A little more than two years after gaining its independence, South Sudan descended into a devastating civil war in December 2013. Throughout the conflict, armed groups have deliberately targeted civilians with killings, sexual violence, destruction of property, and looting of cattle. Violence has fueled famine and food insecurity in the country and caused large-scale displacement of civilians inside and outside its borders. A 2018 revitalized peace agreement (R-ARCSS) signed by many parties to the conflict helped to bring an end to widespread political violence in South Sudan, but political leaders have been slow to implement many provisions of the agreement, including integrating security forces, undertaking transitional justice processes, and initiating legal reforms to promote improved governance. Moreover, a number of sub-national conflicts — many of which are linked to national actors and issues – continue to fuel violence that harms civilians.
The UN peacekeeping operation deployed to South Sudan, known by the acronym UNMISS, has been one of the only actors providing protection to civilians regardless of a community’s or individual’s political or ethnic affiliation. Throughout much of the civil war and its aftermath, UNMISS provided physical protection to several hundred thousand civilians sheltered in protection of civilians (POC) sites on UN bases. By mid-2021, all but one of the POC sites were re-designated as internally displaced person camps. In addition to protecting civilians, UNMISS is mandated to enable the delivery of humanitarian assistance, monitor and report on human rights violations, and support local and political solutions to conflict.
CIVIC has been undertaking research on peacekeeping and protection of civilians in South Sudan since 2015. Our current research priorities include a focus on how the Mission is mitigating harm to civilians that could result from its presence, activities, and operations.
In addition, CIVIC ensures that the following issues are integrated in all our UN peacekeeping-related activities:
- The protection of civilians remains a priority for UN peacekeeping missions;
- UN peacekeeping missions continue to prioritize the protection of civilians during mission transition and drawdown;
- Protection of civilians early warning and rapid response systems are strengthened in UN peacekeeping operations;
- Peacekeeping performance is strengthened by ensuring that mandates are matched with adequate means and resources;
- Communities at risk of violence are safely and effectively engaged in mission planning and activities to protect civilians;
- Peacekeeping missions integrate a gender-sensitive approach to the implementation of protection of civilians mandates;
- Mission planning and decision-making is linked to assessments of threats to civilians; and
- Accountability systems for underperformance are improved.
CIVIC’s current work in South Sudan builds on past in-depth field research to document:
- Why UMISS should continue to focus on threats to civilians in the context of evolving conflict dynamics.
- How peacekeepers in UNMISS and two other UN peacekeeping missions are analyzing and addressing threats of conflict-related sexual violence
- UNMISS’s efforts to integrate local and national dialogue initiativesto protect civilians and build durable peace
- The importance of UNMISS strengthening its mobilityto continue protecting civilians inside and outside of PoC sites
- How UNMISS’s planning and decision-making is linked to threat-based analysis
- The strengths and limitations of UNMISS’s community engagement activities
- The significant challenges that UNMISS faced and the steps it failed to take to protect civilians in major attacks against the POC site in Jubaand Malakal in 2016