23rd September 2023
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Machar cautions Upper Nile chiefs against handling murder cases

Authors: Alhadi Hawari | Madrama James | Published: Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Some of the Chiefs who attended National conference for council of traditional authority leaders in Juba between September 1- 3, 2023 - Credit: Madrama James

The First Vice President has cautioned traditional leaders in Upper Nile against handling murder cases saying it’s illegal, but the chiefs say the lack of courts in the rural areas are to blame.

Dr Riak Machar Teny made the remarks at the end of a three-day Council of Chief Conference in Juba on Sunday, September 3.

The event from 1-3 September brought traditional leaders from the 79 counties to Juba under the theme: Empowering traditional authorities to consolidate peace and reconciliation.

It was organized by the ministries of peacebuilding, justice and constitutional affairs, federal affairs, and interior, in partnership with the UN Mission in South Sudan and development agency – UNDP.

This aimed at empowering traditional leaders to address local disputes and resolve communal conflicts, as well as enhancing common understanding among government and traditional authorities at the grassroots level.

At the conference, when Dr Machar asked the chiefs if they were handling murder – some of whom confirmed doing so.

But the First Vice President told them the practice is illegal arguing that it’s not their jurisdiction, but the judiciary’s.

“Chiefs from Upper Nile are still handling crime cases. This is not right. It’s illegal, especially for chiefs who are coming from the Upper Nile. Am I right? Machar asked.

“You people are still handling criminal cases such as murder. But chiefs from Barh-El Ghazal normally refer such cases to judges and chiefs from Equatoria regions Also they are not handling murder cases.”

In response, traditional leaders from Fangak County in Jonglei State say the lack of competent courts in the area often forces them to solve murder cases.

Simon Bap Yak, a Paramount of Fangak County also says some areas do not have judges.

“Honestly, traditional leaders handle murder cases because some other counties don’t have operational and competent judges with all the mandate to pass rulings,” said Chief Yak.

“If they were to be judges, murders would have been under their jurisdiction. Traditional leaders would been available only to witness the percussion process. It’s only the lack of judges that’ forcing us to handle murder cases,” he said.

“There are some places that do not have competent courts. It is also forcing us {traditional leaders} to solve such kind of cases.”

On his part, the commissioner of Ulang County of Upper Nile state agrees that his area is using traditional courts to try criminal cases.

Riek Gach told Eye Radio they have no option but to solve their problems.

“Yes, I have a local court formed by the traditional chiefs, that is the only court I have and don’t have an attorney in the county and am always dealing with traditional chiefs headed by paramount chiefs assisted by the head chief and sub-chief and that how we are handling criminal cases,” Commissioner Riek said.

“Here people are solving their problems in Ulang and we have a small prison,” he said.

Customary courts in South Sudan are also constrained by being placed within the local government act, which is widely recognized as ineffective and provides little support.

Chiefs sometimes find it difficult to enforce their decisions and have, on occasion, been threatened with physical violence.

Murder, according to South Sudan law is a criminal offense and is punishable by the 2008 Penal Act articles 209 and 210.

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