Some residents in the Jonglei state capital Bor are accusing the security forces of harassing and abusing civilians’ rights in the guise of executing an order to crackdown group of youth described as gangs.
They say the joint security operation is targets people wearing dreadlocks, miniskirts, and tights dresses, including jeans. They are accusing them of belonging to youth gangs known for drinking, fighting, and public nudity.
One Bor resident who preferred to be identified only as Mary for fear of reprisals said some young people in town are unnecessarily targeted and become victims for the nature of their dresses. She says the move shocked many residents and believes it’s against the rights of citizens.
“It’s my right or our right as young people to dress the way we like. It’s a married woman who can wear tall dresses as her husband wants. But we should wear the way we want so that our men could see and say that is the lady walking there.” she stated.
Another resident, who preferred to be identified as Marial, said he felt discriminated against authorities’ decision to dictate what to or what not to wear. He said the way people dress could be an essential expression of their religion and culture.
“Human flights should be respected. Dressing in a certain way does not make you a criminal. I am not happy with the way young people are being treated. “I want the authorities to revisit their decision.” Marial said
Brigadier General Ajak Ayuen Mach, the head of the Joint Operations Force, leading the crackdown on gangs in Bor town says the officers are implementing the calls from community leaders to restore traditional culture of the people in Bor.
“I was mandated by the community that young women and girls have been noticed to have been dressing indecently and that they want to destroy our culture. So, I took that as part of the mission to work out,” Mach said.
General Mach denied allegations that his forces are harassing civilians. He only arrests those who resist advice and his instructions on decent dressing and takes them to a barracks for questioning and further guidance.
“There are few women that when they talk out of point, we take them to our barrack to tell them that you have to change this cloth and put on a long dress. We have never beaten any women one day. We are restoring the culture, but we are doing it peacefully.” General Mach added
He said women are expected to dress in a way that covers their body with clothes that are not see-through or tight-fitting, as it is considered that showing parts of their body is a factor that can lead to sexual immorality.
Simon Manyok Deng, the Jonglei state advisor on Human Rights, said problems arise when some international laws on liberty and choice of dress contradict local customs. But Deng urged the security forces to respect the fundamental human rights of the civilians when implementing civil law and order.
Bol Deng Bol, a civil society activist with the Bor-based advocacy group Intrepid South Sudan says everyone has the right to freedom of expression and freedom to manifest their religion or beliefs under international human rights law. Bol said hence the general rule entails that all people should be free to choose what – and what not – to wear.
He urged Jonglei government to create an environment free of illegal coercion and ensure every person expresses their beliefs, personal convictions, or identity without interference.