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Security officers accused of abuse of rights in Jonglei

By Deng Ghai Deng

Security officers have been accused by some residents of harassing and abusing the rights of civilians in Jonglei state.

A resident who preferred to be identified as Mary for fear of reprisals from the security forces claimed that the security personnel have been targeting people wearing dreadlocks, miniskirts and tights dresses including jeans accusing them of belonging to youth gangs known for drinking, fighting and public nudity saying that she was shocked by the action.

“It’s my right or our right as young people to dress the way we like, It’s a married woman who can wear tall dresses like the way her husband want,but we should wear the way we want so that out men could see and say that is the lady walking there,”Mary said 

Mary questioned any South Sudanese law that does not specify what immoral or indecent dressing.

She said that the police in the area have been verbally reprimanding women, whipping, arresting and detaining them for perceived infractions such as; not covering their thighs or chests in public.

Another resident who preferred to be identified as Marial said that he felt disappointed when the authorities dictated what to or what not to wear because dress code could not determine who you are and he asked the police to think twice.

“Human rights should be respected and dressing in a certain way does not make you a criminal, I am not happy with the way young people are being treated and I want the authorities to revisit their decision.” Marial said

Brigadier General Ajak Ayuen Mach, the Head of the Joint Operations Force which was leading the crackdown on gangs in Bor town admitted that he was implementing what he called a request by the community leaders to restore what they saidwas degenerating traditional culture of the people of Bor.

“I was mandated by the community that young women and girls have been noticed to have been dressing indecently and that they want to destroy our culture and So, I took that as part of the mission to work out.”Mach said

 General Mach denied allegations that his forces were harassing civilians saying he only arrested those who resisted advice and his instructions on decent dressing and took them to  barracks for questioning and further advice.

“There are few women, that when they talk out of point, we take them to our barrack to tell them that you have to change this cloth and put on long dress. We do nothing else. If they called home and a new cloth is brought, they change and we let them go. We have never beaten any women one day. We are restoring the culture but we are doing it peacefully.” General Mach added

General Mach said women were expected to dress in a way that covers their body with clothes that were not see-through or tight-fitting, as it is considered that showing parts of their body was a factor which couldlead to sexual immorality.

Simon Manyok Deng, the Jonglei state advisor on Human Rights said problems came when some international laws pertaining to liberty and choice of dress contradict local customs. but Deng urged the security forces to respect the fundamental human rights of the civilians when implementing civil law and order.

“The agents enforcing laws should beat the people; they should not harass them but talk to them nicely, politely because they want to do something for the betterment of the community. But if you resist [or] or you try to fight them they have right to protect themselves. All in all, in our laws it’s not allowed for law enforcement agents to beat or to harass or practice anything out of law.” Deng said

 Bol Deng Bol, a civil society activist with the Bor-based advocacy group Intrepid South Sudan said everyone has the rights to freedom of expression and freedom to manifest their religion or beliefs under international human rights law. Bol said hence the general rule entail that all people should be free to choose what – and what not – to wear.

“The general who was put to spearhead this operation was to look for gangs and of course had a description of who would be a crew member, how the crew should look like. But not to generalise everybody who had deadlocks on the streets or every lady wearing miniskirts and perceive them as criminals. They have gone overboard.  That is the case in point here. It’s not right, people have freedom to wear what they would like to wear.” Bol said

Activist Bol urged Jonglei government officials to create an environment free of illegal coercion and ensure every individual person expresses their beliefs or personal convictions or identity without interference.

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