South Sudan’s Judicial Reform Committee Heralds Hope for the Justice Sector

August 30, 2022
SouthSudan Judicial Review Launch

The 1st Vice President Dr. Riek Machar (middle), the Chief Justice Chan Reec Madut (Right) and Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Hon. Rueben Madol during the launch of the Judicial Reform Committee

UNDP South Sudan

In a historic move, the Government of South Sudan on 28 July 2022 inaugurated the Ad Hoc Judicial Reform Committee (JRC) tasked with reviewing relevant laws, advising on judicial reforms and the restructuring of the Judiciary to enhance its effectiveness. Lord Justice James Ogoola and Lady Justice Joyce Aluoch – two eminent jurists from the region with vast experience that is critical to the implementation of judicial reforms – lead the twelve-member Committee.

This milestone under the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS) has the potential to usher in an independent Judiciary and post-conflict justice transformation to advance a strong rule of law and accelerate progress on the Revised National Development Strategy. The government, legal professionals, the media and South Sudanese people have a duty to support the JRC by taking action to sustain the political will, allocate financial resources and engage meaningfully.

The JRC was inaugurated at a time when the country is racing towards the end of the transitional period of the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (RTGoNU) whose tenure has been extended by two years. Still, the debate rages on about the post-unity government era amidst deterioration in the humanitarian, political and social situation due to violence and a series of interconnected shocks. Conflict, persistent and unprecedented flooding, economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and rising fuel and food prices due to the ongoing war in Ukraine combine to fuel crime, create disputes and threaten human security.

South Sudan Judicial Reform Leaders

The JRC Chairperson Lord Justice James Ogoola (3rd from right), Lady Justice Joyce Aluoch (Deputy Chairperson, 2nd from left) with the UNDP Resident Representative Dr. Samuel Doe (3rd from left) and other officials at UNDP offices.

UNDP South Sudan

Unresolved Legal Problems

Every year, 1.75 million people in South Sudan face one or more legal problems, according to a recently concluded Justice Needs and Satisfaction survey. Sixty percent of these problems relate to land disputes, domestic violence and crime. While 57% of all the legal problems are resolved mainly through traditional systems, there is still a wide annual justice gap of almost two million unresolved legal problems.

Inability to resolve these pressing legal problems in a timely and fair manner contributes to cycles of violence, aggravated crime and insecurity in the country. These challenges have been worsened by a weak and sparsely spread justice system because of prolonged civil war and inadequate political will.

The Significance of Judicial Reforms

An independent judiciary and functional judicial process that upholds the supremacy of the rule of law is key to restoring stability in South Sudan. A strong rule of law in which people experience equal access to justice is a precondition for human rights respect, legal empowerment, and protection of the most vulnerable from violence and discrimination as well as for confidence-building for the business environment and attracting reputable investors. Reforming and sustainably managing a functioning judiciary system and the legal ecosystem upon which people and businesses depend for dispute resolution and legal security are instrumental to sustaining peace and development that leave no one behind.

The work of the JRC is now underway alongside other constitutional, transitional justice and public financial management reforms that form the backbone of the transitional period. It should help catalyze an urgent transition to more inclusive, gender-responsive and people-centered approaches of sustainable justice delivery that uphold human rights. Indeed, while poverty, conflict and unsustainable justice delivery cause unequal access to justice, unequal access to justice is also a driver of instability, poverty and extreme suffering. Therefore, realizing the judicial reforms can result in much-needed benefits for addressing inequality and poverty, and enabling inclusive growth.

What does this mean in practice? A successful reform is political and costly, with opportunities for advocacy, participation, consensus building, incremental transformative action and, ultimately, greater accountability of legal actors for their actions towards the justice system. At the center of this, is the role of the bar association, social workers, traditional leaders and civil society organizations working in the rule of law area.

Actions to advance judicial transformation

UNDP advocates for people-centered solutions to the world’s complex justice challenges. The JRC and its work can bring real change that benefits people. Below are actions that will be crucial for advancing judicial transformation that includes an independent Judiciary in South Sudan: 

  • Sustaining unity of political purpose as an essential factor of success for judicial reform: This calls for regular political engagement and support for peaceful discussions and dialogues that can help build consensus across a broader group of influential stakeholders and mitigate the potential for disagreements that could slow the reform agenda, and contribute to grievances that trigger tension.
  • Adopting a comprehensive diagnostic analysis, scope and approach: Countries with a systematic analysis that accurately diagnoses the most critical structural constraints across the justice chain to be removed have adopted better and sequenced strategies that yield the highest gains. The strategies embed an incremental approach to reform that can still bring about radical transformations if sustained for long enough.
  • Ensuring an inclusive and participatory process that is gender-sensitive: The JRC must conduct stakeholder consultations on the areas for reform in at least five States and one Administrative Area and help to build consensus, feel the pulse of the nation on different judicial issues, and recognize the roles of the justice users as well as often-marginalized groups like women, youth and IDPs in the reform agenda. Measures should be taken to bring all groups in a polarized context to embrace the reforms as common ground and strengthen women, youth and IDP leadership throughout the design and subsequent implementation of the reforms in order to achieve better justice outcomes. 
  • Empowering people to be active participants in the judicial reforms: Access to remedies and protection by marginalized communities, women, children, people with disabilities, IDPs and survivors of SGBV and conflict-related violence are all disproportionately affected by the impacts of delayed justice. They are also powerful change agents and play a crucial role in the decision-making and uptake for reforms.

UNDP and the rest of the UN system in South Sudan are committed to supporting the JRC as well as the government, the judiciary, legal fraternity, civil society and the people in their efforts to co-create judicial reforms through a process that is independent and legitimate in the eyes of the South Sudanese people.