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Contributor's Opinion

Opinion: How Blood Wealth Payment has lost its Significant: The Need to revise the Customary Law on Blood Compensation in South Sudan 

By Puoch Deng Luak

Sep 15, 2020(Nyamilepedia) — Blood money also referred as Blood Wealth is a compensation paid to the next of kin of the slain person which could be paid in form of cattle, goats, grains or cash.  Most communities in South Sudan, and mainly the Dinka and Nuer, practice payment of blood money to settle communal feuds. The practice had been going on since time immemorial. In those days, when the blood money is paid, the conflict is said to have been settled once and for all. It has a legal effect of blank amnesty to the perpetrator and his clan men.  However, in this contemporary period, the practice seems to have lost its significance. Even if the blood money is paid, the victim’s family usually hunts for somebody to kill from the perpetrator’s side despite payment of blood money . That brings us to the question. Is payment of blood money still significant in South Sudan? 

Unidentified cattle herders in Tonj county,

In the Nuer community in particular, the blood money is usually contributed by all the clansmen of the perpetrators. The perpetrator only paid one pregnant cow and a male calf. That is all. This is to the advantage of the perpetrator as it lessened his/her punishment making it to be borne by the whole community. 

What consequence would someone who killed somebody would feel if he/she paid only one pregnant cow and calf and he/she would be set free as the rest of the burden is shouldered by the extended family? How can we deter recidivism if the culprits are being set free without facing the full consequences of their act?  By allowing the extended family(Clan) to contribute for the payment of blood wealth, offenders feel no pain and would not hesitate to commit the same act in the future.

There should be no fear of what will happen when someone carries out revenge against another person because the murderer would pay lest and event not be imprisoned. In case of revenge, the family of the victim would be looking for anyone in the extended family of the perpetrator who contributed to the payment of blood money to be their target simply because they share the same family/clan/tribe. As I know this so far and always happen. As to my view, this practice is a recipe for a cycle of violence and revenge killing. It is no longer a deter from recidivism. 

By allowing this practice to continue, cycle of revenge killing would continue uninterrupted as it becomes lucrative business for the local chiefs and government who are getting 20% out of the total blood money paid in each settlement and will continue to improvised the poor clansmen who are contributing their cows/goats/grains/cash for the settlement of the community feud through payment of blood money which has no any deterrence effects.

 The revenge killing would be clearly culture among South Sudanese, because other people who want to take revenge will not look for only the culprit but they also look to kill any person within the murderer sub-clan who contributed simply because they are related in blood. that is why they had contributed ‘’blood compensation price’’

The origin of the government benefiting from payment of blood money dates back to the days of struggle when regional SPLA commanders were entrusted to oversee settlement of communal feud through payment of blood money in the form of cattle. The local chief and SPLA commanders used to take 20% of the cattle paid. In the process, they see good business which give them the opportunity to marry more wives for themselves and incentives payment for their struggle to liberate South Sudan. The practice is still being done up-to-date with local government replacing former SPLA commanders and local chiefs maintaining their positions. 

This is unfair, though other people will see it as I am against the authorities. I can still talk it out. If the authorities get 20% percent of the blood money paid, how would you expect authorities to work for a durable solution to the curve cycle of revenge killing?  – They want to keep the revenge killing cycle unstopping because the authorities are benefiting from it.

In my views, the blood money should be to the benefit of the victim family not to benefit the authority and the perpetrator who gets his/her freedom and faces no further consequences.  

As I am south Sudanese who love my people and my country, I am here requesting the citizen, CBOs and relevant authority to join me in my campaign to advocate for people to make revision in those customary Law and come forward with what would completely punish the culprit instead of favoring and burdening the his tribesmen. as I am now writing this article,

 I did my research on the customary law and took my time to talk to elders and customary court judges, they keep telling me the same things.

Gavel and scales

in year 2017 when AECOM/VISTAS collected youths from different counties at greater Akobo in JONGLEI STATE and greater Nasir in UPPER NILE STATE for peace conference, I met with a young man from Uror county who shared his story and said that; his brother was killed and ‘’the blood compensation’’ was completely settled with 50 cattle paid by culprit sub-clan among those cattle Authorities who settled the ‘’blood compensation’’ took 10 herd of cattle and they remained with 40 herd of cattle. Why did the authorities take the high number of cattle he asked? how can authorities make revenge killing end while they benefit from it? He wondered. 

I saw this as the primary root cause of disunity and promotes revenge killing speed, I have completely disagreed with the customary law that punish the kinfolks than an Offender, I may call for discouragement of those customary law which punish and burden relatives, give authority share of 20% compensation and set murderer free, not imprisoned, but I don’t know how you feel about it as the citizens.

I am now blaming this on our government who recognizes and allows the long used customary law which punishes the kinfolks than the culprit, without revising it. that could have been good if they were integrated into contemporary context. I don’t mean that, the customary law is bad but there should be some which need alteration.

Eg.  alteration should be, when someone killed the person, he would pay more compensation than that of his others kinfolks. 

Authorities can also put him in the prison though he did or did not manage to pay the amount needed for blood compensation at least for a given period of time or inflict a penalty for the commission of an offense.

the 20 percent share of blood compensation cattle or money taken by local chief and government, would return to the kinfolks of the victim. To make authority enemy to the revenge killing, not friend of revenge killing as they have been. friends for thousands of years when they used to take 20 percent share from blood compensation cattle, this would help us cut off the cycle of revenge killing. 

The writer, Puoch Deng Luak, is a Community Mobilization and Behavioral Change Officer. He can be reached through his email at puochdengl@gmail.com,


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