South Sudan’s revitalized peace process (R-ARCSS) has been largely elite-focused and has yet to yield real dividends for South Sudanese civilians. While government and opposition militaries have committed to a ceasefire on paper, delays in implementing many provisions of the R-ARCSS mean that tensions remain high between armed factions on the ground whose soldiers continue to threaten and attack civilians with looting, sexual violence, abductions, and executions.  

In this context, the United Nations peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) is implementing a new program of work that ties together national support to the peace process in the country with subnational engagement on protection and peacebuilding. The program of work is built on analysis of the conflict and context in South Sudan. It is also in line with research and guidance which emphasize the importance of ensuring that local efforts to reduce conflict are tied to political engagement, and that—to avoid relapses into conflict—national peace processes should be inclusive. CIVIC carried out interviews with 96 stakeholders in South Sudan between December 2019 and February 2019 to assess UNMISS’s recent efforts. Many of the interviews were carried out in Yei, an area in the south of the country that has been heavily affected by violence and where armed groups continue to perpetrate abuses against civilians. Our findings are included in a new Issue Brief, published today.

In Yei, South Sudanese civilians and civil society leaders identified a direct link between UNMISS’s dialogue activities and improved protection for civilians. One woman who recounted having seven family members burned alive in their home during one attack told CIVIC, “There is good improvement now since the Mission conducts routine patrols and advocated for re-opening of closed roads and also removal of illegal checkpoints on the road, which created confidence for free movement among the civilians.” Although stakeholders called for additional inclusion of civil society leaders in the design and planning of activities, their primary recommendation for UNMISS was that these activities be carried out more widely and with more regular follow-up, if funding allows.

At an elite level, UNMISS continues to engage major political actors in dialogue and bring technical experts into the country to help resolve remaining disputes or barriers to implementation of the revitalized peace agreement. The subnational pillar of UNMISS’s work includes activities such as:

  • Civil-military dialogues intended to help address abuses committed by security forces against civilians;
  • Meetings (referred to as rapprochements) between government and opposition forces to reduce tensions between them and promote safe and free movement of civilians between areas controlled by different armed actors; and
  • Inter-communal peace dialogues to foster cohesion among groups who may harbor anger and mistrust against each other after years of conflict.

In partnership with UN agencies and international non-governmental organizations, UNMISS is also helping to support the development of political parties and connect local actors to national conversations on implementation of the R-ARCSS.

The spread of COVID-19 in South Sudan has threatened both implementation of the peace agreement and some of UNMISS’s dialogue activities. Over the coming months, it may not be feasible for UNMISS to gather civil society leaders from around the country to share their views on peace. However, a major component of UNMISS’s work has been promoting civic dialogue and conversations on peace between national political figures and civilians through their radio station, Radio Miraya. This work can continue, even as the pandemic makes other activities unsafe. UNMISS may need to find innovative ways to adjust some of its engagement activities to the new reality that the COVID-19 virus has unexpectedly created, and stakeholders working at the UN’s headquarters in New York should support the Mission in doing so. However, while the current health crisis may have complicated UNMISS’s engagement and dialogue efforts, it is clear that this program of work is an improvement over the siloed activities of the past and offers lessons for the future.