Traditional Leaders Resolve to set up Committee for Traditional Justice as a Vehicle for Peace and Reconciliation in South Sudan

Dec 12, 2016

Honourable Jeremiah Swaka Moses, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Honourable Anei Mangong Anei, Member of the Local Government Board of South Sudan, Justice of the Supreme Court and Director of Research and Training of the Judiciary of South Sudan Justice Dr. Benjamin Baak, Acting Ambassador of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands Mr. Jaap van der Zeeuw and Team Leader of UNDP’s Democratic Governance and Stabilisation Unit Mr. Andrew Shuruma, launch the Study on the Harmonisation of Customary Laws and the National Legal System in South Sudan and the Annual Rule of Law Forum of Traditional Leaders in Juba, South Sudan.

The Local Government Board (LGB) and the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs (MoJCA) of the Republic of South Sudan organised the third Annual Rule of Law Forum for Traditional Leaders in Juba last week. The forum provided a platform for traditional leaders to have discussions on the potential of harnessing traditional justice mechanisms to address legacies of conflict in South Sudan and promote reconciliation and sustainable peace.

“The forum is important because it offers an opportunity for traditional leaders and judges to talk about harmonizing customary norms and statutory laws, and to encourage traditional leaders to discuss their role in conflict resolution and promoting peace and reconciliation among communities,” said Honourable Anei Mangong Anei, Member of the Local Government Board of South Sudan, at the opening of the forum.

Speaking on behalf of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Andrew Shuruma, Team Leader of the Democratic Governance and Stabilisation Unit, stressed that “this forum coincides with the ongoing observance of the international 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence Campaign.” He highlighted the opportunity that this forum provides an opportunity for stakeholders to “pay particular attention to the needs of women in finding justice and reconciliation. Women and girls have borne the brunt of the conflict in South Sudan and their particular needs must not be overlooked for they constitute powerful groups to build a peaceful and prosperous South Sudan.”

Jaap van der Zeeuw, Acting Ambassador of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, spoke about South Sudan’s legal pluralistic order and the opportunities that the customary system provide for people to access justice. Addressing the traditional leaders, he said “as traditional leaders, you are the gateway to your communities. The judges and justices are the guardians of the statutory laws. This forum is an opportunity to discuss how to combine your respective strengths, perhaps in the form of hybrid mobile courts, to serve the 64 tribes that call South Sudan their home.”

Justice Dr. Benjamin Baak, Justice of the Supreme Court and Director of Research and Training of the Judiciary of South Sudan, expressed appreciation to UNDP for its support of the ascertainment of customary laws, and the push to achieve peace in South Sudan.  He said that “it is necessary to uphold the values and traditions of the people of South Sudan.”

The keynote speaker at the opening ceremony, Honourable Jeremiah Swaka Moses, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, underscored the responsibility of traditional leaders’ to support peace and reconciliation in their communities, with a particular focus on the youth and their role to “build South Sudan for the next generation.”

Following the opening of the forum, Dr. Rowland Cole, UNDP’s Chief Technical Advisor to the Ministry of Justice and Judiciary, presented the main findings of a study on the harmonization of customary laws and the national legal system, which was then officially launched at the forum. Dr. Cole spoke about alignment of family law, succession and inheritance law, and land law with the Transitional Constitution of South Sudan. The study revealed a conflict between the Constitution and customary norms, with the former awarding women inheritance rights, whereas the latter prohibits it. He continued to point out the commonalities amongst customary norms of different groups in South Sudan and their potential for reconciliation. He concluded that the study has laid the foundation to continue analyzing the commonalities and conflicts in the laws and to identify opportunities for their harmonization.

The discussions on the harmonization of the customary and statutory system were taken further when the participants discussed concrete options of developing legislation that would see the harmonization of the formal and customary systems of justice. Honourable Changkuoth Beal Diaw of the South Sudan Law Review (Reform) Commission (SSLR(R)C) gave a presentation about the progress of the amendments to the 2009 Local Government Act and the 2008 Judiciary Act. He explained that “a first draft of the amendment bill to the Judiciary Act has been prepared and will be discussed by a task force of experts.” When ready, it will be forwarded to the President and the parliament for consideration. The first draft of the Local Government Act is “awaiting discussion by the Task Force and the subsequent approval by the Commissioners.”

The traditional leaders reflected on and endorsed the 19-point resolution that was passed by traditional leaders at the Annual Rule of Law Forum on 14 and 15 July, 2015, and discussed ways to implement it. In the resolution, they thanked the South Sudan Law Review (Reform) Commission for the work it has done to date to amend the Local Government Act 2009 and the Judiciary Act 2008, and urged the SSLR(R)C to accelerate the finalization of the drafts. They also called for the expansion of their jurisdiction and the increase of use of mobile courts by the Judiciary. They resolved to hold further workshops that are dedicated to discussions on the resolution of land disputes and increased awareness-raising on transitional justice. The traditional leaders committed themselves to promote peace, unity and stimulate co-existence between communities through, amongst others, inter-communal sports activities.

The 2016 Annual Rule of Law Forum for Traditional Leaders in Juba was undertaken within the broader UNDP Access to Justice and Rule of Law Project, funded by the Government of the Netherlands. The project also receives financial support from the Department for International Development (DfID) of the United Kingdom, Government of Norway, Government of Japan, United State Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (US INL), Government of Germany and UNDP’s Bureau for Policy and Programmme Support. The project aims to increase access to justice to citizens of South Sudan with special focus on women; reduce case backlog and prolonged and arbitrary detention at state level; ascertain customary laws; and strengthen the capacity of Police, Prisons, Ministry of Justice and the Judiciary. 

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