South Sudan’s president declared a state of emergency on Wednesday evening ahead of peace talks to stop the latest violence in the country.
President Salva Kiir issued the declaration for the states of Unity and Jonglei, which include the rebel-held towns of Bor and Bentiu, the scene of recent fighting and scores of civilian deaths.
State radio also reported that Kiir ordered the formation of a negotiating team to take part in the peace talks in Ethiopia. The State radio added that the government delegation includes key opposition figures, as required in the presidential decree.
Representatives from the warring parties in South Sudan were expected to arrive in Ethiopia on Wednesday for talks aimed at ending the violence wracking the nation, the United Nations’ special representative to South Sudan said.
Hilde Johnson, who heads the U.N. mission to South Sudan (UNMISS), said she wanted to see both parties “take a decisive step to cease all hostilities” starting Wednesday.
Kiir and the rebel leader, former Vice President Riek Machar, agreed Tuesday to send delegations to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, home of the African Union, for peace talks after two weeks of violence.
A cessation of hostilities between their forces is expected to top the agenda. Johnson said it was too early to say if the move was a breakthrough, “but it is a step in the right direction.”
The African Union has set up a group to investigate human rights abuses, Johnson said, which met for the first time Tuesday. She stressed the need for people to be held accountable for their actions, and for a community-based reconciliation process to run alongside the peace talks.
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development, an East African trade bloc that has been helping to mediate between the battling parties, has said an independent body is needed to monitor any cease-fire.
The spiraling violence has sparked a humanitarian crisis in the world’s newest nation. About 600 people have been killed while 180,000 others have been displaced nationwide.
South Sudan President Salva Kiir on Monday said African nations should have acted quickly to help quell the rebel forces as soon as an attempted coup took place and violence broke out. He accuses his former vice president of trying to usurp power using a military coup, a claim Machar dismisses. Machar instead accuses President Kiir of organising ethnic violence to hide his own leadership failings.
Under a state of emergency, the government can suspend or change some functions of the executive, the legislative and the judiciary during this period of time.
It alerts citizens to change their normal behaviour and orders government agencies to implement emergency plans. A government can declare a state of emergency during a time of natural or man-made disaster, during a period of civil unrest, or following a declaration of war or situation of international or internal armed conflict.
It can also be used as a rationale for suspending rights and freedoms, even if those rights and freedoms are guaranteed under the Constitution.
Under the protocol of The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) of the United Nations General Assembly, rights and freedoms may be suspended during a state of emergency, for example, a government can detain citizens and hold them without trial.
The ICCPR is a multilateral treaty adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 16 December 1966, and came into force from 23 March 1976. It commits its parties to respect the civil and political rights of individuals, including the right to life, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, electoral rights and rights to due process and a fair trial. As of May 2013, the Covenant had 74 signatories and 167 parties.