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In July 2016, the capital airport in South Sudan was targeted during an outbreak of violence. An internally displaced persons camp was temporarily erected in an adjacent location. More than 3500 civilians took shelter at the camp between July and September. Nonviolent Peaceforce regularly patrolled the camp to prevent violence against civilians.

On September 15th, Nonviolent Peaceforce was patrolling the camp, when we were approached by a Nuer man, John.* John was towing a 10-year-old boy who he had found with a group of Nuer children. The children were trying to get him to play but he was unresponsive. Sensing something was wrong, John tried greeting the boy in his native language. Getting no reply, he tried greeting the boy in Dinka and the boy immediately responded.

John realized the boy was in danger as minority Dinka amongst a large Nuer population. Tensions between Dinka and Nuer were extremely high in the capital, after fighting in July killed hundreds of civilians within days. Being a child does not exclude one from being the victim of brutal targeted violence. During South Sudan's civil war, UNICEF has reported boys being castrated and left to bleed to death, girls as young as eight being raped and murdered and children being thrown into burning buildings.

Read more: Lost Boy Brings Unity to Community in South Sudan

By Jiro O'Kada, International Protection Officer for Nonviolent Peaceforce in South Sudan.

The current chapter of my life in South Sudan began with the Nonviolent Peaceforce’s global partnership, a precursor to the current NP Alliance, which connected me through a member group in Japan.
I found an internship opportunity with NP headquarters in Brussels in 2012 through one of NP’s member organizations* in Japan. Before joining the team I had an opportunity to visit Nonviolent Peaceforce’s program in South Sudan, where I learned the practice of unarmed civilian protection (UCP) in the field. This experience provided me with valuable exposure to the many dedicated individuals who are striving for peace.

After this trip, I joined the program management team in Brussels, which supports the operation of country programs worldwide. As a program assistant intern, I learned about NP’s global-scale humanitarian mission first-hand by assisting in tasks such as field to headquarters communication, grant management, and training development for new field staff.

Read more: From Intern to Peacekeeper

As many of you will be seeing in the media, the conflict in South Sudan has once again escalated.

While some call what is happening now in Juba a return to war, what we know from being on the ground is that the violence of war that began in December 2013 has been ongoing. The fight for control, despite the signing of cease fires and peace agreements, has been fought in remote jungles and swamps throughout the young country. For the last few days, the nation’s capital, Juba, has been buffeted by extraordinary violence where the range of stakeholders, party to the peace process, have been engaging in a sustained battle for control of the city.

Read more: South Sudan update: in the face of danger

While international media attention mainly focuses on the brutal civil war in South Sudan, smaller “wars” are being waged across the country that also warrant attention and speak to the need for increased unarmed civilian protection. Nonviolent Peaceforce works in several South Sudanese communities to address local conflicts that have resulted in lives lost and increased violence against women. The inter-communal violence has worsened during the civil war because there is greater access to weapons, reduced resources and less attention to community development. Together, this has resulted in the militarization of localized conflicts.

Amongst the Dinka Agaar – as with many other communities in South Sudan – wealth is measured in cattle. The keeping and protection of cattle is a central concern and traditionally, this responsibility falls to boys/men known as ‘gelweng’. From a young age, families send their sons to live unaccompanied in remote cattle camps which can be home to thousands of cows. At present, one of the largest cattle camps in Western Lakes State – Marialbek – reportedly has more than 100,000 cows. These cows belong to separate families but are all kept together.

Read more: Working to Reduce Violence in Local Communities

Thursday, February 25th, the UN Security General Ban Ki-moon visited the UN Protection of Civilian (POC) Camps and specifically emphasized the need for peace agreements and their implementation in South Sudan. Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) was invited together with other humanitarian actors who are involved in delivering services to the Juba POC camps. The Security General stated that he would do his best to support the peace process being implemented, and he also wanted to thank all the respective agencies providing protection to civilians in those camps.

This visit follows the appointment by Ban Ki-moon of a ‘High Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations,’ this past October, which concluded that “Unarmed strategies must be at the forefront of UN efforts to protect civilians. ”

In the picture above you see South Sudan Country Director Aseervatham Florington attending a conference with UN Security General Ban Ki Moon in Juba, South Sudan this past Thursday.

Nonviolent Peaceforce was invited to attend as an organization providing services and protection to internally displaced persons (IDPs) residing in the UN Protection of Civilian Camps (POCs).

