Who are the main providers of justice and police services in post-conflict Southern Sudan? Why is a focus on state justice unworkable in Southern Sudan and other post-conflict countries? This article examines justice and policing in Southern Sudan and questions the assumptions that underlie donor-driven access to justice and rule of law programmes. The key issue is to strengthen legitimate existing providers first, rather than to assume for ideological reasons that central government is, can, or should be the main provider.
The Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS) has been overwhelmed by the task of constructing state institutions following the civil war. Control over its territory is imperfect, and in places contested by armed groups. Poor transport and communications networks and a prolonged wet season curtail the GOSS’s ability to project its authority. Statebuilding in Southern Sudan requires the establishment of new state structures rather than rebuilding or restoring structures after conflict. The situation regarding security and justice is beyond the capacity of the GOSS to address, even with international assistance.
- During the civil war, the Northern regime dismissed hundreds of judges and police in the South, gave security agencies arbitrary powers of arrest and detention, and Islamised and politicised the judiciary and police.
- In 2008 the GOSS’s justice framework remained incomplete. Penal and criminal codes were not established, customary law was legally and operationally unsettled, and there were no functioning legal institutions.
- The Southern Sudan Police Service (SSPS) is understaffed, underequipped, underfunded, and undertrained. It does not reach rural areas outside former garrison towns.
- Southern Sudanese perceive the state justice system as inaccessible, unjust, indifferent and corrupt. The SSPS is universally seen as predatory and unresponsive.
Post-conflict governments and donors prioritise rebuilding the justice sector through state-delivered rule of law and access to justice programmes. Such programmes misunderstand the nature of the post-colonial state and are based on questionable assumptions. These are that: 1) lack of access to state justice is a lack of access to justice; 2) the state system that is being built is what people want; and 3) the state system that is being built can provide a sustainable network in the foreseeable future.
However, experience in Southern Sudan calls for a rethink of donor-supported police and justice reforms. Local justice is accessible, legitimate, effective and has wide coverage. It often works with state systems. There are problems relating to consistency, corruption, and how local courts treat women. However, blatant irregularities are rare. Addressing Southern Sudan’s justice and police challenges requires a coherent government policy towards local justice networks. Donors must look beyond traditional western ‘state-building’ models and:
- Proportion assistance to the state as a minority provider of justice and policing and to traditional justice networks as the primary purveyors of security and justice.
- Help the GOSS establish the standards for justice and security service delivery, and ensure accountability of local networks as well as state systems.
- Listen more to the end-users and recipients of justice and police service delivery in designing and implementing interventions.
- Improve the mechanisms that link local justice and security networks to state systems.