A Countryman between Two Lawyers is Like a Fish between Two Cats: assessing the role of lawyers in South Sudan crises

By Daniel Juol Nhomngek, Lawyer, Kampala Uganda

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir says "Inu I am South Sudan" in Arabic in this cartoon by Sudanese cartoonist Khalid Albaih(Photo credits: Khalid A.)

South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir says “INU I am South Sudan” in Arabic in this cartoon by Sudanese cartoonist Khalid Albaih(Photo credits: Khalid A.)

March 25, 2017(Nyamilepedia) ——- I have taken the above quote that “a countryman between two lawyers is like a fish between two cats” from Benjamin Franklin. In fact, before I assess the role of lawyers in the South Sudan crises based on this quote, I would like to ask my readers to persevere with me a bit so that I tell them the biography of Benjamin Franklin in brief and why I love and make him to be my role model. Having asked my readers a permission to allow me to digress a bit and presume that they have allowed me, I now give the brief background of Benjamin Franklin.

Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States as Wikipedia told me. He was before becoming the President of the USA a renowned polymath and a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, freemason, postmaster, scientist, inventor, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat.

As a scientist, he was a major figure in the American Enlightenment and the history of physics for his discoveries and theories regarding electricity. As an inventor, he is known for the lightning rod, bifocals, and the Franklin stove, among other inventions. He facilitated many civic organizations, including Philadelphia’s fire department and the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League institution.

Franklin earned the title of “The First American” for his early and indefatigable campaigning for colonial unity, initially as an author and spokesman in London for several colonies. As the first United States Ambassador to France, he exemplified the emerging American nation.

Franklin was foundational in defining the American ethos as a marriage of the practical values of thrift, hard work, education, community spirit, self-governing institutions, and opposition to authoritarianism both political and religious, with the scientific and tolerant values of the Enlightenment.

In the words of historian Henry Steele Commager, “In a Franklin could be merged the virtues of Puritanism without its defects, the illumination of the Enlightenment without its heat.” To Walter Isaacson, this makes Franklin “the most accomplished American of his age and the most influential in inventing the type of society America would become.”

In summary, what I have to say about Franklin is that he had a colorful life and legacy of scientific and political achievement. His status as one of America’s most influential Founding Fathers have seen Franklin honoured more than two centuries after his death on coinage and the $100 bill, warships, and the names of many towns, counties, educational institutions, and corporations, as well as countless cultural references.

As I have pointed out at the beginning of this article that I love Franklin as he is my role model,   I think my readers might have loved him also and some will take him as their role model. Otherwise, on my part I love Franklin for he is a great man who loved knowledge and his country. He, therefore, has inspires me to do love knowledge and South Sudan as long as I live.

Coming back to the topic of this discussion in assessing the role lawyers have played in contributing to the crisis of South Sudan, I would like to begin with the question as to who is a lawyer?

A lawyer as I have defined in one of my article dealing with integrity and money, is a person who practices law, as an advocate, barrister, attorney, counselor or solicitor or chartered legal executive. Hence, working as a lawyer involves the practical application of abstract legal theories and knowledge to solve specific individualized problems, or to advance the interests of those who hire lawyers to perform legal services.

It should be noted that the role of the lawyer varies greatly across legal jurisdictions, and so it can be treated here in only the most general terms. In South Sudan, however, the concept of lawyers is different as they are perceived as rulers not legal service providers. Such a concept conceals the lawyers from public scrutiny towards the role the lawyers play in serving the society.

Consequently, majority of the lawyers in South Sudan become so much concern with politics that they abdicate their duties as conscience of the society and protectors of the rule of law in the society.

In truth, lawyers are supposed to protect the rule of law which underscores their duties or roles in serving the public. This is because without the rule of law lawyers are always the first victims if they stick to the law unless they accept to be swept along by vices in the country.

As I have already hinted above, the roles of the lawyers in ensuring the rule of law among others in the society as provided for in the New York Lawyer’s Code of Professional Responsibility among others include—

First lawyers are supposed to protect the continued existence of a free and democratic society, which depends upon recognition of the concept that justice is based upon the rule of law grounded in respect for the dignity of the individual and the capacity of the individual through reason for enlightened self-government

Second to it, it the role of a lawyer to ensure that there is a law because if there is law so grounded then it makes justice possible. This is because it is only through such law does the dignity of the individual attain respect and protection. Without it, individual rights become subject to unrestrained power, respect for law is destroyed, and rational self-government is impossible.

In addition, lawyers, as guardians of the law, play a vital role in the preservation of society. The fulfillment of this role requires an understanding by lawyers of their relationship with and function in our legal system. A consequent obligation of lawyers is to maintain the highest standards of ethical conduct.

Moreover, in fulfilling professional responsibilities, a lawyer necessarily assumes various roles that require the performance of many difficult tasks. Not every situation which the lawyer may encounter can be foreseen, but fundamental ethical principles are always present for guidance. Within the framework of these principles, a lawyer must with courage and foresight be able and ready to shape the body of the law to the ever-changing relationships of society.

