Thursday, February 26, 2015

Can contemporary justice administration systems help mitigate conflict in South Sudan?

TWS||Nick Waigwa
An elated South Sudanese lady told a foreign television journalist in Juba (South Sudan’s capital) on 9th July 2011, shortly after the event to mark the birth of an independent South Sudan that “South Sudan is going to be the Dubai of Africa”

The lady must have expressed hope for a new Nation set to shift gears from a long costly liberation struggle to a peaceful prosperous country. A South Sudan that would have steadily climbed the steps of development and compete with other nations in the region and beyond. Such development would translate to better lives for South Sudanese and setting them free from the shackles of violent conflict, poverty and uncertainty.  
The South Sudanese lady must have voiced the thoughts of many South Sudanese as well as what was in the expectations of the many friends of South Sudan. 

The green light for a peaceful, independent and prosperous South Sudan, after decades of war, came in January 2005 following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in Nairobi -Kenya. The CPA created a semi autonomous Southern Sudan, paving way for a secession referendum and a path to the now independent South Sudan. As anticipated, the then semi autonomous Southern Sudan successfully voted overwhelmingly for separation, leading to her independence on 9th July 2011.

During the long struggle for autonomy and independence, the people of South Sudan were united by a common goal to realize an independent South Sudan. Though this unity of purpose resulted to the sweet fruit of independence, the many years of civil war and neglect by the pre-separation regimes greatly affected cohesion among communities in the country, promoted revenge and violent means to justice as well as other unconventional traditional justice systems. People literally gave up on modern justice administration systems.

This trend and despair appears to have entrenched cultural, structural, and violent physical conflicts which continue to slow down and in some areas halt the anticipated safe journey to a peaceful, developing and prosperous country.

South Sudan is in a challenging unstable post conflict transitional season. Three years after independence, conflict remains a major barrier to peace and social development. In fact the optimism held by the people of South Sudan on Independence is gradually wilting. Some feel that the recurring incidents of internal conflict dent the image of a country whose independence was supported by a 99% vote in 2011.

In mid December 2013 for example, violent conflict broke out in Juba and spread to other parts of the country. The violence cast a cloud of panic and uncertainty across South Sudan. The violence is still going on in some parts of the country amid mediation efforts initiated by IGAD and other friends of South Sudan. Thousands have lost life to this conflict, many others have been injured, displaced and property destroyed. 

Incidents of inter-communal conflict are a common occurrence across the country’s 10 Administrative States. This conflicts and the political instability at the National level continue to inhibit prospects for a stable peaceful & Democratic South Sudan.

A cessation of hostilities agreement signed by the warring parties in the conflict has been violated as the blame game continues. It is hoped that the most recent commitment on paper by the country’s President and Opposition Leader in February 2015 will lead to a total cessation of hostilities, formation of an interim Government, a new constitutional dispensation and national elections. All this can only happen in a peaceful safe environment where the rule of law prevails.  

Cases of intolerance, prejudice, mistrust and use of traditional judicial mechanisms such as revenge and physical violence to settle disputes are common. These traditional justice systems have done very little to end conflict, they have instead continued to promote a cycle of violence.

This context points to how lack of public trust or confidence in contemporary justice administration systems as a reliable means to dispute resolution, has a potential to trigger vengeful means to securing justice and inter communal violent conflict and hold back peace initiatives and long term economic and democratic development in South Sudan .

Having contributed to media development initiatives in South Sudan for nearly three years, I understand and appreciate more the media as an important feature of transition in post conflict environments. The media potential in South Sudan is yet to be fully exploited in the prevailing recovering post conflict mode.

South Sudan is doing her best to generate sets of law to guide the media industry but much needs to be done to link the vision that inspired the need for such laws with the realities on the ground. A fast gear towards a more vibrant and free press across the South Sudan is very necessary, if the media is to truly add reasonable value to existing peace efforts. The media has to be given a chance in the business of confidence building and promotion of non violent modern justice systems. 

A confidence building radio campaign on the country’s rule of law structures and their ability to arbitrate will also enhance the development of democracy and social development in the world’s newest democracy. 

The argument in this post is not closed to the fact that previous and ongoing initiatives to foster peace in South Sudan have continued to bear tangible fruits. It acknowledges that there exists a move into the right direction towards a safer South Sudan but more needs to be done to strengthen public confidence in modern justice administration systems.A strengthened public confidence in modern justice administration systems will create extra room for a more peaceful environment conducive for development. 

In addition to what they already know about a sustainable solution to conflict in South Sudan, all that the organizations, individuals, development agencies investing in South Sudan and all those who stand in solidarity with this country should do is to appreciate the urgency there is in helping South Sudan not to be left behind in the POST-2015 development agenda.
Readers who used their quality time to read this post also found time to read the stories below:

POST-2015 DECLARATION: Amnesty International lobby for explicit inclusion of human rights 




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