Since 2011, South Sudan has dealt with an array of nightmarish situations from civil conflict to natural disasters to having two million people being internally displaced. The world’s youngest nation is in such a debacle that in December 2013, 30,000 South Sudanese citizens begged the United Nations (UN) for help.
In response, the UN created Protection of Citizen sites (POC) which aim to provide temporary protection for those fleeing from war, famine or any other dangerous situation. However, five years later, the number of people in South Sudan living in POC sites has grown from 30,000 to 200,000.
Due to the South Sudanese government inability to address the needs of their citizens, it has encouraged more people to flee to these UN camp bases. While POC sites are not ideal living conditions, those residing there are attempting to make the best of a dire situation.
POC3 is the largest of the campsites in South Sudan, located in the capital city of Juba. With more and more people arriving each day, POC3 has been forced to expand their facilities. Currently, POC3 has a police station, a cinema, multiple churches and mosques, and its own functioning economy and real estate market. The camp has even developed its own justice and court system which addresses commonplace disputes, such as fights over water, domestic violence, and petty theft.
The court system came into existence in 2016 in response to the South Sudan court’s own failure to deal with legal disputes effectively. POC3’s justice system is divided into two courts; a lower and a higher court. The lower court is made up of a panel of seven judges who are internally displaced people living at the campsite. Judges must be elected by their peers and serve a one-year term where they are responsible for hearing and settling disputes within POC3.
If neither party is happy with the lower court’s decision they can make an appeal through the higher court which is also made up of seven elected POC3 residences and United Nations mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) which is composed of UN peacekeepers. As well as hearing appeals, the higher court, and UNMISS also address more serious crimes such as sexual assault and murder.
Although the POC3 rulings are not legally binding as the court is not recognized by the South Sudan government, majority of citizens accept the rulings. As a result, it has allowed POC3 to make their scarce food and water supplies last longer and reduce the number of violent outbursts that occur.
In an interview with Al Jazeera, POC3’s high court magistrate, William Ruach, says that “Without this court, we’d have very many conflicts among ourselves, but because of this court we are controlling ourselves… Whenever they [people] come here, we can talk and find an option to resolve the conflict or the issue that may lead a community to fight.”
Instead of applauding POC3 for its innovation and ability to create a functioning society, the South Sudanese government has demanded the campsite shut down and that all legal matters be referred to South Sudan’s own justice system. However, the residents of POC3 have refused. While they would prefer to be living in their own homes and using legitimate legal avenues, they know the South Sudanese government and judicial system is too overwhelmed with chaos and violence to guarantee their safety. Until South Sudanese citizens can return to their homes without fear of persecution or starvation, POC3 remains the best option.