Increasing Responsiveness to GBV Cases at Torit Special Protection Unit

Special Protection Unit (SPU) police officers and social workers attend one of the mentorship sessions in Torit Municipal Police Station, Eastern Equatoria, South Sudan. Photo: UNDP

Written by Adebayo Alowolodu, Rule of Law Specialist, UNDP

The gender-based violence (GBV) desk of the Special Protection Unit (SPU) in Torit municipal police station reported more than 40 GBV cases in November 2020, prompting a series of mentorship sessions supported by UNDP’s Access to Justice, Security and Human Rights Strengthening Programme

The sessions, hosted in collaboration with the South Sudan National Police Service (SSNPS) in Torit, Eastern Equatoria State, focused on improving tailored investigation, response, counsel and referrals of survivors of GBV.  

Amnyo Grace, 25, shared her encounter with the improved services of the Special Protection Unit Gender Desk in Torit Municipal Police station during her visit. Photo: UNDP

“I reported my case to the SPU and the police officers on duty attended to me calmly and my statements were obtained. I was very pleased that my choice was respected because I did not want to pursue a case in court against my husband, nevertheless, I requested for family mediation,” said Amnyo Grace, 25, who received support at the Torit Special Protection Unit in November. 

“I am glad to say that my home is fully settled, besides, my husband has changed positively. He no longer abuses me emotionally at home. However, I have learned that if my husband continues to misbehave, I should always speak up and report to the SPU desk for quick intervention,” she continued. 

Gender-based violence is a major concern in Eastern Equatoria State, affecting women, men and children. Negative impacts of GBV on survivors can be vast, leading to psychological challenges, physical harm and disability, depression, and in some cases, death or suicide. Women and girls have been disproportionally impacted and are particularly vulnerable due to the nature of the conflict in South Sudan.

According to the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, gender-based violence, including rape and gang-rape, remain a central characteristic of the conflict, in instances amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity.  

Despite progress made in some contexts, the overall persistence of discriminatory structures and practices in the security sector create considerable challenges for establishing effective and responsive institutions. This not only results in the violations of the rights of girls, including denial of education and increasing the risk of unwanted pregnancies and maternal mortality, but also increasing inter- and intra-communal conflicts putting women and girls at the centre of violence and insecurity

The presence of Special Protection Units in eight (8) counties in Eastern Equatoria State aims to create a link between police and local communities in combatting these crimes and responding to the needs of survivors. Access to justice is a basic principle of rule of law and the multi-dimensional support provided to victims via the Special Protection Units are one step to address endemic levels of gender-based violence in South Sudan. 

“This is a good starting point for the Torit SPU and municipal police officers to start pushing the culture of ‘speaking up and reporting cases of GBV and not die in silence’ in the mind of young girls at early stages of their lives,’’ said Betty Konyo, a GBV desk officer at the Special Protection Unit, during the mentorship session conducted on 11 November 2020. 

Mentorship sessions included presentations, case studies and scenarios, group and plenary discussions. Photo: UNDP

The sessions were delivered using presentations, case studies and scenarios, group and plenary discussions. Live stories were told to paint scenarios with well-engaged comparative methodologies, where issues from other countries were examined. Lesson booklets previously developed by UNDP, and the South Sudan Criminal Procedure Act (CPA) were given to participants to support their learning.  

A total of 16 police officers (7 females and 9 males) from different departments participated, including police officers working as investigators, GBV desk officers, charge room and standby officers.

‘‘The Ministry is happy to continue to work together with police officers of the SPU in Torit Municipal Police Station. I want to emphasize the need to support and protect GBV survivors in the safe house, not leaving out the significant role of the police and other stakeholders in operationalization, coordination and referral mechanisms for protection, legal, psycho-social support, and medical needs of survivors,” said a staff member of the Torit Safe House, an initiative run by the Eastern Equatoria Ministry of Gender and Child Welfare. In addition, speakers from UNMISS Human Rights Unit and UNPOL’s Security Team contributed to the mentorship sessions. 

The November 2020 case reporting figures underline the improved sensitivity and capacity of the Special Protection Unit at the Torit Municipal Police station and is a significant breakthrough in the area of protecting human rights in Torit. 

UNDP’s Access to Justice, Security and Human Rights Strengthening programme will continue to strengthen the capacities of police officers, social workers and other stakeholders so that women, children and survivors of GBV can have their voices heard, exercise their rights, challenge discrimination and hold decision-makers accountable. 

Learn more about UNDP's work improving access to justice and promoting rule of law in South Sudan.