< < >

2011 | Haki Report on Combatting gender-based violence in the customary courts of South Sudan

This is the report of a study on the administration of justice for gender-based violence cases in the customary courts of South Sudan. The study captures actual results and punishments for gender-based violence, documents good practices, and explores areas for necessary reform. A total of 609 customary court cases were observed while 64 interviews were conducted across the project locations. The results reveal a system of customary justice that remains vital to dispute resolutions throughout South Sudan, but with critical flaws that require immediate action by local and national actors.

One hundred and seventy three (28%) of the cases observed involved elements of gender-based violence. The results also show, however, that a certain amount of ‘discipline’ and abuse of wives is tolerated by customary courts. The author collates the results per city/tribe. Pages 19, 26, 32 and 38 provide tables giving an overview of crimes committed and punishments imposed by the customary courts.

The interviews indicate that the preference for customary courts is not merely a product of geographical access, but a reflection of deeper cultural and structural characteristics. Some criminal cases go exclusively to customary courts, while other go to the formal legal system. While the reasoning for the distribution of cases between the two systems is not always consistent, most gender-based violence cases are heard in customary courts. According to this author, customary law has filled a post-conflict resolution vacuum by combining customary and statutory elements, however the application of these is done without guidance or full knowledge of all the elements. The study shows an underlying inconsistency in judgments and punishments between and even within courts, often dictated by the individual standards of the executive or paramount chief.

The report concludes with a number of recommendations that address gender-based violence issues in the courts.