Protecting Some of the People Some of the Time – Civilian Perspectives on Peacekeeping Forces in South Sudan

Published: 15 Sep 2016


On the two-year anniversary of the outbreak of violence in South Sudan, IRRI has published a new report, “Protecting some of the people some of the time: Civilian perspectives on peacekeeping forces in South Sudan”. The report examines civilian perspectives of peacekeeping forces in South Sudan within the broader context of the conflict and the protection challenges facing civilians, including the need for protection from atrocities.

Despite the fact that the speed and scale of what took place in December 2013 caught UNMISS by surprise, the mission responded by opening up a number of its bases to civilians fleeing the conflict. Our research found that civilians were grateful for the protection provided by this action. As one PoC resident in Juba said, “If it was not because of peacekeepers all of us would have been killed.” In interviews, UNMISS personnel spoke about this action as a way of upholding their responsibility to the population, recognising that this had avoided another “Rwanda situation”. The failure to act then has haunted peacekeeping missions since 1994.

Although they saved lives, the opening of PoC sites did not prevent atrocities from taking place. Outside the gates, serious crimes were committed and, two years on, civilians are frustrated about the lack of protection outside. With around 200,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) hosted at six protection of civilian sites (PoC sites) across South Sudan and approximately 40% of UNMISS’s resources set aside for this purpose, the mission struggles to provide protection beyond the gates.

Within the sites there are concerns as well. Our research identified a number unintended consequences of the PoC sites with which the mission is now having to grapple. In particular, it was clear that the PoC sites have become increasingly mono-ethnic and/or divided internally along ethnic lines, which is now reinforcing the ethnic divisions that have characterised the conflict. The “hard” perimeters of PoC sites are effectively a catch-22: on the one hand, they limit interaction that could spark identity-based violence; on the other, they do not allow for inter-communal interaction needed to move beyond communities’ last reference point of those relations – instances of mass atrocity.

Our research also noted that the mandate of UNMISS is not well understood by the population, and this was problematic for a number of reasons. First, there was a misperception that UNMISS had no mandate for protection outside the sites, and this was fuelling frustration about the lack of protection outside the sites. Second, civilians saw the mission as dependent on the government of South Sudan, which undermined their credibility. Finally, civilians were unaware of the political engagement elements of the mandate. Clear outreach on the new mandate could therefore boost the mission’s image.

As IRRI’s senior researcher, Dr Lucy Hovil said, “The mission has performed admirably in many respects, but their actions are woefully inadequate when compared to the needs of the population. Much more needs to be done.”

Read the press coverage of the report

Programmes: Resolving Displacement, Responsibility to Protect
Regions: Great Lakes Region, South Sudan
Type: Library, Paper