Home | News    Sunday 10 January 2010

INTERVIEW: Avoid taking law in own hands, says S. Sudan chief justice


By Manyang Mayom

January 8, 2010 (RUMBEK) – South Sudan’s tightly guarded supreme chief justice, John Wol Makec, in an interview Thursday explained the unique legal system of this semi-autonomous region. Makec and his colleague John Clement Kuc, an appeals court judge based in Rumbek, highlighted the strains on the judiciary and yet called on their countrymen not to take the law into their own hands.

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Chief Justice John Wol Makec of the Southern Sudan Supreme Court (photo Manyang Mayom)

Sudan as a whole is governed through customary law, common law and Islamic law in North Sudan. The country’s southern region was given its own set of institutions under an interim constitution agreed upon as part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005.

Chief Justice John Wol Makec, a man with a diplomatic manner, was the deputy president of the National Constitutional Court in Khartoum before moving to his current role. In an exclusive interview held on January 7, 2010 at Palm-tree Hotel in Rumbek, the chief justice highlighted the fact that Southern Sudan’s judiciary and law differ from the national system.

Justice Makec explained that English common law – the model for South Sudan’s formal legal code – was originally a customary law, but because it became the custom of all tribes in England at that time, it developed into the national law.

"Just as the customs of various tribes in England became the common law in England, and all the tribes became a nation, we also in Sudan we are developing toward nationhood. Then our customs are going to be a common law of Southern Sudan," he suggested.

Southern Sudan commonly has cases of murder and land dispute. Civil cases are also very common, affirmed John Wol Makec. Compared to the states along the Nile of northern Sudan, where there are many land issues, the cases in areas of South Sudan, like Dinkaland for instance, are more commonly about cattle and marriage.


There are different types of judicial authority in South Sudan, since tribal chiefs often still exercise judgements. "Chiefs’ Court are operating in Southern Sudan and there are not clear boundaries of jurisdiction between chiefs’ courts and judges’ courts, as well as the courts of appeal. All cases are different from place to place in Southern Sudan," said Makec.

The majority of chiefs do not derive their authority from the constitution or the government. But they hold court often under a tree, and rule in cases of homicide, cattle theft especially in Dinkaland and Nuerland, and other cases like the use of drugs and adultery in particular areas, said the chief justice.

Justice Makec voiced concern at the prevalence of these unauthorized judges. "Anybody who was not appointed legally and given power by the chief justice is not entitled to try anybody or to try any case — there are too many of these cases happening in states. You will find people calling themselves Payam judges and people calling themselves chiefs in some states who are not appointed by the chief justice and they have no judicial power to try cases."

As to appointed judges, these are lacking in the region, according to Justice Makec: "We have over one hundred judges; we will still need more judges. The most important qualities for those who will do good work in the judiciary are that they are experienced and able. Previously the judges from the South Sudan were completely effective covering South Sudan."

"The South Sudan government lacks judges that can handle cases, as judges’ accommodations trouble those who have accepted to operate in Southern Sudan. Ordinary citizens are also complaining of long trials without charges placed upon them by their challengers that arrested them. Some also complain that chiefs and judges are being bribed but no proper charges have been brought to the chief justice nor to the court of appeals."

Before the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, Southern Sudan was administered regionally under the control of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. With the CPA, ten states were created in South Sudan and above them the Government of Southern Sudan. "Judges became scarce and most experienced judges refused to join the judiciary in Southern Sudan due to the lack of accommodation and the insecure environment," commented Makec.

When the ten states were created, John Makec was still in the National Constitutional Court in Khartoum. "So when I was appointed here, I inherited what had already been done by former Chief Justice Ambrose Riny Thiik. I found judges already appointed and transferred to their respective states."


The new judiciary did not develop cooperative relations with the Southern Sudan Police Services, according to Makec. "We really need police to be trained to deal with work effectively, cooperation always is dependent on experience," he said.

South Sudan’s prisons are reported generally to have poor sanitation. There are also instances across the states of people detained for long periods of time without any intervention from local judicial authorities. Justice Makec described the main prisons as very full, including those in Rumbek, Wau, Juba and Malakal. "The conditions are not the direct responsibility of the judiciary although we are concerned," he noted, "prisons is a responsibility direct to the Ministry of Interior Affair."

He explained one of the reasons for the full prisons is the many bodies with law enforcement powers without much oversight. "The law has been put by everybody into his own hand so that there are too many hands of people arresting people and taking them into prison to be kept there without investigations; and you can find the army involved, the executive, individuals, chiefs and the police… So when so many hands are involved, then you will find a large number of people arrested and many are convicted by someone who has no judicial power."

