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

HRW: Egypt's Trial of Morsi ‘Badly Flawed’

Human Rights Watch says former Egypt leader's detention without charge for more than three weeks after his removal from office violated Egyptian law; government rejects criticism More

Photogallery Lancet Report Calls for Major Investment in Surgery

In its report published by The Lancet, panel of experts says people are dying from conditions easily treated in the operating room such as hernia, appendicitis, obstructed labor, and serious fractures More

Music Industry Under Sway of Digital Revolution

Millions of people in every corner of the Earth now can enjoy a vast variety and quantity of music in a way that has never before been possible 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.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs