South Sudan Interior Minister Aleu Ayieny Aleu said Monday that anyone who violates the curfew in the capital is a criminal and security officers are under orders to shoot them dead.
"It is only witches who move at night," he said.
"They steal and kill our people... Shoot them. We have to strike hard to stop this problem, so now, even civilians cannot move about at night," Aleu said.
The council of ministers passed the shoot-to-kill order at its most recent meeting, Aleu said.
A curfew was imposed in Juba when fighting broke out in December. It currently runs from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., but there are reports that the authorites plan to move the start time up to 8 p.m. No one was available at the Interior Ministry to confirm or deny those reports.
Rights activists up in arms
Abila Tom Reuben, the human rights coordinator at the Voice for Change NGO said the minister's order violates people's rights - and is unlikely to work.
“With the situation the way it is currently, people in South Sudan do not get scared of death anymore," he said.
That means that a threat to shoot people who venture out at night will not achieve what it was intended to achieve - keep them indoors and bring down crime, Reuben said.
Reuben said that instead of shooting suspected criminals, the government should take steps to improve conditions in South Sudan so that people don't feel they have to turn to crime. Some South Sudanese have turned to theft and robbery to survive because their salaries have not been paid for months or essential services are not being provided, Reuben said.
Edmund Yakani of the Community for Empowerment for Progress also said that if the aim is to cut crime, a shoot-to-kill policy is not the way to achieve it.
“Shooting one criminal is not the solution," he said, adding that it would be better to arrest a suspect so that "through him, you can track down the other criminals."
Reuben and Yakani said they think the new policy is a tactic to divert attention away from the real reasons people are committing crimes, namely desperation, poverty and insecurity. All have been made worse by nearly seven months of conflict in South Sudan.
The threatened deadly crackdown on curfew violators comes at a particularly bad time for soccer fans in Juba, many of whom will be unable to watch the final games of the World Cup in Brazil because they kick off or finish after the curfew begins.
Up to now, many South Sudanese have been defying the curfew to watch the World Cup, and have said that security forces turn a blind eye if curfew violators tell them they are on their way home after a match. But that could change with the new order to shoot-to-kill.