New York, 14 June 2007 - After two decades of civil war with four million people displaced and its infrastructure all but destroyed, Southern Sudan is now finally starting to rebuild - with a new rule of law, effective courts, police and prisons topping the priority list.
Since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Sudan People's Liberation Army in January, 2005, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has been working closely with the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS) and its people to put these basic governance structures in place.
According to Supreme Court member Justice Ruben Madol, in many instances this means starting from scratch: "We are struggling to establish the Judiciary of Southern Sudan (JOSS), trying to figure out its legal basis according to the constitution; trying to recruit judges, support and administrative staff and trying to ensure they have offices to work in. We are looking for the tools - the legal textbooks - they need to do their job," he said.
Despite the scale of the challenge, progress is being made. "Two years ago there was no Government of Southern Sudan," said Patrick Sweeting, Head of UNDP's office in Southern Sudan. "Now we are seeing justice institutions being established and staffed at all levels, and UNDP's team in Southern Sudan is supporting this process with training, technical advice and support, and infrastructure development."
Since gaining autonomy, Southern Sudan has adopted a constitution that operates through a common law system in line with the systems of neighbouring Kenya and Uganda. UNDP is working with the judiciary to train judges in the principles underlying the common law approach and to overhaul the administration and management of the courts in line with this new system. The organization also works with local communities to increase understanding of the importance of the rule of law.
"Getting the law right is the most important part of helping rebuild the State," according to UNDP's Rule of Law Team Leader Sue Tatten. "People need to know that they will be able to resolve their disputes in a way that's impartial and equitable according to Southern Sudanese standards," she said. This includes keeping both options open - the formal court system and the customary law courts, but adapting the way the latter works so that it is in line with constitutional principles and protects human rights.
Indeed, the southern Sudanese are increasingly recognizing that justice and the rule of law must prevail-even behind prison walls. In the former garrison town of Wau, where the legacy of the civil war weighs heavily, UNDP is teaching inmates and wardens at the central prison to preserve human rights despite the difficult penal environment.
Inmate Pasquili Papo says that the training has improved conditions at the jail: "If we complain or put forward a request, they really investigate it. Before, we would put forward a complaint and nothing would happen. We would ask to see the file and they would say they lost it... this is something new."
Women in the prison system are especially vulnerable as they lack the resources and power to advocate for themselves. UNDP is trying to ensure they have full access to their rights, and has so far helped 14 out of the 25 female prisoners in Wau to post bail so they can await trial in their homes rather than behind bars.
Although the new justice system is far from perfect, local experts believe that Southern Sudan has already come a long way towards forging working governance structures after decades of civil war. "It is at this stage that the assistance from the United Nations Development Programme and our other partners is crucial," said Justice Madol.
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