09 Feb 2022
By: Jale Richard

Kajo-keji–The Kuku community of Kajo-Keji County in South Sudan’s Central Equatoria State has expressed the need for a review and documentation of their customary laws as well as other traditional practices in order to have a functional customary justice system. 

These sentiments were expressed during a recent needs assessment by IOM that was undertaken to establish the role of customary law, local courts, and the general state of the traditional authority as communities return to the county after fleeing from the conflict that affected the area in 2016-2019.

The assessment focused on the general status of the customary law and courts as well as the challenges facing the traditional authorities to strengthen the traditional justice systems and hence support recovery in the rule of law sector in Kajo-keji County.

Participants included traditional chiefs, community elders and opinion leaders; women and youth groups; representatives of the local government, and law enforcement agencies, as well as local NGO partners locally operating in Kajo-keji County.

IOM consultant in a session with a group of women. Photo: IOM/Rose Ogola

The traditional justice system was disrupted when people fled the county following the breakout of conflict in the area in 2016. Most people fled to neighboring Uganda as refugees while others fled to other parts of the country as internally displaced persons (IDPs).

During the assessment, people emphasized the importance of the role of the traditional authorities in conflict and dispute management, mitigation, and resolution. 

There was a strong call for the review and documentation of the customary laws as well as training of the traditional chiefs to build their capacity and strengthen their knowledge of customary law and court procedures. 

One of the key recommendations was for the inclusion of women in the membership of the local customary law courts. 

Keji Mary Marle-Chairlady, Kajo-Keji County Women Association. Photo: IOM/Rose Ogola.

“There are very few women chiefs and as women, we recommend that the number be increased to a minimum of three out of every ten chiefs,” said Keji Mary Marle-Chairlady, Kajo-Keji County Women Association.

Most of the court buildings were destroyed during the conflict and the few remaining are in a state of ruin due to abandonment after people fled and the chiefs recommended their rehabilitation to support the court hearings. 

Paramount Chief Fadhili shows one of the courthouses built in 1952 and which requires some renovation. Photo:IOM/Rose Ogola.

“The court building is almost crumbling, and I am forced to listen to court cases in my house,” said Paramount Chief Fadhili Kenyi Tete. 

IOM conducted similar assessments on the traditional justice system in Lainya, Morobo and Yei counties. The traditional justice system is one of the components in a two-year project that aims to use locally driven solutions to restore peace, social cohesion and promote early recovery in the country’s former breadbasket counties.

Paramount Chief Fadhili Kenyi Tete shows IOM consultant the crumbling courthouse. Photo: IOM/Rose Ogola

The project dubbed Locally-Driven Solutions for Addressing Social Cohesion and Promoting Early Recovery in the Country’s Former Breadbasket is funded by the United Nations Multi-Partner Trust Fund to support reconciliation, stabilization and resilience in Yei, Lainya, Morobo, and Kajo Keji counties.

It is being implemented by an IOM led consortium that includes Finn Church Aid (FCA), Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative (WPDI), Community Empower for Progress Organisation and Support for Peace and Education Development Programme (SPEDP), working in partnership with United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

This story was written by Rose Ogola, IOM South Sudan Transition and Recovery, Communications Specialist.

SDG 16 - Peace Justice and Strong Institutions