Spare a thought for the men raped and tor­tured in de­ten­tion in South Su­dan


The East African - - OPINION -

Gatwich, 34, was ar­rested by the South Su­dan Mil­i­tary In­tel­li­gence Di­rec­torate in the after­math of the July 2016 clashes in Juba and de­tained at the Gorom Mil­i­tary Base, 20km south of Juba. Dur­ing his ini­tial ar­rest and in­ter­ro­ga­tion, he was beaten and pierced with a dull knife. In de­ten­tion, the ill-treat­ment con­tin­ued.

Speak­ing to Amnesty In­ter­na­tional in De­cem­ber 2017, just af­ter his re­lease, he said: “In Gorom, you can­not talk. When we were heard talk­ing, we are brought out, beaten and tor­tured. They used logs, bam­boo sticks and belts for the beat­ings. If they de­cided to kill you, they would put a nail in your head, and make the rest of us watch.”

But Gatwich is not alone. He is among hun­dreds of peo­ple, mostly men, who have been ar­bi­trar­ily ar­rested and de­tained by the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ser­vice and the Mil­i­tary In­tel­li­gence Di­rec­torate since the con­flict started in De­cem­ber 2013.

An­other ex-de­tainee, 49-year-old Joseph, re­flect­ing on his life be­fore two years of de­ten­tion, told us: “You can­not talk about be­fore. That’s why peo­ple are dy­ing in the sea in Italy. I can­not even send $50 so my fam­ily can eat. The stresses that I have are not be­ing able to sup­port my fam­ily. It is bet­ter for one to die.”

Some de­tainees have died in cus­tody as a re­sult of abuses, ill-treat­ment and lack of med­i­cal ser­vices. Oth­ers, like Gatwich and Joseph, strug­gle to get the med­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal care they des­per­ately need to get back to nor­mal life. Most for­mer de­tainees have dif­fi­cul­ties re­build­ing their bro­ken lives.

“Be­fore de­ten­tion, my life was okay. There was no prob­lem. But since I was de­tained – I was there for three years and two months – life has be­come dif­fi­cult. When they ar­rested me, they went to my house and took ev­ery­thing. I was re­leased and found noth­ing. Now I can’t af­ford to keep the kids in school and pay rent. I can­not look for jobs be­cause they took my doc­u­ments when they ar­rested me, and my health is also not good,” said 32-year-old Moses.

The sur­vivors spoke of how they of­ten won­dered whether they would ever make it out of de­ten­tion alive, whether they would ever see their fam­i­lies again. Now they are free but live each day in fear of be­ing re­ar­rested.

“I used to move freely with­out fear but now I have no pro­tec­tion and I am sure they are still fol­low­ing us to see whether their ac­cu­sa­tions against us are true. Most of us are trau­ma­tised; we need trauma heal­ing,” said David, a 49year-old de­tainee re­leased in 2017 af­ter three years in de­ten­tion.

In ad­di­tion to con­sid­er­able men­tal an­guish, a num­ber de­scribed prob­lems with their eye­sight and com­plained of high blood pres­sure and dif­fi­culty in walk­ing, among other med­i­cal con­di­tions they con­tracted, or that were ag­gra­vated by the cramped, un­san­i­tary con­di­tions in de­ten­tion.

Due to in­ad­e­quate health­care in South Su­dan, where even pri­mary healt care for the gen­eral pop­u­lace is pro­vided by NGOS, for­mer de­tainees are not able to get the med­i­cal or psy­cho­log­i­cal at­ten­tion they need, and are en­ti­tled to.

Avail­abil­ity of and ac­ces­si­bil­ity to men­tal health and psy­cho-so­cial sup­port ser­vices is ex­tremely lim­ited in South Su­dan. Juba Teach­ing Hospi­tal – the only pub­lic med­i­cal fa­cil­ity that pro­vides psy­chi­atric care – had ca­pac­ity for only 12 pa­tients as of July 2016. The coun­try has very few prac­tis­ing psy­chi­a­trists.

While some NGOS pro­vide sup­port to re­leased de­tainees, there is a gen­eral ab­sence of tai­lored sup­port for vic­tims. Men are par­tic­u­larly dis­ad­van­taged. Al­though Amnesty In­ter­na­tional has doc­u­mented that men are also sub­jected to sex­ual and gen­der-based vi­o­lence, par­tic­u­larly when in cus­tody, there are hardly any spe­cialised health and sup­port ser­vices for male vic­tims.

Pro­longed ar­bi­trary de­ten­tion, tor­ture and other ill-treat­ment have caused phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal harm to hun­dreds. The Gov­ern­ment of South Su­dan must put an end to these vi­o­la­tions, and en­sure vic­tims re­ceive full repa­ra­tion, in­clud­ing com­pen­sa­tion for phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal harm, and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion. It must also con­duct in­ves­ti­ga­tions into re­ports of tor­ture and pros­e­cute those re­spon­si­ble.

While the pri­mary re­spon­si­bil­ity for the care of ex-de­tainees lies with the gov­ern­ment, na­tional and in­ter­na­tional NGOS have also a role to play by en­sur­ing that their pro­grammes cater to the full range of vi­o­la­tions ex­pe­ri­enced by vic­tims of South Su­dan’s con­flict, in­clud­ing pro­longed and ar­bi­trary de­ten­tion, tor­ture and sex­ual and gen­der-based vi­o­lence.

That’s why peo­ple are dy­ing in the sea in Italy. I can­not even send $50 so my fam­ily can eat.” I used to move freely with­out fear but now I am sure they are still fol­low­ing us to see if their ac­cu­sa­tions against us are true

Joan Nyanyuki is Amnesty In­ter­na­tional re­gional di­rec­tor for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes

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