Finally, the Code of Professional Responsibility points the way to the aspiring and provides standards by which to judge the transgressor. Each lawyer’s own conscience must provide the touchstone against which to test the extent to which the lawyer’s actions should rise above minimum standards.

But in the last analysis it is the desire for the respect and confidence of the members of the profession and of the society which the lawyer serves that should provide to a lawyer the incentive for the highest possible degree of ethical conduct.

The possible loss of that respect and confidence is the ultimate sanction. So long as its practitioners are guided by these principles, the law will continue to be a noble profession. This is its greatness and its strength, which permit of no compromise.

In brief the above are supposed to be general roles played by all lawyers even in South Sudan to ensure that the society enjoys the protection of their rights under the rule of law.

In relation to our topic I will shortly assess the role of lawyers in line with the above general roles in order to determine the role of the lawyers in the present crisis of South Sudan.

To greater extent majority of the lawyers in South Sudan do not have ethics that guide them in serving the society. Except some lawyers who are ready to die for the legal profession, three quarters of the lawyers is destroyed by politics and because of that they are not honest since they do not value integrity.

It should be noted that when I use the term lawyers here I mean all those who are educated in law whether judges, ministers or advocates all of them are lawyers. Hence, when I use the term lawyer and refer to even a chief justice know that chief justice is also a lawyer. This is because a lawyer means someone who has finished law and graduated from the university with the bachelor degree in law.

Hence, this article is assessing the role of all lawyers in different capacities in South Sudan and then gives some few recommendations on how the image of law should be improved and saved. Thus, as the title article indicates, I will only discuss the negative roles of lawyers in South Sudan that have contributed the current crises.

To go straight to the discussion I need to begin with one of the major obvious examples of how the lawyers in South Sudan have contributed to the current crisis. One of the lawyers that has contributed to the civil war in South Sudan is John Luk. When John Luk was a minister of justice at the eve of independence, he convinced people to insert the article that gives president powers to remove any person from power as he wishes.

Hence, when the President removed Riek and others Ministers the tension was planted in the government that later resulted into deadly war in 2013. In this area John Luk as a lawyer had misused his legal knowledge because as a lawyer one must always assess the validity of the decision because giving a piece of advice. If the advice given as desired by the one seeking it is going to have negative implication on the society then you better not give such a piece of advice.

However, John Luk gave a bad advice and by implication, therefore, he has planted serious dictatorship in South Sudan that has almost destroyed the nation and will take years to be eliminated.

Another area we see a lawyer letting down South Sudanese is in judiciary. Chief Justice who is the head of judiciary has uprooted the rule of law due to his inaction due to fear of losing his job. This is because Chief Justice has not understood the fact that being a lawyer is a sacrifice as lawyers should always be ready to die while protecting the rule of law.

The clear example to support the above argument is that of Benedicto Kagimu Mugumba Kiwanuka who was killed by Military Dictator of Uganda, Amin for refusing to violate the law to condemn innocent person as Amin had required him to do. Kiwanuka was killed by Amin’s forces on 22 September at Makindye Military Prison in a prolonged execution which, according to eyewitnesses, involved Kiwanuka ears, nose, lips, and arms being severed, a disembowelling, and castration before he was finally immolated.

Kiwanuka was a true lawyer because true and great lawyers are those who respect and do what the law and justice require and because of that I appreciate the role of Kiwanuka for protecting law even at the face of death.

For the sake of law, lawyers are not supposed to be involved in bad practices such as corruption that violate the law. Sadly enough, some lawyers in South Sudan are playing a greater role in promoting corruption as found by the recent Sentry Report which clearly pointed out that corruption in South Sudan was facilitated by lawyers who know how to draft transfer documents. This is a correct observation and therefore lawyers have played negative roles in contributing to corruption hence civil war and now hunger and starvation.

In general, I may go on and on giving all the examples of how negatively lawyers have contributed to the injustices we see in South Sudan today. For instance, I have been receiving a lot of complaints from various people how judges do not observe the principles of natural justice of fair hearing. Some judges speak Arabic and insist that the court proceedings be conducted in Arabic even if the law is clear that it should be in English and also even if some people do not speak Arabic they insist in conducting the court in Arabic which is injustice as it is the violation of law.

Some judges receive bribes from people hence selling the justice of people with money which later contribute to the people losing confidence in law.

In summary, the person I have to blame is Chief Justice of South Sudan who has abdicated his duties to safeguard the rule of law by allowing himself to be misused by politicians. Because of this judiciary has fallen apart and the rule of law has been thrown to the bush while citizens are robbed without any remedy.

I therefore, recommend that Chief Justice be removed and another one appointed. All lawyers should fight for the rule of law wherever they are by denouncing the action of the president and other politicians.

Lawyers must refuse to be dragged into corruption and they must be ready to fight for the right of South Sudan through the use of their legal expertise and skills. Finally, lawyers should value and protect their personal integrity and be read to protect the image of law.

NB//The author can be reached through; juoldaniel@yahoo.com/+256783579256

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