Limited or non-existent police presence in rural areas in South Sudan make it increasingly difficult to respond to critical security threats in these hard-to-access communities.
“We are aware that the police are understaffed and lack funding. Sometimes they can’t even afford fuel for their vehicles to respond to us in an emergency. So, we have learnt to manage the security of our community on our own,” says John Obure Jordan, a resident of the Hai Ashkal area in Torit.
People in remote areas continue to rely mainly on traditional chiefs to provide security-related services. Chiefs receive reports of criminal activities, then do their best to organize manpower from within the community to deter petty thefts, illicit use of firearms, sexual assaults and other crimes.
By the looks of it, however, these efforts are sometimes too little, too late.
“Gang rapes are common in my community and perpetrators usually go unpunished. The victims, young ladies, often turn to alcohol and misdemeanors for solace. This is destroying my community,” laments Hellen, a 20-year-old living in the Hai Battery area.
With the prevailing difficulties in coordinating organized forces to maintain public order, the government of South Sudan is trying to strengthen community policing by teaching interested citizens how to support the not-always-long-enough arm of the law.
“The state cannot effectively guarantee the rule of law without help from members of the communities. On the other hand, the people cannot support without receiving capacity building,” says Sebit Ogura Okidimoyi, minister of local government.
Peace partners, like the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, have stepped in to train chiefs and communities to take on this daunting task.
The United Nations Police is supporting the creation of “watch groups” comprised of citizens who receive periodic sensitization on identified threats. These watch groups complement police efforts, for example by temporarily detaining suspected criminals until official law enforcers arrive at the scene.
I am a member of our local watch group so that I can receive training and provide support to crime victims,” says Hellen.
At a recent training event, the United Nations Police worked with other peace partners to equip 21 participants with knowledge on child protection and the rights that any citizen has if he or she is being arrested.
“We know some participants have family ties with members of local bad groups, who are the focus of our organization and attention. This platform [capacity building] is helping us to effectively involve the community in taking prompt and appropriate action against the menace of crime,” says Paul Odwari, a volunteer with the Value Interest Non-violent Alliance.