Philister Baya Lawiri of South Sudan
|"The Land of My Memories"
By Peace Writer Sally Kantar
Currently the chairperson of South Sudan’s Civil Service Commission, Philister Baya Lawiri was first a war child. At the age of 10, she and her family walked for 35 days through the forests of southern Sudan to what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo to escape the violence of the first civil war in Sudan. She traces her desire to build peace to her years in Uganda as a refugee and then in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, where she was living as an internally displaced person (IDP) when the second civil war broke out in 1983.
In the suburbs of the capital, gross human rights violations were committed by state security personnel against IDP women and children, including physical beatings, harassment, forced labor and imprisonment for breaching Sharia law. Appalled by the situation, Lawiri became a human rights monitor and trained women in the camps how to identify their perpetrators and document the violations so they could file for redress in court.
Lawiri and 10 other IDP women established Southern Women Solidarity for Peace and Development, a network of women’s groups established to assist women displaced by war. The group went on to write the book The Tragedy of Reality: Southern Sudanese Women Appeal for Peace, which was distributed at the Hague Appeal for Peace Conference in 1999.
Prior to the secession of South Sudan in
2011, Lawiri led the push for a 25 percent quota of women in Sudan’s
election law, and was then appointed as one of only two women on
Sudan’s National Electoral Commission, the nine-member national body
appointed to oversee the 2010 general elections.
As someone who is well-known for “always believing not only in peace, but also in diversity as a source of power,” Lawiri serves as the South Sudan focal point for the bi-national Coalition of Women Leaders, supported by the Institute for Inclusive Security. The group of more than 200 women from Sudan and South Sudan works to advance women’s engagement in the peace process.
Lawiri was a Woman PeaceMaker in 2013.