Improved Accountability Is the Only Path to Sustainable Peace

New Report Calls for Comprehensive Justice Sector Reform in South Sudan

Juba, June 6, 2013 (SSNA) In response to high levels of inter-communal and politically motivated violence, a new report by the South Sudan Law Society (SSLS), Challenges of Accountability: An assessment of dispute resolution processes in rural South Sudan, provides an empirical analysis of how justice systems in Eastern Equatoria, Jonglei and Upper Nile are attempting to meet the legal needs of rural populations caught up in vicious cycles of conflict. The report was supported by Pact and funded by the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) at the U.S. State Department.

In recent years, inter-communal and politically motivated violence has killed thousands of people in rural areas. The perpetrators of this violence are able to kill innocent people, loot livestock, destroy property, abduct women and children and commit acts of sexual violence with impunity.

According to the report, in areas surveyed in Eastern Equatoria, Jonglei and Upper Nile States:

  • 20 percent of households reported having one or more household members killed in the past two years.
  • 20 percent of households in Akobo and 10 percent of households in Pibor reported that one or more household members had been abducted in the past two years.
  • Nearly 40 percent of households reported having something stolen from them in the past two years; 60 percent of these incidents involved the theft of cattle or other livestock.

The report found that the existing justice services are almost completely unable to hold the perpetrators of violence accountable. Key challenges arise in investigating and prosecuting these crimes and ensuring that governance institutions respect, protect and fulfill the rights provided for in the Transitional Constitution and other sources of law.

“Since the end of the war in 2005 and independence in 2011, the Government of South Sudan has struggled to build effective governance and rule of law institutions,” said David K. Deng, the report’s author and research director of the South Sudan Law Society (SSLS). “To develop a justice system that is responsive to the needs of its people, the Government must design and implement strategies for combating impunity for inter-communal and politically motivated violence." 

The report also found injustices that pervade the customary and statutory court systems. Local justice systems—comprised of a range of formal and informal dispute resolution processes at the county level and below—routinely accept, assess and resolve certain types of disputes. However, the manner in which they resolve disputes can perpetuate harmful practices that disproportionately affect women and children in violation of their constitutional and statutory rights. For example:

  • Some courts condone and encourage forced marriage in the settlement of disputes. These unions are often accompanied by violence or threats of violence. Rarely are girls able to rely on courts to enforce statutory prohibitions on forced marriage.
  • Young women are sometimes pressured to marry their rapists to avoid the stigma that society attaches to rape victims and secure bridewealth payments for the family.
  • Local justice systems rarely prosecute domestic violence unless a woman’s life is at risk. When women retaliate, injuring or killing their abusive husbands, they are punished with harsh prison sentences that do not take into consideration the mitigating factor of abuse.
  • Courts sometimes punish people who are unable to repay their debts with imprisonment for indefinite periods of time.

“Every justice system has its shortcomings,” said Casie Copeland, the report’s lead editor and a technical advisor with Pact. “Yet the fact that one-fifth of the households in these areas, eight years after the civil war ended, reported having one or more household members killed in the last 24 months is shocking and illustrates that an underlying cycle of violence continues in rural areas. In order to address this crisis, these challenges must be discussed openly and addressed through intelligent and evidence-based reforms.”

The report highlights capital punishment as one area in desperate need of reform. Despite signing a UN resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty, senior government officials have said that they will continue judicial executions until a constitutional prohibition on the death penalty is in place. Continued support for capital punishment is justified by a perception that South Sudanese overwhelmingly support the use of the death penalty. However, the majority of the study’s respondents opposed the death penalty. Most respondents preferred the customary remedy for homicide, in which the perpetrator pays cattle or other forms of compensation to the family of the deceased as compensation.

Restorative remedies, designed to reconcile opposing parties and repair social relationships rather than exact retribution and revenge, are a common theme underpinning South Sudanese notions of justice. By building upon restorative views of justice and balancing them with the state’s interest in punishing crime, the government can provide justice services that are more responsive to the needs of its citizens.

The report offers a series of detailed recommendations for how the government and its international partners can help to improve access to justice for rural populations, including:

  • Extending and strengthening justice services at the local government level to ensure greater access to justice in rural areas.
  • Enacting a comprehensive set of legislative reforms, including the development of legislation pertaining to legal aid, family law and gender-based violence.
  • Clarifying the role of paralegals and moving forward on plans to give them legal capacity to represent clients in court for minor disputes.
  • Stationing military judge advocates at the divisional headquarter level and below and ensuring that they accompany any significant deployment of troops.
  • Integrating support to the justice sector into all conflict reduction programming.

“South Sudan’s justice system is in need of urgent attention and support if it is to ensure accountability and provide fair and effective services to rural populations,” said Deng. “This is a long-term endeavor that will require a substantial investment of time and resources, but it is central to building a viable, legitimate and peaceful state.”

About the South Sudan Law Society (SSLS)

The South Sudan Law Society (SSLS) is a civil society organization based in Juba. Its mission is to strive for justice in society and respect for human rights and the rule of law in South Sudan. The SSLS manages projects in a number of areas, including legal aid, community paralegal training, human rights awareness-raising, and capacity-building for legal professionals, traditional authorities, and government institutions. For more information on the SSLS, visit

About Pact, Inc.

Pact is an international NGO that strengthens local capacity, forges effective governance systems and transforms markets into a force for development. Across Africa, Eurasia and Asia, Pact implements more than 70 programs in the areas of capacity development, governance, health and natural resource management. Pact has been operating in South Sudan and Sudan since 2002. The total value of its current program portfolio in the area of peacebuilding, access to justice, capacity development, local governance and WASH is over $15 million.


David K. Deng
Director, Research Department
South Sudan Law Society (SSLS)
Tel: +1 (202) 604-0305 (U.S.)
+211 955 518 206 (S. Sudan)
Casie Copeland
Technical Advisor
Pact South Sudan
Tel: +211 955 159 999
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