Rule of law gets a boost with Joint Special Mobile Court resuming operations in Gette

unmiss rule of law human rights cattle migration herders farmers warrap western bahr el ghazal south sudan conflict mobile court

The third deployment of a joint special mobile court in Gette, Western Bahr El Ghazal, sought to marry traditional justice systems with the formal legal mechanisms in South Sudan to resolve disputes between farmers and livestock herders. Photo by Zejin Yin/UNMISS

28 Jun 2022

Rule of law gets a boost with Joint Special Mobile Court resuming operations in Gette

Zejin Yin

WESTERN BAHR EL GHAZAL - “Rule of law forms the foundation of any democracy,” explains Anees Ahmed, a senior official from the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

A lawyer by training, Mr. Ahmed, in his role within the UN Peacekeeping mission’s Rule of Law Section, uses its mandate to elaborate.

“We are tasked by the Security Council to protect civilians, prevent violence, uphold human rights and support ongoing peace processes,” he avers. “One of the critical ways to protect people is by bolstering the legal system. It’s really simple—people are safer and protected if they know they have a legal recourse to address wrongs that may have been done to them,” continued Mr. Ahmed. “Resolving disputes between individuals and communities through peaceful means reduces conflict and subsequently, to sustained peace.”

According to Mr. Ahmed, peaceful conflict resolution does not always have to go through formal legal processes. UNMISS, therefore, leverages the influence of traditional leaders and local government act mechanisms.

A cogent example: Since 2020, UNMISS has supported an exclusive judicial system - the Joint Special Mobile Court (JSMC) – in partnership with the South Sudan Multi Partner Trust Fund for Reconciliation, Stabilization, and Resilience to address the ongoing tensions between settled farmers and semi-nomadic cattle herders that frequently escalate into full blown conflict causing death and displacement.

“This system of mobile justice combines combines the traditional justice system, which is a critical facet of the overarching legal framework in South Sudan, with the principal formal justice system. It must be mentioned here that such interventions are exceptional and not normally permitted by law,” adds Mr. Ahmed.

The bordering communities of Warrap and Western Bahr El Ghazal are frequently caught in a tussle between between Warrap’s cattle keepers and Western Bahr El Ghazal’s farmers during seasonal cattle migration.

This year, in a bid to ensure peace and stability aren’t disrupted, as livestock herders and their animals traverse close to settled farming communities and their croplands, the JSMC resumed operations in Gette until June 24.

The timing of this third deployment of these mobile courts coincides with the end of the annual migration.

The focus: To investigate cross-border incidents that occurred during the 2022 seasonal cattle movement; continue addressing already-submitted complaints during the second deployment of these temporary courts; and ensure decisions made by the previous deployment are implemented.

For his part, Sam Korutaro Muhumure, the Head of the UNMISS Field Office in Wau, thanked communities for hosting the JSMC, while encouraging them to support all processes that complement and fortify overall rule of law.

“We are immensely grateful to the residents of Gette for hosting the mobile court and to our government partners for their support. Our overall aim is to help ensure everybody has equal access to justice and are treated equally before the law. This is the most effective way to inoculate communities against violence and impunity,” states Mr. Muhumure.

Ibrahim Suru, state Minister of Local Government, Western Bahr El Ghazal, agrees.

“This joint special court has helped all communities feel safer; reduced criminality; and promoted accountability and trust among people who are impacted by seasonal cattle migration,” reveals Minister Suru, who also appreciated UNMISS for its financial and technical assistance. “It is only through justice, that we will build an enduring peace,” said the Minister eloquently.

As it successfully wrapped up the third edition of its deployment, the mobile court received plaudits from communities and authorities alike.

While in session, the court investigated more than 30 cases. It also achieved two major milestones—going to trial on the first-ever suspect to be handed over to a mobile court as well as trying a case related to sexual and gender-based violence. The latter, especially, was a strong message for communities: Rape or any form of sexual violence against women and girls is unacceptable.

In conclusion, Anei Arop Agany, Warrap state’s Minister for Local Government, underscored the importance of community-level local courts in addressing cross-border conflicts.

“Communities require local courts that work collaboratively to monitor borders and their specific issues. I am heartened that the people of Western Bahr El Ghazal have welcomed herders in peace and livestock owners have, by and large, respected and kept this peace,” he avers.  

Previously, a similar mobile court deployed to Western Bahr El Ghazal in 2021 received more than 1,400 complaints; conducted more than 100 investigations; and tried 24 cases involving disputes between cattle keepers and farmers.