An inability to read, write and speak in English is proving to be a huge challenge for law enforcement officers working hard to curb crime in the town of Chimel in the Northern Bahr El Ghazal region.
Illiteracy is a significant problem across South Sudan. Many people have been unable to access education due to the conflict experienced during the lead-up to the country’s independence in 2011 and the subsequent five-year civil war.
For police officers in Chimel, this is limiting their ability to write reports and prepare documentation when arresting and prosecuting alleged offenders. To assist, police officers serving with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan in Aweil conducted a three-day workshop providing training in investigation, prosecution and crime scene management.
“I appeal to you that you keep teaching us because most of us do not know how to read and write,” said the 60-year-old Director of Police, Atak Wol Kiir. “No one can learn without being taught and we are ready to learn.”
Like many police officers in South Sudan, Wol was formerly a soldier in the then Sudan People’s Liberation Army which fought for more than two decades to achieve independence from the country’s northern neighbour, Sudan.
“I was absorbed into the police after independence,” he said. “These workshops are very important to us because it teaches those of us who have not gone to school.”
More than 70 percent of the participants in the workshop said they could neither read nor speak English which affected their ability to carry out their jobs in a professional manner.
“It is unfortunate that not all of them can understand English, but with the aid of a language assistant, we are able to get across our messages,” said UN Police Adviser, Ayimo Nsan. “The few that can read and write English, we have some materials to give to them.”
“We hope that more opportunities will be made available to train our South Sudanese police colleagues. We believe that, the little we have made available to them, will help in their day-to-day policing and protection of civilians in this area.”
The 50 police personnel, three of whom were women, said they had learned a great deal during the training, and it had motivated them to increase their efforts to deter and combat crime.
“We understood the rights of the child must be respected. Police have no right to beat a suspect. This training will make some behavioral changes in our minds,” said 27-year-old female officer Nyanut Akol as she pledged to improve her profession.
Officers were urged by local authorities to respect the rights of alleged offenders.
“You have chosen a very difficult job and please, respect the rights of the suspects, whenever you torture them, they will run away,” said Zakariah Dut Mou, the County Commissioner of Chimel. “It will be difficult to interrogate or get the required information from the suspect if you mistreat them.”