Paralegals bring justice to South Sudan


Alice Adye and volunteers after a paralegal training session by UNDP (left), Talking to police officers (right)

Alice Adye witnessed how breakdowns within State institutions, including police as well as statutory and customary courts, undermined and victimized women in rural areas of her community.  After participating in paralegal training, Alice formed the Women Empowerment for Prosperity (WEP), a community-based organization (CBO) to monitor and report cases of attempted mob justice to the South Sudan Police Service   Criminal Investigation Department (CID).

Her organization recruited 20 volunteers from different counties and villages in Eastern Equatoria to assist in information gathering from places where women were at risk of being killed by a mob.   However, her ability to do this was limited because the police officers could not reach remote areas without transportation.  “We needed to support our officers- we cannot wait for the Government to provide everything - there is no money in the country now” says Alice.  She decided to gather her group together for a fund-raising campaign that generated almost 12,000 South Sudanese Pounds.  This money was then used to purchase two motorcycles for the Criminal Investigations Department as a donation from WEP.  Thanks to the motorcycles the criminal investigation and police officers are now able to travel to remote areas, intervene and prevent the unjust killing of people accused of witchcraft or suspected of murder by poisoning.  In June 2012, one month after receipt of the motorcycles, the Chief of CID reported that they have been able to prevent killing by mob justice of 13 people across the Eastern Equatoria region.

Highlights

  • Community-based paralegals are now increasingly perceived as a conduit for increasing citizens' voice and social change agents
  • Formalization of paralegals can bridge a large service delivery gap to enable people access to both formal and informal justice
  • UNDP community-based paralegal training has empowered several CBOs and their communities by enabling them to better understand and to claim their right

Discussing the importance of a paralegal training, Alice notes that “to be a good paralegal, you need to understand how our South Sudanese laws can be used to protect the lives of women living in Payams.  You also need to know existing human rights tools for the protection of women.  Thanks to the UNDP training, I was able to understand these tools and get connected to people in the police department and other activists in Torit.  The training also gave me an opportunity to develop my knowledge on how to carry out promotional activities, advocacy, and monitoring of human rights at Payam level.”

UNDP’s Access to Justice and Rule of Law programme, in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice, and UN Police (UNPOL), has jointly organized Paralegal Training on Access to Justice and Human Rights at national and state levels since 2006.  The training brings together judges, lawyers, police and prison officers, custodian of customary norms, and community activists like Alice to strengthen their knowledge on laws that entitle communities to assert their rights, laws pertaining to the behaviour of public officials, how the court system works and can be accessed and the rights of persons detained by the police amongst other issues.

The community-based activists and paralegals are now increasingly perceived as a conduit for increasing citizens’ voice and as social change agents.  Paralegal practice remains un-codified in the laws of South Sudan, however in a country with only an estimated 400 practicing lawyers, the formalization of paralegals or community legal workers can bridge a large service delivery gap to enable people access to both formal and informal justice.

Yet Alice’s story also illuminates the challenges in achieving  legal  empowerment for women in a country like South Sudan where the scourge of  a protracted civil war with the north have left many women at the mercy of  traditional practices that are against basic human rights.

UNDP community-based paralegal training has empowered several CBOs and their communities by enabling them to better understand and to claim their rights.  The paralegals and community level extension workers have the tools and knowledge needed,  to provide greater access to justice for poor South Sudanese.  Building on its experience with Justice and Confidence Centres, UNDP is working with the Criminal Justice system, including the Judiciary, Ministry of Interior, and Ministry of Justice to implement a capacity development programme for CBOs.  Using a right- based approach to programming, interventions also focus on strengthening the capacities of communities to understand and use national and local justice mechanisms.  UNDP has placed rule of law officers and law enforcement advisors in nine of the ten States, to provide technical and policy support to the criminal justice sector, and community-based organizations.