Improving Law Enforcement Coordination and Response to SGBV and Child Protection CasesMay 31, 2017
“What should be done with a child who comes into conflict with the law?”
“Who warrants arrest and who would be better served by an alternative?”
“When international law comes it comes in conflict with our cultural views, what do we do?” asks Celina Peter.
Ms. Peter is a sharp and direct woman, she smiles broadly and wears a cheerful yellow suit while diving into a serious subject matter. She’s posing questions seamlessly between English and Juba Arabic, fielding the shouted responses in both languages and scrawling them on a flip chart quickly.
Ms. Peter is the Director of Child Welfare at the Ministry of Gender, Child, and Social Welfare, and is asking these questions as part of her presentation on the rights and responsibilities of the child. She requires no notes as she explains the principles and frameworks of the United Nations Charter on the Rights of the Child, and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
She’s speaking to a room of police officers and prosecutors gathered in Juba, South Sudan recently for a week-long interactive training on managing special protection cases, including those involving sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and children.
“In the sessions today we will look to [the participants] to tell us what the most common crimes they are dealing with and hopefully engage on the most frequent issues they are encountering in their work,” says Ms. Peter.
The workshop sessions first focused on building knowledge on the nature of SGBV cases, elements of South Sudanese laws guiding SGBV offenses and procedures to follow in order to effectively investigate and prosecute these specific kinds of cases.
“If there are cases in one of the stations we don’t always have the ability to get to the victims and to also see that the perpetrators are arrested. This poses big problems in places like Munuki, which is a big place with many crimes and issues, especially concerning ladies, girls, and lost children,” says Mama Dodo, Head of a Special Protection Unit within the South Sudan National Police Service. “Despite these challenges, we are still concentrated on addressing issues including cases of women raped by the military, and early and forced marriages. We are very focused on stopping these things.”
Participants from the South Sudan National Police Service were joined in equal number by prosecutors from the Women and Children’s Unit within the Directorate of Public Prosecutions of the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, so the counterparts could explore their complementary roles through discussions, case studies and joint exercises.
“One of the challenges we have as prosecutors is the difficulty we sometimes face with successfully getting the arrest made of a perpetrator we have issued a warrant for,” says Ms. Mary Alphonse Ladu, a public prosecutor. “This is a very good workshop because it reminds us as lawyers and as investigators that we are working together to achieve our shared goals of justice, security, and serving the people.”
Within the frameworks of existing South Sudanese laws, including the Child Act of 2008, the role of the national police force includes ensuring the successful detection, reporting, investigation and prosecution of perpetrators of SGBV. Prosecutors, on the other hand, are mandated by law to guide the police and ensure that they carry out effective investigations that lead to effective prosecutions of offenders.
“Presently, victims of SGBV tend to be neglected by law enforcement in this country. For example, when a women comes to a police station to report that her husband is beating her, the investigators, who are mostly men, will laugh at her and tell her to go home. They will tell her that she is not a good woman,” says Ms. Ladu.
The training also covered tactics and international standards for serving the needs of special protection cases, with a special emphasis on cases involving minor children.
“As far as children are concerned, there are instances where the rape of a girl child is not viewed as a crime to prosecute but as a family matter where the child is then given to the perpetrator for marriage, after the payment of a dowry,” says Ms. Ladu. “These are the most challenging cases. This traditional way of dealing with the issue can mean that parents do not attend court.”
“Rape is a capital crime in South Sudan, and it is supposed to go to the criminal court. The court will sometimes try to proceed even when the parents have chosen to abandon their private rights, but it is usually very hard to try those cases,” she recounts.
Importantly, the training addresses priorities laid forth in the South Sudan National Action Plan 2015-2020 on the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security and Related Resolutions.
“The establishment and review of police special protection units are positive steps [to address SGBV]…but more efforts are needed. We still need specialized training for lawyers, prosecutors, traditional authorities and customary courts,” said Minister of Gender, Child and Social Welfare Hon. Awut Deng Acuil, speaking during a high-level dialogue in September 2016 attended by national leaders from government, military, law enforcement, civil society, and the United Nations.
Practical exercises during the training sought to combine theory and knowledge-sharing with direct skills transfer, including interview techniques, arrest procedures, coordination mechanisms, and record keeping. The ultimate aim is a justice system designed not only to respond to cases of SGBV and other special crimes but building towards a model that enables prevention.
“It’s one thing to have laws on the books but it’s another thing to actually implement the laws on the ground,” says Ms. Peter. “Ultimately, through the exercises we want to find out what [the participants] want, what support they need to implement and to carry these lessons into actions. It should not end here when we walk out.”
This workshop is part of UNDP’s Access to Justice and Rule of Law project. The project’s goals are to increase access to justice to citizens of South Sudan, with a focus on vulnerable groups and women, as well as strengthening the capacity of police, Ministry of Justice, Judiciary and legal aid services.
“Everyone needs training, and especially practical interactive trainings…We must teach those with [outdated] mentalities and so they know they are wrong. We need more Special Protection Units. We need more women police officers, and specifically, those who are actually empowered and strong in their position so they can do their duties confidently. We need to build a system where there are special prosecutors and special investigators trained in responding to and pursuing these special cases in a sensitive manner, together, as a cohesive unit,” says Ms. Ladu.
“I’d like to see continuous SGBV training workshops that really make sure we are getting the messages, and on a large scale. Big numbers of people still need to be reached with this knowledge,” she concludes.
The police and prosecutors training on SGBV through the Access to Justice and Rule of Law project continued in Jonglei state in May, and is scheduled to occur in collaboration with other state ministries in the coming months. The trainings seek to expand on the total number of police and prosecutors trained specifically in SGBV response.