South Sudanese police dramatically defied respect for human rights in the new state through a recent attack on a senior U.N. official – the head of the human rights division, no less. On August 20, the U.N. human rights chief in South Sudan, Benedict Sannoh, denied police access to search his belongings at a hotel in Juba, which Enough sources said contained U.N. reports. In response to his refusal, more than 10 police officers “beat, kicked and punched him in a sustained fashion while he was in a fetal position on the floor,” reported The New York Times.
After the beating, Sannoh was hospitalized for five days before seeking medical attention abroad. The U.N. human rights office in Geneva condemned the assault of Sannoh, its top official in South Sudan.
There has been no official explanation from the South Sudanese government as to why the assault took place. Sannoh, who previously served as the UNMIS chief human rights officer in Khartoum, had recently been transferred to Juba as part of the U.N. mission in the Republic of South Sudan, or UNMISS, established on July 9, 2011. UNMISS spokesman Aleem Siddique told Reuters that the attack is “a violation of our agreement with the government of South Sudan,” and UNMISS is conducting an investigation into the incident.
The assault, taking place against such a prominent human rights official during the new U.N. mission’s transitional period, represents a foreboding abuse of power that must be immediately recognized, investigated, and prosecuted. The Government of South Sudan has an opportunity to hold the perpetrators of the attack accountable and show the world that a culture of impunity will not stand in its new nation.
Photo: South Sudanese police (Enough/Tim Freccia)