The US ambassador to the United Nations and the State Department on Saturday strongly criticised South Sudan’s government for its reported harassment and intimidation of independent activists.
In separate but simultaneously issued statements, UN Ambassador Samantha Power and State Department spokesman John Kirby accused the government of seeking to “silence” the civil society.
Ambassador Power, who recently met with civil society representatives during a UN Security Council visit to South Sudan, said on Saturday she was “outraged to learn that the South Sudanese government harassed and threatened civil society actors following the council’s visit.”
“The United States condemns any attempts by governments to silence [the] freedom of expression, and we condemn all restrictions on civil society actors who organise peacefully and provide constructive criticism,” Ambassador Power added.
“The voices of civil society must be elevated, not silenced,” she declared.
The State Department struck an almost identical note.
“The United States is deeply concerned by the South Sudanese government’s increasing efforts to silence South Sudanese civil society actors,” said the statement by spokesman Kirby.
Free,vibrant civil society
He cited “violence, intimidation and threats to shut down civil society groups and to seize their assets.”
“A free and vibrant civil society is the cornerstone of any democracy,” Mr Kirby said.
“As South Sudan seeks an end to the conflict, organisations must have the freedom to operate unhindered by government intimidation, and the South Sudanese people need to be free to voice their opinions in order for there to be a lasting return to peace.”
The unusual double salvo of criticism dramatizes a new willingness on the part of the Obama administration to focus its rebukes directly on the government headed by President Salva Kiir.
The US had previously offered calibrated responses to negative developments in South Sudan, generally blaming both the government and armed opposition in equal measure.
Last week, however, in written comments to a US congressional panel, Special Envoy Donald Booth aimed a barrage of criticisms specifically at President Kiir.
Ambassador Booth said that the government has told as many as 40 non-governmental organisations to cease operations.
News organisations as well as the UN Mission in South Sudan have cited instances of activists being threatened following their meetings with Ambassador Power and other members of the Security Council delegation.