Community Security and Justice under United Nations Governance: Lessons from Chiefs’ Courts in South Sudan’s Protection of Civilians Sites

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This article examines the public authority of chiefs’ courts within the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Protection of Civilians Sites (PoCs). After December 2013, UNMISS peacekeepers opened the gates of their bases to around 200,000 civilians fleeing war. This unintentionally created a legal and political anomaly. Over time, conflicts and crimes rose within the sites, and UNMISS improvised a form of administration. But while the internationals sought technical solutions, people displaced within the sites turned to familiar ‘customary’ methods to manage problems of insecurity, establishing chiefs’ courts. The PoC sites became an arena of plural authorities, with chiefs working alongside camp administrators, peacekeepers and humanitarian actors. We explore how and why the chiefs responded to insecurity within the sites and whether they engaged with, or diverged from United Nations actors and international norms. We demonstrate that justice remains central to the provision of security in contexts of war and displacement. International peace interventions are rightly wary of ‘customary’ justice processes that prioritise communities and families at the expense of individual rights, but this unique case shows that they are sources of trust and consistency that are resilient, adaptable and can contribute to human security.

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Rachel Ibreck

Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at Goldsmiths, University of London, UK
Ms. Ibreck's research centres on the politics of human rights, justice and civil society in the context of conflict and genocide, principally in Africa. Her expertise in this area is based on interdisciplinary academic research and activist engagement. She is interested in settings which have been sites of atrocities, and laboratories for international interventions in peacekeeping, peacebuilding and humanitarian response. In particular she focuses on the agency of marginalised groups in the pursuit of rights, justice and peace, including through ethnographic and participatory action research methodologies.

Ms. Ibreck has published on the politics of memory in post-genocide Rwanda, based on PhD research, and is continuing to explore the relationship between mourning, identity and rights after or during mass violence. Another stream of research focuses on land conflict, including transnational and local resistance to ‘land grabbing’ in Africa. She has also worked on everyday experiences of justice amid conflict in South Sudan as part of the Justice and Security Research Programme at LSE.

Academic Qualifications:

PhD Politics and International Relations, University of Bristol (2009).
MSc Social Science Research Methods, University of Bristol (2004).
MA Area Studies Africa, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London (1995).

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