Leaders in former Unity State promise to protect civilians and promote justice and accountability in their areas of control

A detention shelter in South Sudan's Unity area

15 Dec 2019

Leaders in former Unity State promise to protect civilians and promote justice and accountability in their areas of control

Olivier Ndikumana

As normal life resumes in the areas ravaged by war in South Sudan’s former Unity State, the leadership in the opposition-controlled areas is promising to respond to intercommunal conflicts and ensure safety for civilians, who are reportedly threatened by criminals.

“We only need justice to prevail,” stated Brigadier General Tor Tongua, Sudan People’s Liberation Army in-Opposition’s (SPLA-iO) military governor for the former Unity State, in a meeting with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan’s (UNMISS) acting head of Rule of Law, Anees Ahmed. “Having a large population triggers the risk of having more criminals among civilians,” Governor Tor added. “We need to bring them [criminals] to justice when it is required, despite our dilapidated legal infrastructure,” the governor noted, informing the UNMISS delegation that the traditional courts run by local chiefs gave “some form of justice” throughout his area of control.

This commitment was welcomed by the UNMISS delegation, which is exploring the possibility of assisting authorities with establishing justice institutions that serve both the government and the opposition-controlled areas.

“In the spirit of the peace agreement, we urge you to join hands with your government counterparts in running rule of law institutions like the judiciary, prosecution, prisons, and other support services,” said Mr. Ahmed, who joined the UNMISS delegation, headed by the Head of Bentiu Field Office Ms. Hiroko Hirahara, to assess the status of rule of law institutions in the opposition-controlled areas of the former Unity State.

In December 2018, Brigadier General Tongua returned peacefully to his native land from Sudan following an invitation by his government counterparts. With UNMISS’s mediation efforts, both government appointed and SPLA-iO governors agreed to jointly disseminate the revitalized peace agreement signed three months earlier, and established the political administration of the SPLA-iO in Dhorbor, with their military cantonment site in Ding Ding, a few miles away from their political base. 

This reconciliation effort between the two former warring parties eased the political tensions and brought about 500 households back home, according to local authorities.

“As you have seen our roads are full with people moving to trade and do their business, from the government-controlled area to our cantonment sites,” said Ding Ding Police Commissioner, Major General, Malcom Gatluak.

“As in all communities, bad people can collude and rob them [traders]. When it happens, we go to the scene of the crime and detain them,” added Major General Gatluak.

The SPLA-iO peace advisor, George Gatloy Kong, also highlighted that his political-military entity is looking to respond to the issue of human rights of detainees.

“These alleged criminals need fair treatment, and this is why we are pleading to the international community to support us with facilities that can meet the basic standards of detention facilities,” Mr. Kong said.

UNMISS has been supporting the justice system around South Sudan and particularly in the former Unity State by introducing mobile courts which have dealt with serious cases like conflict-related crimes, killings, rapes and sexual assaults, including those occurring in the United Nations Protection of Civilians (PoC) sites.

“We have already supported six mobile courts in the former Unity State that bring together judges, prosecutors, investigators, defense counsel, and victims and witnesses support groups, so that people can have access to justice services, which have been undermined due to years of conflict,” Mr. Ahmed said.

“As peace continues to prevail, the mobile courts will be strengthened and will hopefully be expanded to bring justice to opposition-controlled areas as well, where people are sometimes deprived of accessing justice. The idea is to ensure that justice institutions are strengthened across the country,” concluded Mr. Ahmed.