By: Rosemary Ogola

There were historic moments for communities of Lainya, Morobo and Yei Counties of Central Equatoria State (CES) in South Sudan, when their representatives and other stakeholders embarked on the ascertainment, review and documentation of their customary laws and traditional practices at Youth Garden in Yei Town on 14th, February 2022.

During a seven-day consultative workshop that brought together traditional leaders, the justice and rule of law sector, women and youth leaders, as well as the local administration, participants ascertained, reviewed and documented the various customary laws in their respective counties, with the aim of strengthening the traditional justice systems for peace, social cohesion and recovery in the three counties. 

The stakeholder review process was facilitated by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) following recommendations from field assessments of the traditional justice systems that identified the need to bring principal stakeholders together for a review and training workshop. 

The laws and traditional practices reviewed included family law, land tenure and ownership of property, traditional mechanisms for dispute and conflict prevention, mitigation, management and resolution.

The workshop sought to harmonize the traditional dispute resolution mechanisms with the statutory mechanisms for peacebuilding and reconciliation to enhance the return of the refugees and IDPs to their original settlement villages and urban centres.

In addition, the workshop participants identified harmful customary laws and traditional practices that are contrary to the Bill of Rights as enshrined in the Transitional Constitution of South Sudan, including those on early marriages and inheritance for women, and how to eradicate such laws and practices.

Cecilia Moni, a female participant from Yei. Photo: IOM/Rosemary Ogola

“I am very happy that we have agreed to remove school fees from dowry. This is a new culture that has infiltrated our customs where dowry for educated women is higher than for those who are not,” said Cecilia Moni, a female participant from Yei.

“This is wrong because it is as if the women are being sold, which goes against the meaning of dowry which is meant to be a gift to the family of the bride.” 

The workshop also examined the roles the traditional chiefs play and the status of their court structures and advised streamlining, reforms, and establishment of local customary law courts with judicial warrants.

Participants endorsed that once the documentation process is finalised, the customary laws should be tabled in the CES State Parliament for enactment, so that they can acquire a more binding force of law.

They recommended that once passed into laws by the state parliament, the customary laws should be translated into the various local languages spoken in the three counties and disseminated widely through civic education to ensure that community members are conversant with their laws. 

IOM Customary Law Consultant Mr. Deng Biong Mijak. Photo: Rosemary Ogola

“The customary justice system forms an integral part of the statutory rule of law system and is enshrined in the Transitional Constitution of South Sudan, 2011”, said IOM consultant and former judge Mr. Deng Biong Mijak, who guided the process. 

The traditional justice system was disrupted when people fled from conflict that affected the three counties between 2016 and 2018. Most people fled to the neighbouring Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo as refugees, while others got displaced to other parts of the country as internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Speaking during the closing ceremony, Yei County Commissioner Hon. Aggrey Cyrus Kanyikwa, who was representing the CES state Minister for Local Government and Law Enforcement Agencies, commended the participants for their contribution in the historical process and called for a similar exercise for Kajo Keji, Juba and Tereka counties.

Review and development of customary laws and strengthening of the traditional justice systems form part 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.

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.

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