Mobile court in Bentiu reduces case backlog and whets appetite for permanent justice
Upon completion of a fourth session in Bentiu, a visiting mobile court had convicted eight people found guilty of rape, murder, armed robbery, kidnapping and serious assault.
“It is very good that there is a court dealing with crimes committed because sometimes you can find people in prison without trial, and maybe these people are innocent,” said a relative of murder victim Michael Thor, one of many residents of the Bentiu area who expressed their satisfaction with the temporary presence of the country’s judiciary branch.
The mobile court was set up by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan in collaboration with the national ministry of justice to try accusations of serious crimes committed in the UN protection of civilians site and surrounding areas.
During its fourth session in town, the court sentenced a robber to five years of imprisonment and convicted a second suspect for causing grievous harm. The verdict for a youngster found guilty of rape was to spend five years at a juvenile reformatory school, whereas a murder suspect was acquitted for lack of sufficient evidence.
Juong Magok Gatluak was another citizen keen on observing the workings of the visiting judicial officers. He is convinced that the very existence of a court promotes accountability, prevents crimes and thus improves intercommunal relations.
“The justice system will help the reconciliation and healing process because nobody will want to exact revenge against other people or take the law into their own hands in other ways when they know that there is a court in place,” Mr. Gatluak said, hinting at the problems that tend to persist when impunity is allowed to reign supreme.
Anees Ahmed, a senior Rule of Law officer serving with the peacekeeping mission, is the first to acknowledge this persisting challenge.
“Unfortunately, because of the conflict, the justice system in Bentiu has been inexistent or not very active for a long time, which makes the mobile court so important as it brings together all the necessary elements of the chain of justice,” he says, adding that similar courts have visited other parts of the country as well as part of the UN mission’s mandate to protect civilians and strengthen the rule of law.
Having had their appetite for justice whetted, man residents in Bentiu, like Nyalok Kuol Geng and her peer Nyaluit Gabriel, want more of the same, on a permanent basis, and are appealing to the ministry of justice to make this happen.
“We cannot have peace when one arm of the government is missing. There is a need for courts to be set up at the county level well, to bring justice closer to all the people living there,” says 33-year-old Nyaluit Gabriel.
“As a woman, I feel that a court is the only mechanism that can protect our rights.”