South Sudanese judges on strike over poor salaries

Also call on chief justice to step down

JUBA (Reuters) — Judges in South Sudan have gone on strike over poor pay and living conditions, a spokesman for the judges union said on Wednesday, 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 conflict has slashed oil revenues and paralyzed agriculture, spurring hyperinflation that has has rendered many civil servants' salaries almost worthless, said Guri Raymondo, a spokesman for the judges' union.

"A junior judge today receives about $15," Raymondo said. "If you go to the market now you cannot buy anything with that money."

A kilo of rice costs 130 South Sudanese pounds. There are 14.5 pounds to the dollar on the black market.

Courts already faced a huge backlog, Raymondo said, since the nation of 12 million people only had 274 judges on the payroll in its last budget. Out of those, some had resigned, some were sick and others had gone on leave, he said.

"We are not saying all the demands should be resolved in one day, but for example, a judge needs the provision of courtrooms, a means of transport that will take a judge from his house to court, we need office stationery, we need papers so that we can give our service to our people," Raymondo said.

He said the judges, who went on strike on Tuesday, also wanted the chief justice to resign, saying he was not prepared to oversee reform in the judicial system.

The government said it was waiting to hear from a committee set up by Kiir to resolve the issue.

"We have to wait for the final recommendation of the committee," presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny said.

The fighting has forced more than 3 million people to flee their homes and plunged parts of the country into famine, creating Africa's biggest refugee crisis since the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

Stories of atrocities by armed men are common, and the U.N. has said that ethnic killings are taking place. Reports of gang-rape and banditry, often by soldiers or rebels, are also widespread. 

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