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South Sudanese woman murdered by husband reinforces brutality of domestic violence

Strategic Initiatives for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA - Network)

South Sudanese Woman Violently Murdered by Husband Reinforces the Harsh Brutality of Domestic Violence

24 May 2013 - On Tuesday 21st May, Joyce Fernando was brutally murdered by her husband, Dr Amos Cleto, in Wau Town, Western Bahr El Ghazal, South Sudan. Dr Cleto attacked Joyce, breaking her arms before raping and murdering her and finally dismembering the body. The body was found hours after the murder following a phone call by Dr Cleto to family members of both Joyce and himself. Two of Joyce’s siblings went to the marital home to find Dr Cleto sat outside smoking cigarettes and drinking beer. He informed them that Joyce was inside where they then found the body.

Having married in 2009, numerous incidents of domestic violence ensued with Joyce attempting to separate and although she petitioned for a divorce it was refused by the church. Joyce had returned to her marital home after Dr Amos sought assistance from their priest to renew their relationship and bring Joyce back.

It is understood that Dr Amos is now in police custody, however at such an early stage, there is still uncertainty as to whether the case will be dealt with as a criminal issue or will be referred to the customary system as a result of it being between a husband and wife and therefore interpreted as a private matter.

The brutality of this particular case not-withstanding, the case brings forth serious questions regarding how domestic violence is perceived and addressed in South Sudan. Tied into this is the issue of divorce and the capacity of women to flee violent marriages being constrained by both the church and customary forms of arbitration and oversight of the domestic sphere.

Domestic violence is an entrenched social norm affecting the vast majority of the country. A survey conducted by Conflict and Health published in March 2013 found that 82% of women and 81% of men believed that a woman should tolerate domestic violence to keep a family together. In addition, research conducted by SIHA Network found many customary judges reluctant to acknowledge it as a problem with one stating that, “my mother was beaten, what’s wrong with that?”

Such normalisation of the issue has resulted in reluctance for it to be addressed within either the statutory or customary systems of legislation with it frequently being perceived as a private affair. Despite provisions within the 2005 Transitional Constitution that demand women’s equality before the law and the criminalisation of violence against the person, such entrenched attitudes that regard violence against women not be an issue renders it substantially harder to address and frequently enables perpetrators to be immune from the law.

Hala Al Karib, the Regional Director of The Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA Network) stated that,

“The South Sudan police and legal system must be prepared and equipped to address matters of crimes and violence against women by enforcing and establishing laws that will grantee the safety of women and to ensure that impunity against the perpetrators of such crimes committed against women are to be addressed and stopped. Psychosocial support and trauma counselling are essential provisions for troubled men and women in the community to ensure post-war transformation to a peaceful and less violent society.”

Editorial Notes:

  • South Sudan has both a customary and statutory system of legislation that sit in parallel whereby complainants can go to either for redress of a criminal or civil issue. In spite of this, family related matters, inclusive of violence within a family which is criminalised under the statutory system, is referred to the customary system.
  • The woman in question is the sister of SIHA Network’s South Sudan Board Member, Linda Ferdinand who heads up a local civil society organisation in Wau, WOTAP.
  • The South Sudanese constitution allows for the jurisdiction of both a customary and statutory system of laws and regulation across the country; the two sitting in parallel with the population able to deploy either system according to their preference. In spite of this, the customary system is frequently preferred due to the population’s familiarity with it and cases relating to the family and domestic sphere are traditionally dealt through the customary system as a matter of course.
  • The Strategic initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA Network) is a coalition of over 80 women’s civil society organisations from across the Horn countries inclusive of Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, Somaliland, Eritrea and Uganda. The organisation works on women’s access to justice, promoting and protecting women’s human rights, activating women’s political participation and supporting economic empowerment.
  • Conflict and Health survey, An assessment of gender inequitable norms and gender-based violence in South Sudan: a community-based participatory research approach
  • For additional information on customary law and the perpetuation of violence against women please see Falling Through the Cracks: Reflections on Customary Law and the Imprisonment of Women in South Sudan