BY EMMANUEL KELE/ACHIRIN ACHIRIN
Chiefs in the Aweil region of South Sudan have learnt the difference between using traditional justice processes and the need to refer criminal cases to legal courts during a human rights workshop organized by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan.
Many of the chiefs at the workshop expressed their frustration that unwritten customary laws are not respected by the formal justice system in South Sudan.
“These are the right laws that can protect our people and can curb criminal activities within our communities,” said Deputy Paramount Chief of Ajuet, Tong Mawien Akol. “For example, committing adultery and rape, in such cases perpetrators are fined seven and five cows respectively, and this has helped reduce such criminal acts.”
However, others contradicted that view, arguing that these very serious cases should be referred to the police for investigation and to the courts for prosecution rather than allowing them to be dealt with through informal traditional processes.
“We, the chiefs who manage the traditional courts, are not doing the right thing because we have not been directed by the government to do so,” said Chief John Garang Deng. “Now we have learnt the difference between the customary and legal laws which are applied by judges - thanks to UNMISS.”
In 1986, a customary law called Wathalel was enacted by the then Regional Assembly of Greater Bahr el-Ghazal in Wau to govern behaviours, traditional practices, customs, beliefs and the moral values of Dinka tribes in the area. The law, as claimed by the traditional chiefs, help solve clan conflict and maintain peace in communities.
Despite being an unwritten law, Wathalel is often accepted by the local communities of Aweil to deal with cases of adultery, rape and sex or pregnancy outside of marriage.
“We have been managing our courts by applying the Wathalel Customary law since its inception,” said Traditional Chief, Wol Wol Akeen. “But now we have problem with the judges, because they prolong ruling on any case, which is costly for both the accused and the complainant.”
Judges are usually appointed or recruited by the national government in Juba before their deployment to different parts of South Sudan.
“This workshop is to train and educate our local chiefs in order to know their jurisdiction,” said the Minister of Local Government, Deng Ayoum Ayoum. “The chiefs have limits in the cases that they can decide on. There are cases that they cannot decide on and they have to send them to the judges.”
Paramount Chief for the Ajuet area, Mawien Mawien Diing agreed.
“We now understand the different types of laws such as the human rights, customary and the legal laws of our country, South Sudan,” he said. “From now on, I will explain to the chiefs who have not attended this workshop and to my people, the differences between these laws.”
The workshop recommended formal regional and countrywide training on the law, its limits, the role of courts, the revival of disputes resolution and reducing prison sentences for minor crimes.