Youth, women in Torit to receive joint sensitization on basic legal rights by state authorities and UN partners

UNMISS UNPOL protection peacekeepers South Sudan peacekeeping Rule of Law SGBV Eastern Equatoria crimes criminality

State authorities and UN partners in Eastern Equatoria team up to come up with a comprehensive approach towards sensitizing young people on the need to desist from criminality and violence against women or girls.

4 Nov 2020

Youth, women in Torit to receive joint sensitization on basic legal rights by state authorities and UN partners

Moses Yakudu

“Many of the community members I lead are reluctant to report incidents to me because they feel that local law enforcement does not actively punish the guilty,” reveals Ms. Aisha Will, a traditional leader from the Ilanyi residential area in Torit, Eastern Equatoria.

According to Ms. Will, on several occasions in the past, communities living here have felt that they were denied justice, especially survivors of domestic abuse and sexual- and gender-based violence. She adds that, many perpetrators of violence against women and girls allegedly roam freely among the very people that they are said to have harmed. “It makes me terribly sad and helpless,” she says. “How am I supposed to be an effective leader if I am unable to assure my people that law and order exists and create awareness among them about the legal recourse available for all who have been wronged?”

Ms. Will is echoed by Salome Chandia, a volunteer for Resilience Organization, a local nongovernmental set-up. “Many women are raped when they go to collect firewood or even if we step out from our homes after dark,” says Salome. “However, we don’t know the correct procedure to report such serious offences to the police. Because of this, in many cases, perpetrators never get caught. If a rapist remains free, he becomes emboldened to repeat this heinous act,” she adds.

Captain Solomon Oliha Cypriano, Director of Legal Affairs at the Torit Police Station also agrees that sensitizing local communities, especially women, about the correct procedures to follow when reporting acts of criminality or abuse of any kind is a cogent need. “There are procedures that need to be followed when reporting to the police. For example, if a woman approaches us with an accusation of sexual assault, we must ensure she undergoes a medical check, before we open a case file and start rounding up suspects,” states Captain Cypriano.

“If we don’t follow due process and substantiate claims with medical evidence, the case will never stand up in court. I am aware, though, that many women see this as a delaying tactic on the part of the police. We need assistance in explaining to them that it is a necessity for their own protection as well as for us to ensure perpetrators are punished to the fullest extent of the law,” he adds.

To counter this information vacuum, state authorities and partners teamed up to come up with a comprehensive approach towards sensitizing young people on the need to desist from criminality and violence against women or girls. This proposal was put up for discussion at the monthly rule of law forum organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), where the Police Community Relations Committee (PCRC) was identified as a launch pad for grassroots-level awareness raising on every South Sudanese citizen’s basic legal right.

“The Police Community Relations Committee (PCRC) is vital for all people in South Sudan. It is a platform where local law enforcement as well as UNPOL can get a bird’s eye view of the problems being faced by people,” explains Sharmila Lata, a United Nations Police officer and Gender Adviser. “Part of our role as UNPOL officers is to encourage community ownership and resolution of low-level issues, such as, for example, a quarrel between two neighbours. The PCRC is a great way for us to educate community members to amicably resolve such minor disagreements,” she adds.

Ms. Lata highlights that the PCRC is part of the mission’s consistent efforts to build capacity among local policing counterparts to serve, protect and be accessible to all citizens.

“Another noteworthy aspect of the Committee is the work we do with young people—to prevent youth from resorting to criminality, we try to focus them on constructive activities. However, in my opinion, where the PCRC has been most successful is ensuring community members, especially women and young girls, who have been victims of crimes, receive guidance on available reporting mechanisms as well as legal options,” she reveals.

For its part, UNDP has supported the convening of rule of law fora at the state level for many years now. These platforms address issues of transparency and accountability in the justice system. More importantly, they enable rule of law institutions, civil society representatives and communities to jointly discuss issues related to access to justice, law and order and human rights, and collectively agree on ways forward. Chaired by the state government, this forum ensures local participation in sustaining shared responsibility between communities and local authorities within Eastern Equatoria

“This Rule of Law forum has helped innumerable survivors of sexual- and gender-based violence to get legal aid services and as well as the psychosocial support they need,” says Lucia Jovani, Rule of Law Officer, UNDP.

 “It’s not an easy task—holding perpetrators accountable—but as the UN family in South Sudan, we remain committed to speaking up and supporting the rights of women and girls.