“The UN is the one that is protecting all the people.” –Community Elder, Malakal, South Sudan  

A little more than two years after gaining its independence, South Sudan descended into a devastating armed conflict in December 2013. Five years into the conflict, civilians continue to bear the brunt of the violence, as armed groups deliberately target them through killings, sexual violence, the destruction of property, and the looting of cattle. Violence has fueled famine and food insecurity in the country and caused large-scale displacement of civilians inside and outside the country. In the midst of an increasingly factionalized conflict, the UN peacekeeping operation deployed there, known by the acronym UNMISS, is one of the only actors providing protection to civilians regardless of a community’s or individual’s political or ethnic affiliation.

UNMISS provides security to over 200,000 civilians sheltered in protection sites on UN bases and, within its limited resources, continues to assess how it can provide responsive protection to civilians outside of those bases, enable the delivery of humanitarian assistance, and support local and political solutions to conflict.

In 2016, CIVIC’s peacekeeping program undertook in-depth field research to document the significant challenges that UNMISS faced and the steps it failed to take to protect civilians in two major attacks against civilians. CIVIC’s findings and recommendations of the incidents were captured in “Under Fire: The July 2016 Violence in Juba and UN Response” and “A Refuge in Flames: The February 17-18 Violence in Malakal POC.” In 2017, CIVIC tracked UNMISS’s progress implementing the recommendations outlined in CIVIC’s reports as well as the findings of UN-commissioned investigations of the attacks. We also conducted in-depth analysis on the strengths and limitations of UNMISS’s community engagement activities, which resulted in CIVIC’s report, “Let US Be a Part of It: Community Engagement by the Peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan.

Looking forward, CIVIC will continue to focus on three issues in South Sudan:

  • How UNMISS’s planning and decision-making is linked to threat-based analysis;
  • How the UN Secretariat, Member States, and UNMISS are improving the peacekeeping operation’s performance and accountability; and
  • How UNMISS is safely and effectively engaging communities to improve the protection of civilians.
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