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February 18, 2018

South Sudan Supreme Court judge quits, cites lack of independence

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir attends the 28th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Heads of State and the Government of the African Union in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, January 30, 2017. /REUTERS
South Sudan's President Salva Kiir attends the 28th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Heads of State and the Government of the African Union in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, January 30, 2017. /REUTERS

A judge of South Sudan's Supreme Court resigned on Tuesday, saying a lack of independence from the executive had turned the judiciary into a "mockery" and complaining of poor working conditions.

All of South Sudan's judges went on a five-month strike in May over poor pay, raising the risk of impunity in a country already convulsed by criminality and war.

South Sudan, the world's youngest country, descended into civil war in 2013 after President Salva Kiir fired his deputy, unleashing a conflict that has spawned a patchwork of armed factions.

"The independence of the judiciary, in the Republic of South Sudan, has become a mockery," Kukurlopita Marino Pitia, a Supreme Court judge, said in his resignation letter.

"The war in South Sudan cannot be used as an excuse to interfere and silence the judiciary," Pitia said, adding that the judiciary was expected to protect many rights that are jeopardized by conflict.

Government officials were not available immediately for comment on his letter.

The conflict in South Sudan has slashed oil revenues and paralysed agriculture, spurring hyperinflation that has rendered many civil servants' salaries almost worthless.

Arop Malueth, secretary for the steering committee for Judges and the Justice Union, told Reuters that two more judges from the lower courts had also resigned.

"Many of us feel that the judiciary is not independent as it should be," Malueth said, adding that some judges had been dismissed unconstitutionally, at the behest of the executive.

EX-ARMY CHIEF

Separately, the government said on Tuesday the former chief of the army, General Paul Malong, would be allowed to leave the country, six months after placing him under house arrest in the capital following a falling out with President Kiir.

Kiir's spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny told UN radio in South Sudan that Malong was free to go to any country for medical treatment "on grounds of humanity".

Malong led the army's war effort against rebels from 2014 but Kiir sacked him in May and placed him under house arrest.

Earlier this month, Kiir sent troops to disarm Malong's bodyguards at his house in Juba, but they refused. Kiir's troops then surrounded Malong's house, sparking fears of clashes, before withdrawing a week later.

Malong is under US sanctions and has been accused, along with Kiir, by a UN panel of experts of leading troops who murdered and raped civilians during the civil war.

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