17 April 2015 - It was vital for communities seeking shelter on UNMISS bases to cooperate in maintaining the civilian character of protection sites, a mission official said in the Unity State capital Bentiu today.
UNMISS Civil Affairs Officer Ibishomi Abdulbaqi was speaking at a three-day inter-clan and county workshop organized by the mission to exchange ideas on root causes of problems leading to conflict or impact the civilian character of the protection site.
Some 40 participants from different communities attended the workshop, with many raising concerns that members of armed forces were coming into the protection site disguised as civilians.
Mr. Abdulbaqi noted that armed forces from both sides of the conflict could enter the protection site and endanger its civilian character.
“Our request is for the community is to take more responsibility,” he said. “You should inform the UN Police, Force Protection as well as the contingents for action through your representatives.”
Mr. Abdulbaqi said internally displaced persons (IDPs) were being protected because of their status as civilians and obligations of states under international law, particularly the Law of Armed Conflict.
He stressed that the only way for them to remain protected was to avoid activities that would jeopardize their civilian status.
“There is a ground rule that nobody is allowed to have weapons, but there are cases where some people smuggle weapons into the Protection of Civilians site and threaten the civilians,” said Lany Bol Keha, a participant.
Mr. Lany said those found violating the rule and creating havoc by organizing gangs should be kept in detention for a longer period, rather than released within a day. They would then regret their action and be discouraged from engaging in such illegal activities again.
Thomas Gatluak, another participant, said it was necessary to consider maturity when recruiting members of the Community Watch Group from among IDPs to assist in ensuring safety and security of civilians.
He noted that this would ensure respect for the South Sudan Labour Law, which sets the minimum age for employment at 18 years. More mature Community Watch members would also better understand situations.