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S. Sudan prisons grapple with congestion
as judges’ strike paralyses courts       

JUBA, (Xinhua) -- South Sudan is grappling with congestion in prisons and other detention cells caused by a four-month long strike by judges that has paralyzed the judicial system in the civil war-torn East African nation.

Speaking during a roundtable discussion on legal aid service in South Sudan, the heads of the prison service and that of the Human Rights Commission said prisons and police cells countrywide have been filled to capacity due to backlog of cases in the courts.

Andrew Kuany Aguer, Director General of South Sudan Prison Service said since the judges downed their tools in May, living conditions of prisoners across the country have worsened due to overflow of prisoners on remand, putting huge pressure on the limited food and medical services they offer detainees.

Aguer noted that the country’s main maximum security prison, Juba Central is holding three times the initial capacity of the facility.

He said the number of inmates is increasing daily yet little is being done to investigate and try the accused, warning that the congestion could cause serious disease outbreaks if not addressed urgently.

“There are 906 inmates in Juba prison as of yesterday (Monday) while the capacity of the prison is less than half of the number. The capacity of the prison was supposed to be 200 to 300 but now we don’t reject anybody coming in even if it is full,” Aguer said

“We are limping and we are just waiting for when the (judges) problems are going to be resolved so that they come fully to investigate the accused,” he added.

South Sudan has a weak justice system that has come under criticism due to shortage of judges that has caused backlog of cases. Data from the Judiciary indicate that the world’s youngest country has at least 240 judges nationwide.

The situation was even made worse after judges declared a nationwide strike over administrative matters and poor working conditions.

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir in July sacked 14 senior judges following failed talks, but the sacking failed end the strike.

Nyuol Justin Yaac, Acting Chairperson of the South Sudan Human Rights Commission said several petty criminals are currently languishing in prisons and police cells due to lack of judicial services.

He urged the government to address the concerns of the striking judges in order to improve the provision of judicial service in the country.

“The issues in the prison can be resolved by addressing and restructuring how legal aid operates, and in that sense we can have more judges expediting the cases of these prisoners in which some of them have been detained because of petty crimes and if there are more judges much of the spaces occupied can be freed up,” Yaac said.


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