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March 26, 2013

South Sudan Citizens Have Say on New Constitution

by Manyang David Mayar

Residents in Jonglei state are having their say on what they think should be included in the new constitution of South Sudan, after the authorities extended the deadline for drafting the supreme law of the world's newest nation.

At a three-day dialogue in Bor, the capital of Jonglei, ordinary South Sudanese spoke about "what they need, the issues that they think should be addressed that are not addressed by the transitional constitution," said Henry Swaka, vice chair of Jonglei’s Civil Society Alliance and a member of the cosntitutional review committee set up to draft the key document.

South Sudan has been operating under a transitional constitution since it became  independent in July 2011.

President Salva Kiir launched the constitutional review process more than a year ago and the National Assembly last month extended the work of the committee reviewing the key piece of legislation to allow more input from ordinary citizens.

The extension came as the Sudd Institute, an independent research organization based in Juba, complained in a report that "little is known about the progress towards writing the permanent constitution to the world's newest nation."

"The process seems to be considered as the reserve of an exclusive select few and the public has very little or no contribution to and have not participated in the making of the supreme law of the country," the Sudd Institute wrote last month.

A report Monday from United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon criticized the slow pace of South Sudan’s constitutional reform process, but welcomed the opportunity for more citizen feedback.

More than 150 people are participating in the Bor workshop, where one of the key issues was how much power the central government should retain under the new constitution.

Women participants, meanwhile, called for the new constitution to include a minimum age for marriage to prevent girls being forced into unions they do not want.

Even though around half of South Sudanese girls between 15 and 19 are married, according to a recent Human Rights Watch report, the issue is not addressed in the transitional constitution.

Jonglei is the eighth state to take part in talks to reform the constitution.