FRANCESCA MOLD/PRIYANKA CHOWDHURY
In Terekeka, Central Equatoria, the justice system was so broken by years of war that offenders were chained a tree while their crimes were investigated because there was no police station.
Local officers counted themselves lucky to at least have a tent to shelter under while they took statements from victims and carried out their investigations. But the lack of support and infrastructure was demoralizing for the police team.
“People here are primarily cattle keepers and often fight with each other over cattle rustling. As police officers, we went through severe personal hardship to quell these conflicts and were not as effective as we wanted to be,” laments Police Commissioner, Major-General Abednego Akol. “How can you protect and serve communities or maintain peace without the appropriate space to work in, like an office?”
Geetha Pious is the Head of the UNMISS Field Office for the Central Equatorian region. She remembers her first visit to Terekeka several years ago because she was so shocked by the conditions faced by local police.
“I vividly recall the first thing I saw was prisoners and detainees chained to that tree,” she said. “Today, I am proud to say that, under that same tree, UNMISS has now constructed a new police station where police officers can enforce the rule of law and uphold human rights.”
More than 3000 Mundari community members attended the handover ceremony for their first-ever police station in Terekeka, about four hours’ drive from South Sudan’s capital city, Juba. The construction was funded through UNMISS’ Quick Impacts Projects, a programme that aims to spend less than USD 50,000 on infrastructure and development projects while having maximum impact on communities. “Through the QIPs programme, we try to address urgent public needs that will have a long-term trickle-down effect on promoting durable peace in South Sudan,” says James Tsok Bot, Chief of the UN peacekeeping mission’s Relief, Reintegration and Protection (RRP) section. “The Terekeka police station stands as a near-perfect example of something that helps the community living here while promoting prisoners’ rights, rule of law and immediately benefiting the 700 police officers who have worked for years in conditions, that were, quite frankly appalling,” he adds.
UNMISS Police Commissioner, Unaisi Bolatolu-Vuniwaqa, described the official opening of the police station as a “humbling moment” when she witnessed the joy among her local policing counterparts and community members.
“This police station is meant to contribute to enhancing law and order in Terekeka. Across the world, police constitute the starting point of the justice chain. I hope this building will ensure that our local counterparts in Terekeka will be accessible to the community. This, in turn, will encourage all of you to report offences and have a sense of security while doing so, because you know that law and order issues are being properly addressed,” she told the crowd.
The Police Commissioner also expressed her gratitude to the state government for allocating land for the police station and providing skilled labourers to assist with construction.
“We are partners in peace with UNMISS, said Central Equatoria Governor, Emmanuel Adil Anthony, in response.
This year, UNMISS has constructed seven new police stations across South Sudan. The mission doesn’t just build infrastructure, it also builds the capacity of local law enforcement officers.
In Terekeka, UNPOL and civil affairs officers working will work alongside local police to ensure they’re trained and empowered to carry out their duties effectively and efficiently. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) will also partner with the mission to provide electricity, furniture and a fence for the building.
“Of all the projects we have executed in Central Equatoria, this one is not only close to my heart, but also the one for which we have received overwhelming appreciation from community members and direct beneficiaries,” said Geetha Pious.
“This is what we, as a mission, are here to do—promote the rule of law, ensure safety and stability, and work towards durable peace for all South Sudanese. This police station is a small project, but it’s made a very big impact.”