"Everybody is taking the law into his hand arresting people and those who fine people and place money into their pocket. We need to accommodate judges and now there are no accommodations places for them. There are more challenges that need quick solutions without any right now."

Recently, the Southern Sudan Chief Justice was accompanied by the President of the High Court of Appeal on a tour of all Lakes state counties’ prisons as well Rumbek’s main prison. Makec said that on that tour, they ordered released a number of women and men, including 11 women in Cueibet County, who had been put in prison improperly. There were cases of prisoners who were being held because their relatives were wanted for arrest.


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Judge John Clement Kuc, President of the High Court of Appeal for Bahr-El-Ghazal, based in Lakes state (photo by Manyang Mayom)

Justice John Clement Kuc, Acting President of the Court of Appeal for Bahr-El-Ghazal, during an exclusive interview highlighted similar issues to those raised by Chief Justice Makec. The government of Lakes state, which was set up in 2005, has 5 county judges. There are 2 judges at the high court of appeal, although there are supposed to be 3.

"When I came to Rumbek, I did not know where I could sleep; so I had to sleep with my friend at his house," he recalled. He also added that serious cases have been pending in the court of appeal since 2006 to 2009 due to the lack of judges.

According to Justice Kuc, judges and lawyers refused to join the Southern Sudan judiciary because there are no places for them to be accommodated. "We are inviting our colleagues to join us so that we can serve in this crucial period in South Sudan," he said.

He also complained that "Some of the judges are threatened by people who are wearing army uniform, and all threats are happening in various courts in Southern Sudan. Over one thousand chiefs are operating without judicial power, all asking ‘who will pay me’? The Local Government Act said clearly that the regional court, executive court and town court are going to be handled by local government and yet it has not yielded fruit."

Referring to Lakes state cases, he said that murders, cattle theft and general law-breaking have resulted in guns in the hands of everybody. He also added that adultery has taken third position in crimes in Lakes state since the CPA was signed.

Justice Kuc downplayed the problem of prison sanitization, affirming that the prison situation has improved because there are beds for sleeping on inside jails especially in Rumbek main prisons, though at present there is still a lack of latrines inside jails.

He also called upon the public to observe the issue of bribery and to bring such cases even though they are difficult to prove.

Kuc also affirmed to the public that military prisons are not to detain civilians, only soldiers. "If there are civilian detainees there in the military jail, then they must be reported immediately to us and we shall help to bring those civilians out into a civilian prison which is run by police — we need all civilians to tell us their dilemma of detentions in military secret cells. All detention centers which are not in our book are illegal jails."

He concluded the interview by saying, "This judiciary is the judiciary of people, and the law is the law of people, so all of us must try to respect the law – if we respect the law we will get all what we need like development. And if we disrespect laws, then all funds will go to security and we shall not benefit from our constitutional rights."


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  • 10 January 2010 04:55, by SPLA

    First of all, there are no laws in South Sudan. South Sudan is being govern by political appointees who do not want to make laws but to enrich themselves through looting public funds, corruption and nepotism.

    Starting from Kiir all the way to the political appointees Members of Parliament, the are all bunch of criminals without any vision for the future of the vast majority of people in South Sudan. Their gool is to enrich themselves by basically stealing public funds. They want to keep the rest of public in South Sudan poor by not giving civil services, not keeping save and security environment for local populace to enjoy people.

    Whom do we expect to enforce the laws in Southern South if the same people in power are breaking laws themselves. The two previous Finance Ministers stole millions and millions of dollars and nobody is holding them accountable for it. We got SPLA generals stealing the army funds while soldiers go for months without pay and nobody is holding those generals accountable.

    Last time when Kiir wanted to Make Kuol Manyang Minister of SPLA Affairs, the same vary generals threatened to quit if Kuol became the Minister of SPLA and Kiir gave it. Let them quit if making Kuol Manyang Minister of SPLA Affair was good for South Sudan army. Leadership is about making hard and difficult decisions which may not be popular but for the interest of the country. Making Kuol Manyang Minister of SPLA Affairs was the right decision. It would have stop generals from stealing the army money.


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    • 10 January 2010 05:20, by Santino!

      Judges do not speak in public. Their place is the court room. There must absolute separation between judiciary, executive and the legislature. He has now trespassed into executive’s and legislature’s territory.

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      • 11 January 2010 20:09, by brotherkeeper

        Hahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhha who is that big blacker guy he look like Malek Agar of blue Nile is he really lawyer? He doesnt look like he know anything.

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  • 10 January 2010 05:21, by Mr.Makuach bergoa

    Hi Mr. Manyang Mayom

    although you report this way of legal system no one will follow even the chief Justice in the GOSS he may not consider when her daughter experiencing or got enlop by someone among southren inorder he will do the same like those who are arresting people without involement of police.

