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

Guatemala Mudslide Death Toll Rises to 86

Death toll is expected to continue to rise as emergency crews dig through tons of earth for an estimated 350 people still missing More

Debris Found in Search for Missing Ship

Objects located Sunday have not yet been confirmed to be from the 240 meter container ship, El Faro, which disappeared in the eye of Hurricane Joaquin, according to US Coast Guard More

Survivor: Gunman Spared 'Lucky One' to Give Police Message

Law enforcement official says a manifesto of several pages was recovered; contents not revealed More

This forum has been closed.
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.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs