International Order & Conflict

Perceptions of Security Among Internally Displaced Persons in Juba, South Sudan

in Program

Many Fear Violence in South Sudan as Nearly 100,000 Seek Shelter at UN 
Focus Group Findings Released on Eve of Major Peacekeeping Summit

An unprecedented 96,800 people are seeking shelter from violence inside U.N. peacekeeping operation bases in South Sudan, with many living in fear of killing, rape, and abduction according to a study released today by the nonpartisan Stimson Center. The new study — which conducted seven focus groups with displaced people living in two protection of civilians sites inside U.N. bases in Juba, South Sudan — illustrates the daunting challenges that modern peacekeeping operations face in fulfilling their responsibility to protect civilians under the threat of physical violence.

The study comes on the eve of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden convening a summit to address contemporary peacekeeping challenges on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. The study’s findings shed light on the security situation now facing tens of thousands of civilians that have sought shelter in U.N. peacekeeping operation bases.

“Civilians are being deliberately targeted in South Sudan and are fleeing to U.N. bases for safety,” said Co-Director of Stimson’s Future of Peace Operations program Alison Giffen. “These bases weren’t built to house civilians in these numbers, which has led to deplorable living conditions. The U.N. must be equipped to protect these civilians over the long-term.”

The current turmoil in South Sudan stems from a political dispute that broke out on December 15, 2013 between President Salva Kiir and his former Vice President, Riek Machar. The conflict took on an ethnic dimension and spread to include targeted violence against civilians on the basis of their tribal affiliation: Kiir’s supporters largely belong to the Dinka tribe, while Machar’s supporters are mostly of the Nuer tribe. Parties on both sides of this conflict have committed abuses and targeted civilians in places of refuge such as churches and hospitals. 

Conducted in August 2014, the focus groups at two protection of civilians sites inside U.N. peacekeeping bases in Juba, South Sudan examined how civilians driven from their homes by conflict perceived their security. Notable findings include:

·         When people sheltering inside U.N. bases leave temporarily to access services — such as hospitals, schools, markets, and banks — they faced threats including killing, rape, abduction, theft, sexual harassment, and beatings.

·         The main threat within the protection of civilian sites was fighting between residents, which was described as rooted in alcohol abuse, congestion, and trauma that people had experienced before arriving at the sites.

·         Participants made a range of requests to UNMISS, such as increasing the number of UNMISS troops and improving the quality of UNMISS weapons.

·         Participants were not willing or felt they would be unable to return home during the months and years to come. Some said that their houses had been occupied, looted, or destroyed. Others noted that they would not feel safe leaving the U.N. base until the government changed.  

“There are acute challenges faced by peacekeepers in the 21st century,” said Giffen. “Properly trained and equipped troops are essential to help prevent the targeting of civilians and to encourage compliance with political agreements as well as ceasefires. This crisis illustrates that peacekeeping support and local-level reconciliation efforts are also desperately needed to break cycles of violence between communities that have been torn and fractured by conflict.”

The Stimson Center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan institution devoted to enhancing international peace and security through a unique combination of rigorous analysis and outreach. The Future of Peace Operations program focuses on improving the effectiveness and efficiency of international peacekeeping, developing measures of progress for peace operations, and increasing global preparedness to prevent and respond to violence against civilians in conflict-affected societies.

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