An Agenda for Research into Justice in South Sudan
by JSRP Research Director, Alex de Waal
For South Sudanese, encounters with the justice system are too often an experience of injustice. But when and how do courts, and the lawyers, judges and paralegals associated with them, succeed in delivering justice? And how do these processes contribute to the construction of public authority?
The JSRP is developing a project to document cases that come to court in order to assemble an archive of court observations taken from different localities in South Sudan. The aims are to inform our own research exploring the logics of public authority while also contributing to sharing information about justice in practice within South Sudan. Hitherto, researchers have been most interested in the customary courts: our focus also includes the statutory courts.
On 6-7 July 2015, the JSRP convened a workshop on court observation and justice research, to finalize a project of compiling documentation on court cases across the country, provide training for paralegals, and bring together researchers and practitioners, including lawyers, a High Court Judge and representatives of local NGOs. The workshop was organized by the JSRP’s South Sudanese partners: Justice Africa, South Sudan Law Society and CEPO. It included a group of volunteer paralegals, many of them teachers, from diverse communities in seven states across South Sudan, including Nuer and Dinka displaced from their home areas and directly affected by the current war and massacres.
In the middle of a deeply divisive war, there was remarkable common ground among the participants. These included the importance of educating citizens about the justice system and their rights, and the need for an independent, well-trained and properly financed judiciary. There was also a demand for research, including agreement on the value of documenting court cases (and cases that don’t come to court). For the JSRP team, the debate provided rich insights into the routine experiences of those working within the justice system in different contexts and roles, and helped us to develop our research agenda.
By Moses Adonga, Rachel Ibreck and Godfrey Victor Bulla
There has been a global awakening to the opportunities and costs of land grabs in Africa. Academics and activists are duly investigating the scope and impacts of large-scale land seizures; the plight of victims has gained recognition; and there are moves to promote ‘responsible’ corporate investments. In contribution to the ongoing debates, we propose a closer focus on the responses of justice mechanisms.
First, it is questionable whether statutory law represents, let alone protects, existing rights in land. In many parts of Africa, social norms and customary law understand land to be a social good not a commodity; land is felt to be a human right, yet it is not clearly expressed as such in national – still less – international law.
Second, justice mechanisms are ill-equipped to prevent land grabs, given that the mere prospect of an increase in the value of African land produces contention in advance of any actual investment.
Third, the apparatus of justice and law enforcement is being employed to arrest or intimidate those who are resisting investments out of desperation to protect their birth-right and have no prospect of alternative livelihoods. This is a recipe for conflict, but victims of land grabs often still resist peacefully and seek to pursue their rights through the courts. Apart from violence, the justice system may be their sole recourse.
The plight of impoverished Africans whose land is ripe for investment was embodied by a group of elderly women from Amuru district in Northern Uganda on 16 April 2015. In a symbolic protest, they tore off their clothes publicly and threw themselves naked on the ground in front of land surveyors, government officials and soldiers. They demanded to know why government is ‘targeting their land’, leading the protests of a crowd of hundreds of residents of Apaa parish against an illegal attempt to demarcate the boundary between Amuru and neighbouring Adjumani district. The women of Amuru are unlikely to win international plaudits but – like Nobel-laureate Leymah Gbowee’s threat to disrobe at the Liberian peace talks of 2003 – their breach of a social taboo did change minds. The Amuru-Adjumani demarcation team turned back. Continue reading
By Rachel Ibreck
There is no question that the administration of justice in South Sudan can and must be improved. Indeed there are ongoing efforts by government, practitioners, civil society groups and international agencies to promote access to justice. But in this evolving and plural legal environment, we also need better information about everyday experiences of justice.
A new JSRP report, Justice in Practice, documents observations of court proceedings in customary and statutory courts, and includes a series of lawyers ‘caseload reports’. It reveals the diversity of existing provision, the challenges facing legal practitioners and raises questions about the social, economic and gender inequalities that determine access to justice. It is an exploratory study, intended to provide a foundation for future research and a resource for practitioners and advocates working to improve the justice system.
Justice in Practice was produced by the Justice and Security Research Programme in partnership with Justice Africa and journalists from The Patriot in South Sudan. The report was launched on 14 April at a Paralegal Forum in Nimule, South Sudan, organised by South Sudan Law Society (SSLS).
The SSLS Forum brought the research partners together with local government authorities, chiefs and paralegals trained under the SSLS legal aid programme. It confirmed the need for ongoing documentation of court proceedings and further information sharing to support the administration of justice, including from the perspective of customary court Chiefs who spoke of their need for copies of legal statues and ‘help recording the cases’.
Signpost in girls’ school, Acholi sub-region, Uganda. Photo: Holly Porter.
Holly Porter’s new article, ‘”Say no to bad touches”: Schools, sexual identity and sexual violence in northern Uganda’, explores the role of schools in the formation of sexual identities and incidence of sexual violence in the Acholi sub-region of northern Uganda, a conflict and post-conflict setting. It reflects three years of participant observation and in-depth interviews with 187 women, and primarily draws on interviews with 17 teachers in five primary schools. The evidence shows how the experience girls have in school builds a paradoxical paradigm with irreconcilable dimensions. Girls are charged to take control of their bodies and sexuality. Simultaneously, they are scripted into feminine sexual identities that reinforce subordinate gender roles where violence is an ever-present possibility. Boys learn masculine notions of sexuality that emphasize paternity and customary exchanges while consent is downplayed.
The study highlights the burden of responsibility often placed on both educators and girls through emphasis on their agency and power. This occurs without due acknowledgment for how these are constrained, particularly in extreme settings such as conflict and post-conflict contexts. It calls for programmes to ensure engagement with structural constraints, broader focus on gender relations and specific attention to boys and violent expressions of masculinity.
