News / Africa

South Sudan Fights to Implement Rule of Law

Hannah McNeish
After decades of bitter fighting, South Sudan won its freedom from Sudan in 2011. Now, a fledgling government made up of former fighters faces the enormous task of introducing the rule of law.  At the heart of this new battle are approximately 250 lawyers, who work tirelessly in one of the most dangerous jobs in the country. 

In a dark and stifling office in Juba University, with no power and a small cabinet of law books representing the only library, sits Deng Awur, the dean of South Sudan’s only law college.
 
He says that around 80 lawyers will graduate this year.  Their skills are desperately needed in the impoverished and war-ravaged country, where the fledgling government is trying to promote a new concept: rule of law.
 
Around 250 lawyers have come back from abroad, and like the judiciary, police and ministry staff, their skills are about as jumbled as South Sudan’s legal systems, says Awur.
 
The country is moving back to a common law system passed down by former British colonial rulers to Sudan, which then introduced Islamic law in the 1980s.
 
But more than 60 tribes are using various customary laws too, and Awur says those systems discriminate against half the population - an issue that he’d like his graduates to try and tackle.
 
“You have now a woman cannot inherit property of her husband or her father," Awur said. "There are real, real issues for women, and the law is clear, the law is not taking chances with anybody.  So we hope through time people will be enlightened to accept that reality that human beings are the same, the law is for everyone, the constitution is for everyone, and there is no bias.  We don’t want any bias for or against anybody.”

The university has stopped teaching Sharia law - previously one of its main subjects.
 
But Victor Lowilla, who runs legal aid at the South Sudan Law Society, says Sharia is still reflected in current laws and must be stripped out.
 
He wants a review of all South Sudan’s laws, also to prevent chiefs from handing down harsh sentences and to abolish a range of bizarre or cruel practices that persist under customary law.
 
These include “ghost marriages” of women forced to marry dead men, young girls given as compensation to the family of a murdered man and, in one infamous case, a man being forced to marry a goat called “Rose” after deflowering her.

Lowilla notes the lack of lawyers has left many people languishing in jail, unable to get hearings before judges.

But the shortage is most worrying for the hundreds of people on death row, whose necks are on the line for suspected murder, treason or insurgency.
 
“So those people, who is helping them make their appeal?  It’s probably the prison wardens, and some, who can afford lawyers, then they can afford to do these appeals," Lowilla said. "But most of them have no lawyers to represent them during their cases, and they have no lawyers to do their appeals.  And they have no lawyers even to write to the president to pardon them.”
 
He says the legal system is particularly “all over the place” in rural areas, where 80 percent of the population live, while 85 percent of the country’s lawyers live in the capital and have to travel out.
 
During one case in Western Bahr el Ghazal, five lawyers received death threats or were intimidated outside court as they defended 50 clients - including 11 minors facing the death penalty - after protests in which security forces gunned down civilians.
 
At South Sudan’s Ministry of Justice, Undersecretary Jeremiah Swaka says that the country has passed over 100 laws, but persuading rebels to play by the rules will take years.
 
“Our problem is to inculcate into those who are having the legacy of the past, the rough past, that we have come to a civilized stage and we should respect ourselves, we should respect the laws," he said.  "We should be able to know that if you wrong me, there are institutions outside there that can redress the wrong done to you.  This needs a lot of education, and we look forward to mold ourselves into a South Sudanese society.”
 
Norway and the U.S. hope that building a new law school in Juba, complete with a library full of books, will go some way to getting laws off the page and into practice.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs