International Order & Conflict

UNMISS Faces ‘Hard Choices’ Preventing Violence, Protecting Civilians

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In advance of new recommendations anticipated to be released today by the Secretary-General of the United Nations on the future of the U.N. peacekeeping operation in South Sudan (UNMISS), a new report by the Stimson Center and the Sudd Institute finds that the U.N. Security Council and UNMISS must make hard choices about whom to protect against the threat of widespread violence against civilians. The report, Will They Protect Us for the Next 10 Years?” Challenges Faced by the UN Peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan,  focuses on the roles and responsibilities of UNMISS as the international community’s principal intervention force to protect civilians from the physical violence that has marked a year-long civil war in the world’s newest country. The report release also comes amidst discussions at the U.N. to renew the mandate for UNMISS, which is currently set to expire on November 30.

“UNMISS faces an unprecedented challenge in South Sudan. For nearly a year, over 100,000 people have sought shelter from violence inside the U.N. bases,” said Co-Director of Stimson’s Future of Peace Operations program Alison Giffen. “These bases are targets for attacks with potentially huge casualties. Even with the 12,500 military and police currently authorized to serve under UNMISS in South Sudan, the peacekeeping operation will not be able to protect everyone in the country who is vulnerable to violence. UNMISS should prioritize the protection of those in and around its bases or risk another failure on the magnitude of Srebrenica or Rwanda.” 

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. Parties on both sides of the conflict have committed abuses against civilians in places of refuge, such as churches and hospitals. More than 100,000 people are currently seeking shelter from violence inside U.N. peacekeeping bases. Overall, 1.4 million people have been displaced inside the country’s borders and nearly 500,000 have fled to neighboring countries.

“There are acute security challenges facing South Sudan that national-level peace talks cannot resolve,” said Aditi Gorur, Research Analyst at Stimson. “Without local-level reconciliation, there will be little progress toward ending violence in the long term. UNMISS can play an important role in bringing together the groups that have been divided by this conflict.”

The Stimson Center and Sudd Institute report outlines comprehensive recommendations for UNMISS to protect civilians threatened by deliberate violence in South Sudan. Major recommendations include:

·         UNMISS should focus on community-level conflict mediation and reconciliation activities.

·         UNMISS should continually revisit and revise its national-level protection of civilians strategy and ensure that state-level and crisis-specific action plans are completed as soon as possible.

·         UNMISS will continue to need a strong Joint Mission Analysis Center (JMAC) to gather, analyze and provide information that can be used as the basis of strong decision-making.

·         UNMISS’s early warning system should be reviewed frequently by U.N. headquarters to ensure that it effectively identifies short, medium, and long-term threats, that it is being used appropriately in operational decision-making at the local and national-level, and that it is resulting in early response.

·         UNMISS lacks the capacity and resources to protect all civilians under threat in South Sudan. It should prioritize protecting those who are seeking shelter in and adjacent to their bases.

·         UNMISS should carefully consider whether and how people seeking shelter within and adjacent to U.N. bases should be voluntarily relocated.

This is the third report by the Stimson Center and Sudd Institute examining how external protection actors can safely and effectively engage conflict-affected communities in strategies to prevent and respond to deliberate violence. Previous reports include: Perceptions of Security in Aweil North County, South Sudan, July 2014 and Perceptions of Security Among Internally Displaced Persons in Juba, South Sudan, September 2014.

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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