from other tribes, which suspected them of being Ugandans or Congolese. According to UNHCR, certain nomadic pastoralist groups had difficulty accessing application procedures for nationality certification, requiring UNHCR’s intervention to address matters with the Directorate of Nationality, Passports, and Immigration.
In 2019 the government declared five pledges toward ending statelessness by 2024, and with the support of UNHCR, the government drafted a national action plan to serve as a roadmap for implementation. In August the Ministry of Interior endorsed the plan.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Conviction of rape is punishable by up to 14 years’ imprisonment and a monetary fine. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and rape was widespread. The law defines sexual intercourse within marriage as “not rape.” No information was available on the number of persons prosecuted, convicted, or punished for rape, and convictions of rape seldom were publicized. According to observers, sentences for persons convicted of rape were often less than the maximum. Since the conflict began in 2013, conflict-related sexual violence was widespread. The targeting of girls and women reached epidemic proportions following skirmishes and attacks on towns in conflict zones, and sex was often used as a weapon of war (see section 1.g.). Women and girls also faced the threat of rape while living in UN PoC sites and when leaving PoC sites to conduct daily activities.
The law does not prohibit domestic violence. Violence against women, including spousal abuse, was common, although there were no reliable statistics on its prevalence. According to NGOs some women reported that police tried to charge 20 South Sudan pounds ($0.12) or more when they attempted to file the criminal complaints of rape or abuse. While not mandatory, police often told women they needed to complete an official report prior to receiving medical treatment. Families of rape victims encouraged marriage to the rapist to avoid public shaming.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is a criminal offense under the law, but few data existed to determine its prevalence. The law prohibits subjecting children to negative and harmful practices that affect their health, welfare, and dignity. Although not a common practice, FGM/C occurred in some regions, particularly along the northern border regions in Muslim communities. Several NGOs worked to end FGM/C, and the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Welfare raised awareness of the dangers of FGM/C through local radio broadcasts.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The practice of girl compensation–compensating the family of a crime victim with a girl from the perpetrator’s family–occurred. Victims were generally between ages 11 and 15, did not attend school, and often were physically and sexually abused and used as servants by their captors. Local officials complained the absence of security and rule of law in many areas impeded efforts to curb the practice. Dowry practices were also common. NGOs reported fathers often forced daughters, generally minors, to marry older men in exchange for cattle or money.
Sexual Harassment: Conviction of sexual harassment is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine. The government rarely enforced the law, and NGOs reported most women were unaware it was a punishable offense or feared retribution for reporting it, since women were often blamed for its occurrence. Observers noted sexual harassment, particularly by military and police, was a serious problem throughout the country.
Reproductive Rights: Women continued to suffer unprecedented levels of sexual violence, including abduction, rape, and forced marriage. More than half of all girls were married before the age of 18. Data collection continued to be inadequate to provide accurate estimates on most indicators.
According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the country had a modern contraceptive prevalence rate of 1.7 percent among women of reproductive age. Teenage pregnancy was 30 percent among girls between the ages of 15 and 19.
The maternal mortality rate was estimated to be between 789 and 1,150 deaths per 100,000 live births. The high maternal mortality rate was largely due to limited and low-quality medical care and an extremely low rate of skilled birth attendance. More than 80 percent of women delivered at home, assisted by untrained attendants. The lack of access to skilled medical care during pregnancy and childbirth also resulted in maternal death and disability from treatable conditions, such as infection, hemorrhage, and obstructed birth.
Cultural practices and economic barriers further limited reproductive choices. Men who paid dowries often believed they had the right to make reproductive health decisions for their wives and daughters. High illiteracy rates among women limited their access to accurate information concerning the right to control their fertility. Abortion is criminalized, including in cases of rape, incest, and when a pregnant woman’s life is at risk. Many individuals did not have access to accurate information, modern contraceptive methods, or family planning services. For persons under the age of 18, permission from family was not required to access nonsurgical reproductive health services, including for contraception. Cultural practices and social stigma, however, often prevented minors from exercising their rights. Women needed to obtain their husbands’ consent to access sexual and reproductive health services, such as antenatal care, facility delivery, and family planning.
The country’s national health policy and related strategic documents were in favor of sexual and reproductive health, including promotion of access to family planning information and services. Lack of resources, however, hindered implementation. The health sector remained underfunded at only 2 percent of the national budget. A shortage of skilled professionals was the biggest deficiency in the provision of quality health care. The country faced severe shortages in all categories of trained health professionals, and maternal health services were often provided by less-skilled health workers.
On average, there was only one health facility per 10,000 inhabitants, and an estimated 72 percent of the population lived more than three miles from the closest clinic. Many of these facilities were not capable of providing specialized care, and there were not enough qualified doctors, nurses, or midwives to treat survivors of sexual violence.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: While the transitional constitution provides for gender equality and equal rights for women, deep cultural prejudices resulted in widespread discrimination against women. High illiteracy rates also impeded women’s ability to understand and defend their rights. Communities often followed customary laws and traditional practices that discriminated against women. For example, authorities arrested and detained women for adultery.
Despite statutory law to the contrary, under customary law, a divorce is not final until the wife and her family return the full dowry to the husband’s family. As a result families often dissuaded women from divorce. Traditional courts usually ruled in favor of the husband’s family in most cases of child custody unless children were between ages three and seven.
Women also experienced discrimination in employment, pay, credit, education, inheritance, housing, and ownership and management of businesses or land. Although women have the right to own property and land under the transitional constitution, community elders often sought to prevent women from exercising these rights because they contravened customary practice.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived through birth if a person has any South Sudanese parent, grandparent, or great-grandparent on either the mother’s or the father’s side, or if a person is a member of one of the country’s indigenous ethnic communities. Individuals may also derive citizenship through naturalization. Birth in the country is not sufficient to claim citizenship. The government did not register all births immediately.
Education: The transitional constitution and the 2012 Education Act provide for tuition-free, compulsory, basic education through grade eight. Armed conflict and violence, however, were key factors preventing children from attending school. UNICEF estimated nearly three-quarters of the country’s children were not attending school. The expansion of conflict also resulted in the displacement of many households and widespread forced recruitment of children, particularly boys, by armed groups (see section 1.g.), making it difficult for children to attend school and for schools to remain in operation. NGOs reported government, SPLA-IO forces, and militias associated with both looted and occupied numerous schools in conflict zones. In addition the government did not give priority to investments in education, particularly basic education, and schools continued to lack trained teachers, educational materials, and other resources. Teachers also routinely went months without payment. Girls often did not have equal access to education. Many girls did not attend school or dropped out of school due to early and forced child marriage, domestic duties, and fear of gender-based violence at school.
Child Abuse: Abuse of children included physical violence, abduction, and harmful traditional practices such as “girl compensation” (see section 6, Women, Other Harmful Traditional Practices). Child abuse, including sexual abuse, was reportedly widespread. Child rape occurred frequently in the context of child, early, and forced marriage, and within the commercial sex industry in urban centers; armed groups also perpetrated it. Authorities seldom prosecuted child rape due to fear among victims and their families of stigmatization and retaliation. Child abduction also was a problem. Rural communities often abducted women and children during cattle raids (see section 1.g., Abductions).
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law provides that every child has the right to protection from early marriage but does not explicitly prohibit marriage before age 18. Child marriage remained common. According to the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Welfare, nearly half of all girls and young women between ages 15 and 19 were married, and some brides were as young as 12. According to UNICEF, 9 percent of girls were married by age 15 and 52 percent by age 18. Early marriage sometimes reflected efforts by men to avoid rape charges, which a married woman may not file against her husband. In other cases families of rape victims encouraged marriage to the rapist to avoid public shaming. Many abducted girls were often repeatedly subjected to rape (see section 1.g.) or were forced into marriage.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law designates a minimum age 18 for consensual sex, although commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred. Perpetrators convicted of child prostitution and child trafficking may be sentenced to up to 14 years’ imprisonment, although authorities rarely enforced the law. Child prostitution and child trafficking both occurred, particularly in urban areas.
Displaced Children: During the year conflict displaced numerous children, both as refugees and IDPs (see section 1.g.).
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at .
There were no statistics concerning the number of Jews in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, or the provision of other government services. NGOs reported community and family members routinely subjected persons with disabilities to discrimination. The government did not enact or implement programs to provide access to buildings, information, or communications public services. The transitional constitution and the law stipulate that primary education be provided to children with disabilities without discrimination. Very few teachers, however, were trained to address the needs of children with disabilities, and very few schools were able to provide a safe, accessible learning environment for children with disabilities. There were no legal restrictions on the right of persons with disabilities to vote and otherwise participate in civic affairs, although lack of physical accessibility constituted a barrier to effective participation. There were no mental-health hospitals or institutions, and persons with mental disabilities were often held in prisons. Limited mental-health services were available at Juba Teaching Hospital.
There were no reports of police or other government officials inciting, perpetuating, or condoning violence against persons with disabilities, or of official action taken to investigate or punish those responsible for violence against persons with disabilities.
Persons with disabilities also faced disproportional hardship under conditions of crisis-level food insecurity and continuing violence. Human Rights Watch reported persons with disabilities were often victimized by both government and opposition forces. Persons with disabilities faced difficulty fleeing areas under attack and accessing humanitarian assistance in displacement camps. Since 2013 tan unknown number of civilians experienced maiming, amputation, sight and hearing impairment, and trauma. The World Health Organization estimated 250,000 persons with disabilities were living in displacement camps, while the estimated number of persons with disabilities in the country could be more than one million.
Interethnic fighting and violence by government, opposition forces, and armed militias affiliated with the government and the opposition targeting specific ethnic groups resulted in human rights abuses (see section 1.g.). The country has at least 60 ethnic groups and a long history of interethnic conflict. Ethnic groups were broadly categorized into the Nilotic (Dinka, Nuer, and Shilluk ethnic groups), Nilo-Hamitic, and Southwestern Sudanic groups. For some ethnic groups, cattle represented wealth and status. Competition for resources to maintain large cattle herds often resulted in conflict. Long-standing grievances regarding perceived or actual inequitable treatment and distribution of resources and political exclusion contributed to conflict.
Interethnic clashes occurred throughout the year. Insecurity, inflammatory rhetoric–including hate speech–and discriminatory government policies led to a heightened sense of tribal identity, exacerbating interethnic differences.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law criminalizes same-sex sexual conduct. The law prohibits “unnatural offenses,” defined as “carnal intercourse against the order of nature,” which are punishable if convicted by up to 10 years’ imprisonment if consensual and up to 14 years if nonconsensual. There were no reports authorities enforced the law. The law also criminalizes “any male person who dresses or is attired in the fashion of a woman” in public, with a punishment of up to three months’ imprisonment if convicted.
There were reports of incidents of discrimination and abuse. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons reported security forces routinely harassed and sometimes arrested, detained, tortured, and beat them. Because of actively hostile government rhetoric and actions, most openly LGBTI citizens fled the country.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
While there were no reports filed regarding discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, discrimination was widely believed to be both pervasive and socially acceptable. Key groups especially vulnerable to stigma and discrimination included commercial sex workers and LGBTI persons. This stigma often presented a barrier to seeking and receiving services for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of HIV/AIDS.
Historical clashes between cattle keepers and agrarian persons, and between cattle keepers and persons attempting to raid and steal their herds, intensified during the year. The level, scale, and sophistication of these attacks were significantly higher when compared with past conflicts. Hundreds of individuals were killed and injured, and thousands were forced to flee their homes.
Civilian casualties and forced displacements occurred in many parts of the country when raiders stole cattle, which define power and wealth in many traditional communities. Land disputes often erupted when stolen cattle were moved into other areas, also causing civilian casualties and displacement. The SSPDF, NSS, and police sometimes engaged in revenge killings both between and within ethnic groups.