The Foundation of South Sudan Bar Association: The First Elections

Press release

December 7, 2014 (SSNA) — The legal profession is one of noble professions in the world that has immensely contributed to the development of the world and helped shaped other professions. It has helped to promote and protect civil liberties and challenged government actions and inactions to the benefit and prosperity of humanity. The profession through her Bar Associations or Law Societies, have made significant contributions in advising governments to govern under the rule of law, observe human rights and advance democratic rule.

South Sudan Bar Association as a product of the legal profession is holding its first general elections in the history of the Association in the next few days. This election is timely because the Bar Association is the guardian of the public interest from individual actions and actions of all the agencies of the state. The Bar Association carries out oversight function to ensure that government decisions are taken in conformity with the law. It has a mandate to bring public interest cases against the government, individuals, corporate entities or Organisations.

It is an independent Association whose leadership must desist from being used by the government to fight its own political wars. Unfortunately, the Bar Association is a likely candidate to a political trap should its members fail to read the political crisis in the country. It risks falling into uninsurable risks that the SPLM and the government has descended into with no insurance company ready to exonerate it from the risks incurred.

There is no legal provision in the Advocates Act that a candidate must be a member of a political party to qualify for election into any of the positions to the leadership of the Bar Association. In fact any candidate who shows political affiliation by showing that he is from such a political party and preaching party politics to earn a win should be disqualified from running such elections because these are not party elections. If allowed to run, such candidate must fail the elections because he or she is for a wrong cause in the Association.

At its nascent stage as it is, the members of the Bar Association have to be very careful in electing leaders to those high positions as the association risks being used as political conduit to fight political wars rather than working towards the benefits of its members and the general public. Advocates must vote people with integrity and above all persons who will advance the interests of the advocates, the people of South Sudan and shape government to advance the rule of law and democratic values.

The advocates’ constituency must know that what happened to the Civil Society in Addis Ababa Peace talks where the civil society was submerged in the confusion of the two warring parties should not happen to the association. The Civil Society lost its ground when both parties dropped it from direct participation in the talks which affected the people of South Sudan whom the civil society was to represent their voices.

It is still fresh in our minds that as the lead counsel representing the advocates in that very important case in late 2012 and advising the advocates to pass a vote of no confidence on the entire Interim Committee of the Bar Association when they worked against the interest of the advocates, it is possible that the same situation might occur. We handled it well and our actions gave birth to the creation of a new order. We have been breathing for the last two years and made several achievements one of which is the birth of the structures of the Bar Association and the intended elections. A vote of no confidence and a censure are important tools that members must be ready to use any time as there are inevitable signs that electing people who have been presented as coming from a particular political party and receiving support from that party is a clear indication that such a candidate is not coming to work for the Bar constituency and the entire people of South Sudan who are victims of the absence of the rule of law but to further political objectives contrary to the objectives for which the Bar Association was established.

In conclusion, the election is timely and I urged that the Electoral Committee make sure the election is free and fair. It make sense to invite foreign observers such as the rule of law officers at UNMISS and inviting the Media Houses to cover the elections. It appears unnecessary but it sends a message for setting standards for the country which is staggering from these democratic values as such the lawyers must stick to the values of integrity to keep the profession intact.

Wish you free and fair election and a Merry Christmas.

Wani Mathias Jumi
Secretary General
South Sudan Law Society
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