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Attack on activist threatens anti-corruption efforts in South Sudan

12th July 2012

The South Sudanese government must take immediate action to identify and prosecute those responsible for the recent attack on anti-corruption activist, Deng Athuai, said Global Witness today (1).

On 4 July, the Chairperson of the South Sudan Civil Society Alliance (2), Mr. Deng Athuai Mawiir, was kidnapped in front of his hotel in the South Sudanese capital, Juba. He was reportedly held and beaten for three days by unknown assailants and interrogated about his work on corruption issues in the country.

“When civil society’s freedom to operate is threatened, all efforts to fight corruption and impunity are threatened,” said Global Witness campaigner Dana Wilkins. “The South Sudanese government has promised its citizens an open and democratic society. It must now make good on that promise by bringing Deng Athuai’s attackers to justice.”

South Sudan’s government has repeatedly recognised corruption as a major obstacle to stability and development. In a letter published earlier this year, President Salva Kiir Mayardit accused government officials of stealing US$4 billion from government coffers. According to recent budget figures, these stolen funds equate to more than 30% of all oil revenues received by the government since it became semi-autonomous in 2005. This is particularly concerning given that the oil sector alone made up approximately 98% of the national income last year (3).

Natural resource contracts and foreign borrowing primarily backed by future oil revenues are expected to make up more than 57% of the next year’s budget. Contract allocation and oil-backed loans pose corruption risks the world over, making South Sudan’s efforts to be transparent and accountable all the more important (4).

Local civil society groups play a pivotal role in this fight against corruption. They expose wrongdoings, advocate for change, and provide a voice for affected communities and the wider public. But to be effective they must be able to conduct research, publish reports, and campaign on their issues freely and without fear of intimidation. The recent attack on Mr. Athuai undermines that freedom.

“No South Sudanese citizen should live in fear of speaking out,” said Wilkins. “The government must take robust action in response to this attack it so that civil society groups can operate safely and under the full protection of the law.”

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Contact: For more information contact Dana Wilkins in the UK on +44 (0)7808 761 570, dwilkins@globalwitness.org or Andrea Pattison on +44 (0)7970 103 083, apattison@globalwitness.org.

Notes:

(1) Global Witness is an international, non-governmental organization which focuses on how the trade in natural resources can fuel corruption and conflict in developing countries. For the last four years in Sudan and the last two years in South Sudan, we have been working with government officials, civil society and donor advisors to improve oil sector governance. This work is informed by international best practice, consultations with industry and academic experts, our past work in Sudan, and our experience working on these issues in countries including Angola, Liberia, Kazakhstan, East Timor, and elsewhere. Our focus in South Sudan has been primarily on ensuring robust reporting, accounting, and auditing mechanisms are included in the new oil legislation, and on advocating for greater political and technical support for oversight institutions.

(2) The South Sudan Civil Society Alliance is a coalition of South Sudanese civil society groups whose stated mission is “to promote peace, stable development, human rights, democracy and good governance through influencing desirable change in policies of the government, donors, civil society and private sector through advocacy, lobby and networking.”

(3) According to the Republic of South Sudan’s Draft Budget 2012/13.

(4) See the Global Witness 17/5/12 press release ‘South Sudan faces test of transparency commitments in pursuing oil-backed financing’ and the 8/2/12 report ‘Rigged: The Scramble for Africa's Oil, Gas and Minerals.’