Paralegals bring justice to women in South Sudan
In a young democracy like South Sudan, most disputes are still resolved through traditional, customary structures and institutions. 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.
“When a family is suspected or accused of murder in my community, the girl child is traded to the victim’s family as compensation. In other cases, accused women are stoned and beaten to death,” said Alice, who lives in Eastern Equatoria state.
- With $400,263 in funding, UNDP’s Access to Justice and Rule of Law programme organized paralegal training on access to justice and human rights at national and state levels since 2006.
- The project aims to develop capacities of NGOs, traditional authorities and rule of law institutions to identify and advocate for human rights.
- Rule of law officers and law enforcement advisors across south Sudan's ten states provide technical and policy support to the criminal justice sector and community-based organizations.
After participating in a UNDP-sponsored paralegal training, Alice formed Women Empowerment for Prosperity, a community-based organization to monitor and report cases of attempted mob justice to the South Sudan National Police Service Criminal Investigation Department. Women Empowerment for Prosperity recruited 20 volunteers from different counties and villages in Eastern Equatoria to assist in information gathering from places where women are at risk.
“To be a good paralegal, you need to understand how our South Sudanese laws can be used to protect the lives of women. Thanks to the UNDP training, I was able to understand these tools and connect to people in the police department and other activists.”
With $400,263 in funding, UNDP’s Access to Justice and Rule of Law programme, in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice, and UN Police, has jointly organized paralegal training on access to justice and human rights at national and state levels since 2006.
The trainings bring together judges, lawyers, police and prison officers, custodians 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, and how the court system works amongst other issues.
Paralegal practice remains uncodified 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’s access to both formal and informal justice. Community-based activists and paralegals are now increasingly perceived as social change agents and conduits for increasing citizens’ voices.
UNDP is now working with South Sudan’s criminal justice system, including the Judiciary, Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Justice to implement a capacity development programme on advocacy techniques and understanding of legal instruments. UNDP has placed rule of law officers and law enforcement advisors across ten states to provide technical and policy support to the criminal justice sector and community-based organizations.
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This study seeks to identify how engagement with informal justice systems can build greater respect and protection for human rights.