Land disputes have become a significant driver of conflict at the community level in South Sudan, whose
population is largely rural in nature. Given that land is of central importance to South Sudanese people, the
Access to Justice and Land (AJL) initiative is a four-year pilot project aimed at addressing conflict caused by land disputes within South Sudan through community-based, ad hoc mobile courts. The immediate goals of this initiative are to build the capacity of local authorities to enforce the rule of law, and reduce grievances between ethnic groups over land and subsequently over access to natural resources. By extension, the project aims to develop greater food security through the establishment of clear property rights, and improving women’s access to land rights under the justice system while men are away from communities and engaged in conflict. Possible negative effects of AJL are considered, including the potential to aggravate grievances and violence against women and their participation. Given the volatile security situation in South Sudan, the project has allocated a contingency budget should conditions prove dangerous, part of which includes partnership with UNMISS.
AJL courts will be organized in cooperation with several partners, namely Avocats sans Frontières (ASF), South Sudan Women Lawyers Association, South Sudan Council of Churches, and UN – UNMISS. Canadian lawyers and partners will work to train local authorities and incorporate civil society organizations into the fabric of AJL, in order to foster capacity and local ownership over land dispute resolution mechanisms. The project in total encompasses three phases: 1) the local outreach phase, during which time traditional communal legal practices will be incorporated with standardized legal mechanisms to ensure greater South Sudanese ownership of court proceedings 2) the operational phase, during which time the mobile courts will operate within targeted communities 3) the reporting phase, in which the impact and effectiveness of AJL will be assessed. Monitoring activities will be carried out throughout the implementation of the program through Global Affairs Canada (GAC). AJL was designed to be a sustainable project with long-term potential through capacity building measures: this includes allocating the majority of the available budget to training local paralegals to undertake cases and civil society actors to monitor court processes. AJL will also dedicate efforts to expanding the agency of local community members through sensitization training, in order to foster and entrench an understanding of their rights.