Customary Protection? Chiefs’ Courts as Public Authority in United Nations Protection of Civilian Sites, South Sudan

Ibreck, Rachel and Pendle, Naomi. 2016. Customary Protection? Chiefs’ Courts as Public Authority in United Nations Protection of Civilian Sites, South Sudan. The Justice and Security Research Programme(34), ISSN 2051-0926 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Justice and security depend upon community action in South Sudan, even where civilians are under international protection. In this paper, we look inside the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Protection of Civilians (PoC) sites at the functioning of customary courts in this unique context. We find that the courts are more than a mechanism for community dispute resolution, they are also integral to the invigoration of local norms and structures for protection. This self-reliance is understandable, given that UNMISS has failed to protect people outside and inside the PoCs, and is mired in a legal and administrative quagmire within the sites. In South Sudan, chiefs’ courts have generally been associated with the pursuit of legitimate authority and accessible justice, but they are also the purveyors of norms that reproduce gender and generational inequalities and license certain abuses. Based on qualitative research and 395 court observations in the Juba and Bentiu POCs between July 2015 and July 2016, [1] we find that this duality persists even amid displacement and under humanitarian governance. The courts punish criminality, violence and breaches of custom, often in ways that oppress women and youth, yet their judgements, whether mediation or punishment, are concerned with making social and moral order, as illustrated by our detailed descriptions of a sample of cases. In interaction with UNMISS, new forums, actors and practices of justice are emerging; chiefly authority and ideas about the customary are adapting and thriving. We conclude that the regeneration of the courts in the sites is a response to a practical need for justice forums, but is fundamentally associated with the constitution of public authority and community among people affected by atrocity, conflict and profound uncertainty.

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1 September 2016Published

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07 Apr 2017 14:13

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30 Jun 2017 10:40


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