As part of the JSRP’s effort to present its research in multiple formats, Professor Alex de Waal has been working closely with Kenyan cartoonist Victor Ndula and Tjeerd Royaards from The Cartoon Movement to create an infographic in the form of an online comic, ‘South Sudan: Who Got What?’, which charts the story of South Sudan from independence to 2015. The comic draws on data and research undertaken by both JSRP and others to present in visual form the development of the world’s newest country.
Alex de Waal is the Research Director responsible for South Sudan within the JSRP and has written the text. Victor Ndula, who contributes regularly to the Nairobi Star newspaper, has created the artwork. The final product has been produced with support from the Cartoon Movement, the JSRP, and the World Peace Foundation.
Copyright of this product is licensed to the JSRP and requests to use or reproduce material should be sent to: intdev.jsrp<at>lse.ac.uk.
By Aaron Pangburn
A Memorial to Mobutu in Gbadolite’s Central Square. Photo by Mignonne Fowlis.
As we approach the 50th anniversary of President Mobutu Sese Seko’s rise to power, and the debates over the “next Congolese President” in 2016 intensify, it is a unique moment to reflect on his legacy and his lingering impact on the locality he once called home. The story of Gbadolite (in the territory of Nord-Ubangi and the province of Equateur) is often romanticized, as the small village in the middle of the jungle that was once transformed into a “city of privilege,” complete with a 5-star hotel, Coca-Cola factory and an international airport modeled after its counterpart in Nice, France. Mobutu’s three immense palaces sat on the hills of neighboring Kawele, and VIP guests such as the Pope, the UN Secretary-General, the King of Belgium, Director of the CIA and President of France were his reported guests. As Albert Moleka, a frequent attendee of these lavish gatherings and now former senior member of the opposition party, the UDPS, put it in a recent Guardian article, “it was like an African Versailles.”
Yet while this vision is still being described in international newspapers as the prime example of Mobutu’s Kleptocracy, there is a need to disassociate the privilege the president bestowed on his guests to the palace and the city that remains in the valley below. During a recent field visit in February 2015 to Gbadolite and its surrounding environments, JSRP Research Director at the SSRC Tatiana Carayannis, Program Coordinator Aaron Pangburn, and Program Associate Mignonne Fowlis encountered a marginalized community desperate to shed the image of its former president. This is not because there are not fond memories of the past and of the support Maréchal Mobutu provided to the community, but rather that this notion of privilege was vastly overstated, then and now. For the past eighteen years the community has felt punished by provincial and state leadership, and overlooked by the international community. Continue reading
By Mareike Schomerus and Anouk S. Rigterink
Lady Gaga thinks the telephone is pretty much a one-way street: “Call all you want, but there’s no one home—and you’re not gonna reach my telephone,” she sings, together with Beyoncé in the aptly-named song “Telephone”. The two might have a point beyond fobbing off an annoying boyfriend. Even though the phone stands for communication, it only works if both ends play along—which is a good way to describe the dilemma about mobile phones and politics. Particularly in situations of political contest and conflict, much hope has been attached to the mobile phone: it stands for connectivity and modern living. It has been credited with helping with revolutions; trust in its abilities to build states and peace is sometimes expressed in overly enthusiastic terms. For example, mobile phones are lauded on the website buildingpeace.org: “Look at your cell phone. Turn on your computer. Check your Facebook page. You are using tools that can build peace”.
Such enthusiasm comes from the assumption that access to a communication infrastructure will create better informed citizens who participate more in politics—most obviously through voting—which makes governments more accountable. A more accountable government and an active citizenry could contribute to statebuilding. But are these connections far-fetched? We wanted to know. Continue reading
Lessons from Pajok: Towards a comparative ethnography of security and justice in Africa
By Ryan O’Byrne
The author has undertaken an extended period of fieldwork in Pajok, South Sudan, for his recent JSRP Paper on the cosmological dimensions of (in)justice and (in)security in the country. In this post he highlights key issues raised in the paper.
The Bobi subclan kac (ancestral shrine), Lawacci Boma, Pajok (Photo: Ryan O’Byrne)
There is a growing realisation amongst donors and policy makers that a stronger evidence base is needed on issues such as how public authority and governance serve end-users or how justice and security experiences are affected by dynamics of social exclusion. This blog highlights a new JSRP paper which provides original, important, and much needed research into just these areas, delivering a unique and empirically grounded argument for the importance of the cosmological dimensions of (in)justice and (in)security in the lives of end-users in Pajok, South Sudan. One dominant theme of this new paper is that end-users not only experience (in)security and (in)justice in multiple socially and spiritually determined ways but that in response to these experiences they adopt a diverse array of strategies that attempt to reorient cosmological governance structures towards their own needs.
This blogpost, however, seeks to highlight another important argument presented within the newest JSRP paper, and argues that a correct depiction of the diversity of hybrid governance forms in the lives of end-users in our research areas must, by both contextual and theoretical necessity, always be defined as broadly as the ethnographic circumstances require. Indeed, such circumstances need to be considered highly relevant to the wider forum of interest in understanding the interactions between hybrid governance and issues of (in)security and (in)justice. Due to the way they impact on and frame interpersonal and communal relations, the actors and institutions that comprise the public authority structures of contemporary Pajok include such cosmological aspects as rainmakers and jogi (‘non-human spiritual forces’). The reason for such broad and distinctly nonstandard definitional criteria is that, in contemporary Pajok, it is precisely these informal institutions that govern peoples’ lives. Continue reading