UNMISS trains Upper Nile State chiefs on bridging customary and statutory law

unmiss south sudan malakal upper nile state traditional justice formal justice chiefs authority female representation

When local chiefs met in Malakal to discuss how traditional and formal justice can work together, the question of female representation among local community leadership structures. Photos: Nyang Touch/UNMISS

28 Feb 2022

UNMISS trains Upper Nile State chiefs on bridging customary and statutory law

Nyang Touch/Filip Andersson

UPPER NILE - How can chiefs be successful intermediaries between local governments and normal citizens? How may they bridge the gaps where traditional laws and the formal justice system collide? What needs to be done to see women’s voices being included among traditional authorities?

Such conundrums have recently been pondered in Malakal, by 75 chiefs from all of Upper Nile State’s thirteen counties, flown in by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan from nearby and from afar. How, they discussed, can the judicial system contribute to peace and security at the grassroots level, not least by finding feasible ways of integrating and reconciling traditions with the judiciary?

This “traditional authority for peace and security”-themed forum organized by the peacekeeping mission’s Civil Affairs Division was the first of its kind. It counted on the support of both the Upper Nile State government and experts from the national Ministry of Local Government and Law Enforcement and the University of Juba.

“Peace needs to begin at the grassroots level, and that’s where you as chiefs, who are directly managing people’s issue on the ground, have a vital role to play by promoting dialogue and peaceful coexistence,” said Upper Nile State Governor Budhok Ayang Kur, who also urged chiefs to work hard to facilitate citizens’ access to justice.

In some cases, several participants believed that neither form of local-level justice works. Adam Ajak, paramount chief for the Shilluk community in Makal County, was one of them.

“Land disputes and security issues among the communities shouldn’t hamper our interactions and should be resolved at the national level rather than by us as chiefs,” he said.

Another important topic, female representation in the local justice system, was brought up by Achol Nyibong, a women’s representative invited to the forum.

“Traditional authorities need to consider the role of women in conflict management. Women should play a bigger part in local courts, and we must also be allowed to become chiefs and participate in the customary law set-up,” she said.

Supporting fair and meaningful representation of women, youth and civil society groups is high on the agenda of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, which is planning to organize similar traditional authority forums across the country.

“Here in Upper Nile State, we are fully committed to assisting all communities in building trust and durable peace. We urge traditional leaders to mitigate disputes at the grassroots level to create social cohesion and tranquility among communities, regardless of their political affiliations or beliefs,” said Leda Limann, head of the Mission’s Field Office in Malakal.

At the forum, participating chiefs agreed on the need for disarmament and solutions to the problem of cattle raiding and the violence often sparked by these acts. Early and forced marriages should also be discouraged, they stated, and their own ability to better perform their duties ought to be enhanced by further trainings.