    The judges are talking to obey the laws but they are breaking the laws, you can,t tell people not to do this, while you doing it, It,s the same way of doing the corruption as it,s indicated how to spent the money with the security reasons, they are just want to locate the Butget on that purpose wisely and later on they come back to grabs it.this is a long time to take us of overcoming the corruptions in juba leds by wau man. it become clear that it,s very impossible to recognise the facts because the looting is the objectives of this leadership.


    Mr. Makuach Bergoa

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  • 10 January 2010 05:46, by Dr.Agany

    I don’t see the reason of shouting in the dark than in the light!

    If any one of u knows that GOSS is a corrupted governement, why not you stage the protest or domenstration outside the parliamentary building in Juba and denounce the looting that has been going on since as you described. Guys on this website should know that neither Mr. Kiir nor his wife reads anything from this website.All of u are wasting time doing fruitless things. If anyone of u need change, then please ask me how we should go about it.

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    • 10 January 2010 06:09, by SPLA


      SPLM or GOSS will never allow any protest against it in South Sudan. Let’s not lie to ourselves. Currently, there is no democracy in South Sudan. If you stage anti-GOSS protest in Juba, your life would be in danger and people will start calling you Nyagat/traitor and all sort of names. SPLM is still the same vicious old SPLM that we know during the war, nothing changes.

      Although the SPLM led GOSS is corrupt, we are still standing with it because there is no other party that can fight for South Sudan. If we achieve our independency next year, I will break away from SPLM and form my own party with whom ever I share the same principles. SPLM must be vote out of power after we achieve our independency unless if it changes its governing principles within this year.


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    • 10 January 2010 18:56, by Stanley P.D.

      Whether Kirr and his wife read articles from this website or not, his mistakes and mistakes of his gov’t should be pointed out so that when time for elections comes, they are removed from offices. This media is one of the effective tool to sensitize the citizens of Sudan and vote for caring leaders. How many corrupt officials has Kiir imprisoned? None. Only reshaffling them.


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  • 10 January 2010 06:05, by BUSTA 2

    Rumberk, Bor and Dinkas places shoud open their ears.

    The above mention places always take law in their own hand and there haven’t be aday Dinka will thought of taking someone who have wronged he/she to court apart from running home and get the gun.

    In 2010 alone we have heard about the killing in Dinka’s land and the question is how many people do we think will die before 2011???

    Brother in Christ,

    Busta 2

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    • 10 January 2010 07:05, by Dinka Boy

      Mr Busta2,

      How many Dinka die in the struggle that we liberate you. about90% Dinka so please shut your mouth because we don,t care of death if the enemy prevail.
      Just look for safety before 2011 because the Southern Sudan will not even reached 2011 without war within.

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      • 10 January 2010 19:44, by Takpiny

        I agreed with you Mr SPLA, the GOSS ministers , MPs , State governors and high ranking in army are responsible of destruction role of laws and regulations in south Sudan , they believe like south Sudan is belong to them alone and not for all southerners .

        No doubt in my mind to say that , the justice in south Sudan is for sale .Is favour only those in the power and rich people while the people who do not have someone in government and have no money to buy the justice they oppressed .

        John Wol is one of best judges in Sudan as whole also he is a historian , I believe he will make south Sudan judiciary much better but being a member of incompetent regime lead by general Kiir mayardit and his deputy Dr Riek Machar , will make him( John Wol) incompetent too.

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  • 11 January 2010 02:59, by Time1

    So what is the plan of the chief justice to reverse this negative trend of lawlesness? they should make a plan and start to execute it, only one judge per every country is enough, we do not need a judge is every village, the justice depart should start workshops in coordination with community leaders to spread awareness on the importance of law and order and how government is now responsible for law not chiefs or anyone else, some people still do not understand who exactly is responsible for what in some south sudan states, that is the problem, so the justice depert should start working and recruiting instead of complaining.

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    • 11 January 2010 03:02, by Time1

      correction, we just need one judge per every one county, south sudan does not need a judge in every neighbourhood or village, they only should improve the work mechanism, how police and judiciary work together that is what is important.

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  • 12 January 2010 09:34, by De-Lam Lam

    Ha ha ha ha ha------------!!!!!

    Corruption has changed this ugly man like hipppotamus .

    Let the War come and we shall see where they are going to hide their fat corrupted stomach and bolded head,
    Southern Sudan youths will not longer allow any man to run to East Africa ,whatever being small or big. There will be no flight and we shall see where these corrupt officials who claimed to be Justice and yet they are the very people promoting corruption in Southern Sudan.

    By Wed Junnub

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