Despite commitments by the warring parties in South Sudan to implement the peace agreement signed in August 2015, violent conflict continues. After over two years of war, the country’s infrastructure has been left devastated and the people of South Sudan continue to face a humanitarian crisis. The impact of the war on South Sudanese women and girls has been particularly horrific. Amidst the extraordinary rates of forced displacement, pervasive violence and breakdown of rule of law in many location, an estimated 32,000 South Sudanese women and girls are exposed to the risk of sexual violence.

There is a clear correlation between food insecurity, fuel and resource needs and gender-based violence (GBV) in South Sudan (See: South Sudan GBV Cluster, (2014) ‘Between a Rock and a hard place: Why we need to invest in GBV in food crisis? The Link between Food Security and Conflict Related Sexual Violence in South Sudan’). There are consistent and widespread reports of women and girls being raped, abducted and murdered as they leave the relative safety of camps, in order to access water, food, firewood or shelter materials (Alison Giffin et al. “Will they Protect US for the Next 10 Years: Challenges Faced by the UN Peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan,” Stimson Center, November 2014 p. 22).

Read more: Women Peacekeeping Teams working to end gender-based violence

borftr2edited“I never thought I would see my children ever again, neither did I think my children were still alive. I am the happiest man in the world and thank you humanitarians for making this possible. I will forever be grateful” – Father in South Sudan.

On 15 December 2013, conflict engulfed South Sudan and the country was split along ethnic lines. In Bor, there were extremely violent clashes in which both Dinka and Nuer civilians were targeted and killed. Large areas of Bor were destroyed and nearly the entire population displaced. A large population of predominately displaced Nuer civilians sought protection in the United Nations base – known now as a Protection of Civilian site (PoC). Since the beginning of the year, Bor Town has witnessed the slow return of displaced Dinka civilians; however, the Nuer population has remained fearful of moving outside the protection site.

Since the conflict began, Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) has registered a large number of separated and unaccompanied children in the Bor protection site. Many of these children have been separated from their families and caregivers since the start of the civil war. NP works continuously to reunify these unaccompanied children with their families.

Recently, NP successfully reunified 18 separated and unaccompanied children from the Bor protection site with their parents in Akobo, Jonglei State. This can be a treacherous journey as it requires moving the children through both government and opposition-controlled territories. However, we were able to ensure the reunification ran smoothly, by working closely and coordinating with local authorities, UNICEF, and Save the Children.

Read more: 18 Children Safely Returned to Parents in South Sudan

In September 2015, Nonviolent Peaceforce South Sudan conducted a Capacities and Vulnerabilities Assessment (CVA) in Wau Shilluk, Malakal County, Upper Nile State. This assessment is an important first step to identify the site’s security so Nonviolent Peaceforce can effectively design a new targeted protection program to maximize positive impact for local populations.

The mission led by Nonviolent Peaceforce's Britt Sloan (Area Program Coordinator, Border Region) and Yannick Creoff (Protection Officer) was conducted as a protection assessment in advance of proposed NP programming on the west bank of the Nile. NP had previously visited Wau Shilluk in May 2015. The CVA aimed to further investigate changes in the local context of the village, deepen understanding of community dynamics, and update NP information regarding protection threats, vulnerabilities, and capacities of the local community.

With the outbreak of South Sudan’s civil war at the end of 2013, Malakal and the surrounding areas of Upper Nile State witnessed massive fighting, displacing tens of thousands of civilians across the Nile River to villages along the west bank. Wau Shilluk, previously a small Shilluk community of some 4,000 residents approximately 12 kilometers north of Malakal, became the main Shilluk internally displaced persons (IDP) settlement. As of May 2015, the community had reached an estimated population of 40,000 individuals.

Read more: Exploration to Open a New Site in South Sudan

During its May monthly meeting with Nonviolent Peaceforce, the Women’s Peacekeeping Team in the Bor Protection of Civilians area decided to focus on tackling the high levels of alcohol consumption as a means to mitigate conflict in the area. With so many residents suffering from depression and trauma, alcohol consumption has become a cheap and accessible, albeit negative, coping mechanism.

In response, the Women’s Peacekeeping Team resolved to provide direct support, mentorship, and informal case management to those abusing alcohol. In its most recent monthly meeting with Nonviolent Peaceforce, the Women’s Peacekeeping Team began sharing stories of its successes and challenges.

One woman recounted how she is supporting an alcoholic young man recently diagnosed with tuberculosis. She ensured that the young man was admitted to the International Rescue Committee (IRC) clinic for proper treatment and that he abstains from alcohol during that time. Since the young man has no relatives in the Protection of Civilians area, she is also volunteering to bring him food while he is recovering.

Read more: Women's Peacekeeping Team in Bor, South Sudan Tackles Alcohol Abuse