BLOG| UNDP’s Point of View: Rule of Law Officer Tarkuo WeahApr 19, 2017
Tarkuo Weah is based in Aweil, South Sudan as Rule of Law Officer with UNDP’s Access to Justice and Rule of Law project. Recently he helped coordinate a training on the principles of law and human rights to local traditional leaders, jointly with the Ministry of Local Government and Law Enforcement. The five-day training brought together twenty five (25) traditional leaders, or chiefs, to discuss principles of law and human rights, with an emphasis on women and child’s rights in the local administration of justice.
Can you tell us a little about how this training complements the other work UNDP is doing around access to justice and rule of law, especially in Aweil? What challenges are present in the area? What opportunities or successes have you seen?
Tarkuo: As part of the Access to Justice and Rule of Law project’s capacity building support to key institutions of Aweil state, including staff and institutional capacity building of the Judiciary, the Department of Legal Administration and Public Prosecution of the Ministry of Justice, as well as the Local Government Board, such as for the harmonization of both the customary and statutory laws of South Sudan, the training increased the knowledge and enlightened the awareness of the traditional leaders on the principles of law and human rights in the performance of their duties as judges and interpreters of the law in the local administration of justice. Illiteracy amongst traditional leaders, lack of basic legal knowledge and low salaries remain the challenges. Meanwhile, with the completion of the ascertainment and harmonization of both the customary and statutory laws of South Sudan, the issues of law and human rights will now have a holistic and unified approach at the statutory and customary levels.
During the training, what did the leaders find particularly important or useful?
Tarkuo: They lauded UNDP for affording them such an opportunity. Speaking on behalf of the participants during the closing ceremony, Chief Abuk Aher Arol said, “If we never had this opportunity given to us by UNDP, we, traditional leaders would not have known these major human rights of women and children that exist in our country today.” It was very important to them that they had the opportunity to gather and interact with chiefs from all counties of Aweil state, as well as well-informed facilitators and lecturers, for those five days discussing laws, human rights values, the roles of traditional authorities, etc. in the development of a viable local justice system. It is interesting to note that 98% of the participants recommended that the training be held twice a year so as to afford other chiefs the opportunity to attend, even if a chief is literate or not.
Why is it important to engage traditional leaders in Aweil?
Tarkuo: It is essential here in Aweil because traditional leaders serve as the advisory board (provider of blessings/go ahead/take action) to almost all political, social or cultural actions. Intervention at any given time could most likely require their approval or consent.
After attending the training and discussing these issues, in what capacities or ways will the participants put their knowledge to use? What would be the next steps?
Tarkuo: Importantly, the 25 participants were all chiefs (males and females), including paramount chiefs, executive chiefs and town chiefs. Each of them administers local justice in their various communities, hence they are expected to and have promised to use the knowledge and skills earned from the five-day training to administer justice in the various customary courts as customary law judges. And, of course, the recommendation was that we, the national government and with partners, could institute a routine monitoring mechanism to see and verify the performance of customary judges in their various localities.
You are a Rule of Law Officer with UNDP, and also a United Nations Volunteer. What inspires you to work in this field and to volunteer your expertise?
Tarkuo: I was inspired to study law because of my nature to remain law abiding, but also to equally use the law as my tool for self-protection and for the protection of the less fortunate who deserve justice. I have served as a volunteer in many instances; the desire to volunteer has always been part of my personal and professional life. When offered the opportunity to serve as a UNV, I took it as part of my duty to serve mankind and humanity in my capacity as a legal practitioner, and that inspired me.
Learn more about the Access to Justice and Rule of Law project here.