Ambassador to South Sudan gives ILW talk
By Clarissa Sansone
A country rich in arable land, the Republic of South Sudan (which became a nation in July 2011) has the potential to be a net exporter of fruits and vegetables. Instead, produce is imported and overpriced, the efficient transport of goods nearly impossible in a country whose first highway is still being paved.
Similarly, when it comes to legal infrastructure in this young nation, "there's almost nothing in existence," said Susan D. Page, U.S. Ambassador to South Sudan. "I am told there are only eight law professors in the entire country, so consider yourselves lucky," she said to the law students in attendance at her February 13 presentation, "The Role of Law and Conflict Resolution in Nation Building in South Sudan." The presentation was part of the International Law Workshop (ILW) speaker series.
Page, who was confirmed as ambassador to South Sudan on October 18, 2011, had been instrumental in the drafting of 2005's Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended a more than 20-year civil war between Sudan's northern and southern regions. The CPA included provisions for a referendum for southern independence, and, "The [Southern] Sudanese voted overwhelmingly in January of 2011—more than 98% voted to secede from Sudan," Page said.
Ambassador Page holding her copy of the CPA.
"Eight months after independence," however, "the Republic of South Sudan is plagued with enormous challenges," Page said. Although "the Republic of Sudan, surprisingly, was the first country to acknowledge and recognize the new nation," Page also states that "We're all worried about the prospect of…a return to war with Sudan." Several issues laid out in the CPA have not yet been resolved between the two nations.
"Militia groups are still active," said Page, and feuding and raiding continue between ethnic groups. Page highlighted the recent cyclical attacks between the Murle and Lou Nuer groups of South Sudan's Jonglei state. In addition, South Sudan has the lowest literacy rate in the world—only 24% of the population can read and write—as well as the highest maternal mortality rate. The South Sudanese government derives 98% percent of its income from oil, yet all the infrastructure for refining it is in the north, and South Sudan has recently shut down all oil production over a dispute with Sudan about pipeline fees.
As far as legal resources, "Unfortunately, South Sudan has very few judges," Page said. Most have been trained in Khartoum, but "the tradition in the north is largely civil law, and not the common law that they have agreed to go with" in South Sudan, she said. English is the primary language of South Sudan, but the majority of judges cannot read or write it fluently. Lawyers are equally few: "More than 90 condemned prisoners are held in Juba prisons," said Page, but there are no lawyers to represent them. In general, "There are very few [South Sudanese] people who are aware of what their rights are under the constitution," Page added.
The nation has far to go to achieve the "internal security, economic prosperity, development," and "regional peace and security" that, Page said, the U.S. hopes it will achieve. She reiterated that South Sudan presents "enormous challenges," but considers her post "the greatest job in the world."
Ambassador Page ended her presentation with the customary, "I'm happy to take questions or comments," adding, "Solutions would be welcome."
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