3 December 2020—The Judiciary of South Sudan declared operationalization of the country’s first Gender Based Violence and Juvenile Court, in a commitment to end impunity for gender-based crimes and hold perpetrators accountable in South Sudan.
“Gender based violence is a reality and it is happening every minute in our society and in our country. The opening of this court is happening at a time where the whole world is championing efforts as part of the 16 Days Against Gender Based Violence, making the opening of this court a very timely occasion,” said Chief Justice of the Judiciary of South Sudan Hon. Reec Chan Madut while officially unveiling the court premises, along with high-level representatives of the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Gender, South Sudan National Police Service, Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, UNDP, and members of the diplomatic community.
“Specialized courts, such as this one, provide a stronger possibility that court personnel will be gender sensitive and experienced in the unique characteristics of cases of violence against women and may be able to process cases more quickly, reducing the burden on victims. Survivors will be protected from the accused and mechanisms will be available to prevent them from having to face perpetrators during trial,” said Minister of Gender, Social Welfare and Religious Affairs Hon. Ayaa Benjamine Warille, adding that dimensions of physical and psychosocial support will be available.
“This is another significant milestone in the area of protecting human rights particularly for the most vulnerable citizens of South Sudan – who are our mothers, sisters, and women in general in South Sudan, as well as minor children. My hope is this will translate into more specialized courts in the Judiciary of South Sudan which will be the beginning of reforms expected during this period,” said Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Hon. Ruben Madol Arol, pledging to help the Judiciary with the development of stronger legal frameworks to aid the specialized court.
Supported by the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the well-anticipated court provides dedicated and expedited trials of GBV and juvenile cases. Two court rooms are designed for hearings on GBV cases. They feature state-of-the-art video conferencing equipment to ensure privacy and well-being of victims by reducing contact with perpetrators. In addition, the court premises include a separated reception, two juvenile court rooms, judges chambers, case management offices, a court police facility, and IT equipment.
“We hope this court will be exemplary in giving a voice to survivors; in bringing a survivor centered perspective into practice. Without access to specialized justice, people – in particular women and girls – risk re-victimization or stigmatization. They are unable to defend their rights, challenge discrimination or hold perpetrators of crime to account,” said Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands Paul Huijts, in a recorded video message to attendees.
“It is part of the service delivery of a government towards its people to grant access to justice, and this court in Juba is part of providing access to justice for a specific group that really needs protection from the government of South Sudan. I hope by establishing this court we can make an end to the impunity for perpetrators of gender based crimes. We hope with the new parliament being formed that pending legislation on GBV will be passed to complement this court,” said Deputy Ambassador and Head of Development Cooperation of the Embassy of Kingdom of the Netherlands in South Sudan Michel Deelen.
Proceedings at the GBV Court began in earnest in October 2019. Thirteen (13) cases of rape have come before the court, resulting in 12 convictions and one dismissal. All defendants in the cases were male. Four sexual violence cases prosecuted at the court involved perpetrators who were uniformed personnel (3 members of SSPDF and 1 National Security officer). The official inauguration of the GBV Court is anticipated to increase this caseload and expedite more trials.
“The opening of the GBV court is monumental and when implemented, can serve as a model for other countries to come and learn from South Sudan. By providing dedicated and quick access for gender based crimes, the GBV court is a step in ensuring all survivors use the law to defend their rights and secure justice. This is a strong signal that South Sudan can hold perpetrators accountable,” said Deputy Resident Representative Christy Ahenkora, adding that UNDP will prioritize scaling up psycho-social support services in tandem with support to the formal justice system.
UNDP’s support to fighting gender based violence spans beyond the GBV Court, to mobile courts, the police Special Protection Units (SPUs), and the Women and Child Unit in the Directorate of Public Prosecutions. These multi-dimensional interventions focus on improving tailored investigation, response, counsel and referrals of survivors of GBV. Sexual violence survivors can also access holistic care through Justice and Conﬁdence Centres, in Bor, Yambio, Aweil, Way, Juba, Torit, Malakal and Bentiu, which were established for integrated response to cases of sexual and gender-based violence through legal aid services and referral pathways for survivors to receive counselling, psychosocial support, and medical services.