South Sudan’s National Security Services (NSS) were stripped of their power to arrest without a warrant, a move that has been welcomed by human rights organizations. This decision comes after years of criticism that the NSS has repeatedly overstepped its constitutional mandate by arresting, detaining, and harassing political opponents, government critics, and LGBTQ individuals. Many LGBTQ and intersex people fled to the Kakuma refugee camp in neighboring Kenya due to the actions of the NSS.
James Bidal, the South Sudan Human Rights Defenders Network National Coordinator, said that the Human Rights Defenders’ Network welcomed the recent proclamation by the Cabinet Affairs Minister, Dr. Martin Elia Lumoro, on behalf of the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity, declaring that the NSS no longer has the power to arrest with or without a warrant. Human rights activists have criticized the NSS for giving the agency “police-like powers” to arrest, detain, conduct searches, and seize property without adequate safeguards.
The NSS was established at independence in 2011 to collect information, conduct analysis, and advise relevant authorities. However, it repeatedly overstepped its constitutional mandate. According to Carine Kaneza Nantulya, the deputy director of the Human Rights Watch in Africa, NSS abuses extend beyond South Sudan’s borders, and the agency has harassed and repressed South Sudanese activists in Kenya and Uganda with the aid of local authorities.
While South Sudan’s penal code criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual relations, Flavia Mwangovya, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for East and Southern Africa, notes that the NSS operates a spy network that extends throughout East Africa, where many South Sudanese have found refuge. Mwangovya said that since the NSS Act was established in 2014, the NSS has accumulated unchecked powers, becoming one of the main perpetrators of human rights violations and the most powerful security actor in South Sudan. Amnesty International and other human rights organizations continue to call for further reforms to ensure that the NSS respects fundamental rights and freedoms not only in South Sudan, but also throughout the region.