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Rift Valley Institute

Making local knowledge work

Civil society, landownership, homicide and the rule of law in South Sudan

The South Sudan Law Society's publication, In Brief, covers critical issues in legal and constitutional development in South Sudan. An article in the inaugural issue by Victor Lowilla explains how criminal defendants are often treated as guilty until proven innocent, against basic legal principles. Victor Bol’s piece on civil society’s efforts to have their interests reflected in a new NGO Bill shows the positive impact that an organized civil society can have on governance and rule of law. 

"The VHO Bill in its current form," Bol writes, could impede the important work of civil society organizations in South Sudan." Among the concerns of a working group established by the SSLS and other organisations he identifies the definition of "voluntary and humanitarian organisations". This, he writes,"conflates organizations that serve a humanitarian function (in other words, organizations that provide relief services in the context of emergencies, such as conflict and natural disasters) with organizations that perform other non-humanitarian functions, such as advocacy groups or think tanks." 

In the same issue of the newsletter Alicia Luedke analyses conflicts emerging over the demarcation of administrative boundaries. She points to an urgent need for the Government of South Sudan to clarify its position on community landownership. "Since the end of the war in 2005 and independence in 2011," she writes, "land values have steadily risen in South Sudan." Communities are increasingly asserting their ownership rights over community lands by clarifying their boundaries. But in addition to the economic benefits that flow from control of land and natural resources, the article points out, placement of administrative boundaries also has political implications: "New administrative units create new constituencies and new government positions. Individuals and groups in various parts of the country have begun to exploit the ambiguities of administrative boundaries for their own economic and political gain." 

In 2012, for example, violent ethnic clashes erupted between Nuer and Agar Pakam communities at the border between Rumbek North County of Lakes State and Mayendit County of Unity State. In the past, the article argues, these two groups enjoyed a relatively peaceful coexistence, but an alleged land grabbing of Madol Payam by powerful government actors from Unity gave rise to conflict between the two sides. The political and economic implications of boundary demarcation are likely to become more pronounced as the 2015 election season draws near. 

In an item on homicide in Jonglei, "Murder Rates at Wartime Levels in Jonglei State", David Deng sheds new light on the scale of inter-communal and politically motivated violence in Jonglei State. The item emerges from his report, Challenges of Accountability: An assessment of dispute resolution processes in rural South Sudan, which documents the growth in inter-communal violence since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between South Sudan and Sudan. It shows how judicial systems in Eastern Equatoria, Jonglei and Upper Nile states are trying and failing to meet the needs of rural populations caught up in cycles of conflict. Killing, looting of livestock, abduction of women and children, gender-based violence and destruction of property are commonplace, and perpetrators largely enjoy impunity.

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