Supporting primary justice in insecure contexts, South Sudan and Afghanistan

Unenforced verdicts In South Sudan and Afghanistan

Verdicts not being enforced is a major problem for justice seekers in countries with weak legal systems. In South Sudan and Afghanistan, this often results in the weaker party being captured on the losing side. To find sustainable solutions for land disputes, law enforcement should be guaranteed.

In South Sudan and Afghanistan, many people face problems with the legal system. These arise from delays during trials, corruption, distrust and lack of manpower and knowledge of justice providers. Dutch development organisation Cordaid, which has been active in Afghanistan and South Sudan for years, wanted more insight into the problems experienced by people in the justice system, and possible ways to overcome these problems.

The research was conducted by Cordaid and the Van Vollenhoven Institute of Leiden University, together with the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Diocese of Tombura-Yambio, South Sudan and the Afghan NGO The Liaison Office. It focussed particularly on land disputes, because land is valued highly in both countries, and land disputes are often seen to be at the root of larger conflicts. Ways in which such disputes are being mediated can provide valuable insights into the strategies that different types of justice seekers explore when facing different adversaries.

Output, outcomes and expected impact

The investigation led to two literature reviews, two country reports, a policy letter about South Sudan, and a synthesis report bringing all findings together. Cordaid then wrote a strategy report with a number of recommendations based on the country reports. The project had reached a wide range of stakeholders such as the EC Rule-of-Law mission, the Dutch Embassy, the British Council, UNDP, South Sudan Land Commission, South Sudan Law Society and STEWARD women. In Afghanistan, The Liaison Office and Cordaid were active in such exchanges, especially within Afghan civil society.

The research provides a scientific foundation for Cordaid's programming and planning work regarding future priorities in countries with weak legal systems. That is reflected in the strategy document Supporting Primary Justice in Insecure Contexts. This document elaborates seven recommendations, including ‘assure law enforcement’ and ‘strengthen women’s participation’.



This proposal outlines an applied socio-legal research to be carried out among communities and institutions in two districts in Afghanistan and two counties in South Sudan. Through case studies and action research the research will explore and follow-up
a) people's concerns and conceptions of justice, notably with regard to dispossession and other property conflicts,
b) the responses and remedies provided, in particular to women, through community-based, state-based, and other (e.g. religion-based or militia-based) mechanisms and practices, and
c) the potential of synthesizing "elements that work" into projects aimed at strengthening "pathways of primary justice".

Research and interventions are to be conducted jointly by domestic development organisations and state and non-state stakeholders, with program support of Cordaid, and knowledge-based support from VVI (Leiden), its international network, and local, preferably academic, researchers.

This proposal is informed by the experiences of Cordaid and partner organisations on the ground and by VVI's exploratory literature study. Analytical comparison between both countries and research areas, will help formulating points of departure for development programming and advance scientific knowledge on primary justice in fragile states. In case local security or access conditions in any of the selected country or areas deteriorate to the extent that field research must be halted, the project can flexibly expand in other areas.


Professional publication


Project number

W 08.400.106

Main applicant

Prof. mr. J.M. Otto

Affiliated with

Universiteit Leiden, Faculteit der Rechtsgeleerdheid, Van Vollenhoven Instituut

Team members

B. Braak, Drs. F. van Drumpt, Dr. ir. C.I.M. Jacobs, D Janssen, Prof. mr. J.M. Otto, R. Sijstermans MA, F. Wakil, Dr. A. Wardak


26/11/2014 to 30/06/2016