Swedish Development Minister stresses women's access to justice in recent visit to Sudan

Sweden places women's human rights and gender justice at the centre of its development agenda, as demonstrated by Ms. Gunilla Carlsson, Swedish Minister of International Development Cooperation, during her visit to Khartoum and Juba, 9-12 April 2007. The purpose of her visit was to take stock of the difficult humanitarian situation and of Swedish-supported relief efforts, with particular focus on the plight of women, children and internally displaced persons.

The United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) facilitated the Swedish mission's interaction with policy makers leading the work on gender justice, and provided briefings on developments in cooperative efforts to protect women's human rights in Sudan.

UNIFEM facilitated the mission's observation of a traditional community court in session in Juba, presided over by Paramount Chief Dennis Daramollo. The aim was to assess how customary courts administer gender justice in a post-conflict context. The case concerned a matrimonial dispute in which a woman was charged with "desertion" by her husband. Although it was decided that the husband was in the wrong, both parties were fined and, according to customs, compelled to share the burden of paying court fees.

After the hearing, Chief Dennis explained that "the court is mainly used to deal with family and community cases such as matrimonial problems, land and other relationship matters. The structure of the court system includes myself as the judge, a court clerk, court elders and no legal representation. The instruments used for swearing when one is giving evidence are the Bible for Christians, the Quran for Muslims and the Spear for traditionalists." When asked how he came to be Paramount Chief, he replied, "I was chosen by my people to inherit the chiefdom from my uncle. As long as there are no courts that use 'modern' systems of legal administration, people will continue to use the customary courts. I have been doing this without proper training, so training was requested for myself and the court clerk so as to have better skills to dispense justice."

The Swedish mission subsequently met with officials from the Government of Southern Sudan, namely the Under-Secretaries of the Ministries of Gender and Legal Affairs, to discuss implementation of the recommendations of the Juba Gender Justice Workshop held on 12-14 February 2007. This workshop served to familiarize participants with the concept of gender justice in the context of Southern Sudan, and to create a space for women and men to discuss obstacles to gender justice. UNIFEM was asked to provide technical leadership in implementing recommendations on capacity-building, monitoring and empowerment, with particular focus on the training of judges and customary chiefs.

"This was a timely mission to Sudan, as the country seeks ways to deepen and accelerate the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the outcomes of the Oslo Peace Agreement," said Ms. Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda, UNIFEM Regional Programme Director for East and Horn of Africa. Dr. Ruth Kibiti and Ms. Lucie Luguga, UNIFEM Programme Managers in Sudan and Southern Sudan, respectively, also held bilateral consultations with the mission about ongoing cooperation in the country to achieve gender equality and women's empowerment.

UNIFEM established offices in Khartoum and Juba in 2005 with support from the governments of Sweden and Norway, to foster capacity-building for gender equality, to monitor implementation of commitments to women's rights in the peace agreements, and to address violence against women. UNIFEM's work in Sudan continues to receive support from the governments of Sweden and Norway.

For further information, please contact Dr. Ruth Kibiti, UNIFEM Programme Manager, Sudan, ruth.kibiti[at], or Ms. Lucie Luguga, UNIFEM Programme Manager, Southern Sudan, lucie.luguga[at]