OpEd, Politics

The South Sudan Bar Association: Crusaders of Law Reform or Mere Court Jesters?

By Gama Hassan Oscas


If you thought being a lawyer in South Sudan was a straightforward path of upholding justice and defending the innocent, think again.

The newly elected leadership of the South Sudan Bar Association (SSBA), victorious as of May 29, 2024, finds themselves not merely in the courtroom but on a grand stage where they must juggle, dance, and occasionally perform legal acrobatics to bring about much-needed law reform. In a country where the rule of law often feels like a distant dream and human rights are frequently treated as a punchline, the SSBA has a herculean task ahead. Their first step? Detach themselves from the sticky web of political affiliations that threaten to turn them into mere puppets.

Detaching from Political Strings: The First Act

Imagine the SSBA as a marionette, with politicians pulling the strings from behind the curtain. For the SSBA to effectively play its role in ensuring the rule of law and human rights, it must cut these strings and stand independently. Political affiliations, while providing temporary gains, ultimately tarnish the SSBA’s ability to act impartially and with integrity. The association must declare its independence and commit to an agenda free from political influence. This act alone would signal a new era where the SSBA is seen as a beacon of justice rather than a pawn in the political game.

Rule of Law: The Slapstick Reality

In South Sudan, the rule of law often feels like a slapstick comedy sketch, where legal norms slip on banana peels and crash into walls. The SSBA’s role here is to bring a semblance of order to this chaos. By challenging repugnant laws and advocating for judicial reforms, the SSBA can transform the legal landscape from a farce into a functioning system of justice. This involves scrutinizing and revising laws that are outdated, discriminatory, or simply nonsensical. The SSBA must also ensure that new laws are crafted with the utmost care, reflecting the needs and rights of the people they serve.

Human Rights: The Punchline No More

Human rights in South Sudan have long been the punchline of a cruel joke. Arbitrary arrests, torture, and suppression of freedom of expression are not merely issues; they are systemic problems. The SSBA must take the lead in advocating for the protection and promotion of human rights. This involves not just defending individuals in court but actively engaging in public education and awareness campaigns. By highlighting human rights abuses and working to hold perpetrators accountable, the SSBA can transform the narrative from one of oppression to one of empowerment.

Good Governance: A Comedy of Errors

The concept of good governance in South Sudan often resembles a comedy of errors, where mismanagement and corruption take center stage. The SSBA must be the voice of reason in this absurd play, challenging illegal administrative decisions and unruly officers who act outside the bounds of the law. By promoting transparency, accountability, and adherence to established legal norms, the SSBA can help establish a framework of good governance. This involves not only legal advocacy but also working closely with civil society organizations and other stakeholders to push for systemic reforms.

Judicial Independence: The Tragicomedic Reality

Judicial independence in South Sudan is a Tragicomedic reality, where judges often find themselves under immense pressure from political actors. The SSBA must champion the cause of an independent judiciary, free from undue influence and interference. This involves advocating for the appointment of judges based on merit and ensuring that they have the resources and support needed to perform their duties impartially. The SSBA must also work to protect judges from threats and intimidation, creating an environment where they can make decisions based on the law and not on fear.

The Professional Legal Industry: From Farce to Force

The legal industry in South Sudan has often been viewed as a farce, with unqualified individuals masquerading as lawyers and a lack of professional standards. The SSBA must prioritize cleaning up this mess, ensuring that only qualified and credible individuals are allowed to practice law. This involves rigorous screening of academic credentials, ongoing professional development, and strict enforcement of ethical standards. By doing so, the SSBA can transform the legal profession from a sideshow into a force for justice and integrity.

Exorbitant Party Registration Fees: A Ridiculous Reality

Take, for instance, the Political Parties Council’s decision to impose exorbitant party registration fees. In a nation struggling with economic hardship, this move is akin to demanding a gold-plated invitation just to join the political arena. The SSBA must challenge such decisions that not only stifle political participation but also undermine the democratic process. By advocating for reasonable fees, the SSBA can ensure that political participation is accessible to all, not just the wealthy elite.

Illegal Administrative Decisions: The Absurdity Continues

Illegal administrative decisions and policies are rife in South Sudan, adding another layer of absurdity to the legal landscape. The SSBA must be vigilant in identifying and challenging these decisions, ensuring that government actions are consistent with the rule of law. This involves legal advocacy, public awareness, and sometimes direct legal action to overturn unlawful decisions. By doing so, the SSBA can help restore faith in the legal system and protect the rights of citizens.

Technology and Law Reform: The Modern-Day Magic Wand

Incorporating technology into law reform efforts can seem like waving a magic wand in the midst of chaos. The SSBA must embrace technological advancements to drive efficiency, transparency, and accessibility in the legal system. From digitizing legal records to using blockchain for credential verification, technology can play a crucial role in modernizing South Sudan’s legal landscape. The SSBA must lead the charge in integrating these tools, making the legal profession more robust and future-ready.

Advocacy and Public Awareness: The Role of the Town Crier

The SSBA must also take on the role of the town crier, raising public awareness about legal rights and the importance of the rule of law. Through outreach programs, public seminars, and leveraging social media, the SSBA can educate citizens and empower them to demand justice and accountability. By fostering a well-informed public, the SSBA can build a stronger foundation for a just and equitable society.

International Collaboration: Learning from the Best

To achieve meaningful law reform, the SSBA must collaborate with international legal bodies and organizations. By learning from best practices and leveraging international support, the SSBA can drive significant improvements in South Sudan’s legal system. This collaboration can provide valuable resources, expertise, and a broader perspective, helping the SSBA implement effective and sustainable reforms.

The Road Ahead: Challenges and Opportunities

The road ahead for the SSBA is filled with challenges, but it also presents numerous opportunities. By prioritizing law reform, the rule of law, human rights, and good governance, the SSBA can transform South Sudan’s legal landscape. This journey requires determination, resilience, and a touch of humor to navigate the absurdities and complexities of the current system.

Conclusion: A Call to Action

The newly elected leadership of the SSBA has a unique opportunity to usher in a new era of law and order in South Sudan. By addressing the pressing issues of judicial reform, human rights, and good governance, they can restore faith in the legal system and ensure justice for all. This task is monumental, but with courage, integrity, and a bit of satire, the SSBA can rise to the occasion.

In the end, the role of the SSBA is not just about enforcing laws but about championing justice and equity. It’s about transforming the legal profession from a circus into a respected institution. The journey may be long and arduous, but with the right leadership and a commitment to reform, the SSBA can make a lasting impact on South Sudan’s legal and judicial landscape.

So, to the newly elected SSBA leadership: put on your superhero capes, sharpen your legal swords, and get ready to take on the comedic, absurd, and often surreal world of South Sudan’s legal system. Your mission is clear, and the stakes are high. The citizens of South Sudan are counting on you to bring justice, integrity, and professionalism back to the legal profession.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this opinion are those of the writer, Gama Hassan Oscas, an advocate. For inquiries, you can reach him at oscarsgama@gmail.com.


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