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Community voices: South Sudan

"There can be no peace without justice."

Chief Pasquele Udo Maktap presides over the local customary court in Jebel Kheir in Wau, Western Bahr el Ghazal State, South Sudan. Now 82 years old in an independent South Sudan, he has lived in Wau since his birth there under British rule. Across South Sudan, customary courts operate alongside statutory courts, often dealing with what are classed as ‘social’ issues like marital disputes, elopement and domestic violence. In reality however, the remit of these traditional, customary courts and their relationship to the formal, statutory legal system is often very unclear.

"The court meets once a week on Fridays, and I see roughly 10-15 cases, some of the cases may run over to Saturday or the next week if they are long. There are different levels of crime – here in my court we deal with what are seen as social issues. If the case has a high degree of crime I refer it to the high court, to the judge. Two police officers attend my court so they can take those who are sent through to the criminal process to prison. If the cases are lower levels of crime then I deal with them here.

Most of the cases we deal with here relate to domestic issues – roughly 85-90% of them. There are a lot of issues at the family level, for example one man can marry one or two wives. If this happens the first wife may be left uncared, or perhaps the second is not a formal wife and so if the man decides he doesn’t want to be with her he sends her away and she is left destitute. People come to me with these sorts of cases to rule on what should happen. A lot of the issues we deal with are not punishable by imprisonment. But they come to us and so we deal with them. For example in this case of domestic violence which has come to me, the man has been beating his wife over a continued period, in this case I fined the man heavily, and warned him that if he does it again he will be referred to the criminal system and the police and put in jail.

The presence of the police in the court is very important. The community’s perception is that the police are the guarantors of the Chief and also protect him, because in a court you’re handing out judgements. Without police support the courts would struggle because defendants may become violent, people may decide to interrupt the court proceeding; so the police presence is a guarantee of security for the Chief and also for the communities themselves attending the court."

These case studies from two of our programming locations help to give voice to community members who are affected by differing forms of insecurity in South Sudan. Too often their voices are not heard outside of their communities; there’s often a significant disconnect between local communities in South Sudan and national and international level policymakers. These case studies illustrate a number of the security issues their communities are facing – including criminality, robbery, gang activity, lack of access to basic services and violence against women – and the work they’re undertaking in challenging circumstances to address these jointly, supported by Saferworld and our partner civil society organisations through our community security programme.

Find out more about our work in South Sudan.