Juba lawyers ask EACJ for protection from state security agency

The EAC Headquarters in Arusha, Tanzania. PHOTO | POOL

What you need to know:

  • The Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan reported Bak’s detention, allegedly by armed Kenyan security forces and a South Sudanese man in civilian clothes, his forced return via a charter flight, and his incommunicado – and unacknowledged – detention by the NSS.

The legal fraternity in South Sudan is seeking protection from state security agencies, citing harassment of advocates by the National Security Service.

The agency is accused of targeting especially those who seek redress at the East African Court of Justice (EACJ), as lawyers and rights activists avoid the local courts for fear of not getting justice.

In the past two months, South Sudan’s security agents have detained two people, one a former mayor, without warrants and denied lawyers access to them and information about their whereabouts.

According to documents filed with the EACJ in Arusha, the NSS has been harassing Wani Santino Jada, an advocate of a citizen who sued the government at the regional court over the arrest and detention of her husband, former mayor of Juba Kalisto Lado.

“We are submitting a complaint in respect to the National Security Service agents’ intimidation of Advocate Jada in discharging his constitutional mandate about a matter of a client, who sued South Sudan for having infringed the fundamental and constitutional rights of former Mayor of Juba Kalisto Lado,” Pan African Law Chambers said in a letter dated April 16, 2024.

The lawyers say that on April 24, 2024 — a day after filing the matter at the EACJ — armed security agents in plain clothes visited the law firm offices in Juba and told the lawyer they had instructions “from above” to ask him to “back off” the case of the detainee.

They maintain that the lawyer will not “back off” and ask the regional court to protect him.

“Based on several records of the habits of kidnappings, killings, forced disappearances, torture of citizens by security agents, we therefore seek the intervention of the court to direct the Attorney-General of the Republic of South Sudan to inform the NSS agents to refrain from harassing and intimidating Advocate Wani Santino Jada,” they say.

“We also implore this honourable court to strongly condemn this unconstitutional behaviour of the South Sudan national security agents.”

Mr Jada is the advocate for Lado’s wife, Ann-Grace Juan Florentina Loro, who has sued the South Sudan AG at the regional court seeking the release of Mr Lado and a declaration that his kidnapping on March 28, 2024 and detention by security agents without trial is a breach of the fundamental principles of the East African Community and that the action further violates national laws.

The petitioner says the government violated the law by not producing the detainee before a magistrate’s court within 24 hours of his arrest.
She further seeks reparations and punitive damages for the violation of the detainee’s rights and freedoms.

The petition was filed on April 19, and Juba had not entered a response by press time, although it has 45 days from that date to respond.

Mr Lado was seized from his home in Juba and bundled into a pick-up truck with armed officers on March 28, 2024, at about 10 pm, according to court documents.

The man, who had been under physical surveillance due to his outspokenness against powerful individuals in government, is allegedly being held at the NSS headquarters, nicknamed the Blue House, in Juba.

Mr Lado’s wife is worried about her husband’s deteriorating health at an ungazetted NSS detention and without access to his doctors.
“His life is already at risk if he is not taken for treatment. The family is likely to lose him as at the time of the inter partes hearing and, as such, Lado shall suffer harm, in losing his life at the NSS illegal detention facility, despite the orders of this honorable court,” Jada told the court.

Both the EACJ and the Human Rights Watch have documented cases of intimidation of lawyers and their outspoken clients.

On April 24, 2024, for instance, the NSS produced Morris Mabior Awikjok Bak, a South Sudanese critic and former refugee in Kenya, before a county court in Juba to face charges of criminal defamation against the director of the agency.

Bak had been picked up on February 4, 2023, in Nairobi, taken back to South Sudan, and detained by the NSS, although it refused to acknowledge his detention or disclose his location.

The Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan reported Bak’s detention, allegedly by armed Kenyan security forces and a South Sudanese man in civilian clothes, his forced return via a charter flight, and his incommunicado – and unacknowledged – detention by the NSS.

In April, the agency acknowledged that it was holding him and indicated that it was bringing criminal defamation charges against him.
The NSS is yet to produce Bak before the EACJ, where his matter is being heard.

The 2014 National Security Service Act gives the NSS broad powers.

The UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan in its March 2024 report flagged unchecked mass violence and entrenched repression in South Sudan, threatening the prospects of durable peace and human rights protection.

President Salva Kiir is the current chairperson of the EAC Heads of State Summit, and his Minister for EAC Affairs Deng Alor Kuol is the chair of the Council of Ministers.