New Peacekeeping Mission Must be Able to Protect Civilians

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May 02, 2011 | Michelle Brown

Last week, the UN Security Council unanimously renewed the mandate of the UN Peacekeeping Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) until July 9. That is the day when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) period is scheduled to end, and when South Sudan becomes an independent state. The resolution also laid out the Security Council’s intention to deploy a follow-on mission in the south and requested that the Secretary General submit a report to the Security Council by May 16 outlining the different options for the new mission.

On January 11, the south voted overwhelmingly for independence from the north. Despite the success of the referendum, unresolved CPA issues such as border demarcation, the status of the three transitional areas (Abyei, Blue Nile State and Southern Kordofan State), oil sharing, and security arrangements could destabilize both the north and the south. Growing violence in the south threatens to undermine the promise of southern independence.

The UN undertook a conflict assessment earlier in the year. Although the document is not public, we have heard that the UN has concluded that there is potential for high levels of inter-communal violence in the south, as well as increased violence in the transitional areas. In addition, since October, more than 290,000 southerners have returned to southern Sudan. This has put an even greater strain on the limited services and resources available in this largely undeveloped region of Sudan that is soon to become a separate country.

Since the referendum for independence, there has been an upsurge in levels of violence, particularly in Abyei. According to the recent Secretary General’s report, 450 people have been killed and 36,000 displaced. NGOs believe the numbers to be higher. Meanwhile, the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) has denied humanitarian actors and UNMIS peacekeepers access to people in need of help. In some instances, GoSS forces have been party to violence against civilians. But the restriction of movement of UNMIS has meant that security forces accused of human rights violations have not been brought to justice.

Refugees International is pushing for the Security Council to authorize a new Chapter 7 peacekeeping mission on July 9 with a mandate that makes the protection of civilians a key priority. This is all the more necessary as the GoSS is largely unable to protect civilians from the increased inter-communal violence and displacement and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) – soon to be known as South Sudan Armed Forces -- will likely remain a party to various conflicts throughout the south. We are also urging close coordination with the troop contributors to ensure that UN military peacekeepers are adequately trained and equipped to participate in robust protection activities. In addition, we are pushing the UN to deploy appropriate civilian staff to engage with local communities and to strengthen the prevention and early warning capacity of the mission.

The new mission will have a role in building the capacity of the GoSS to protect its own citizens and should support the establishment of human rights standards. To that end, RI is urging the Security Council as well as bilateral donor governments to condition security sector assistance on the SPLA’s respect for human rights. As the new peacekeeping mission is being negotiated, it is crucial that the GoSS understands unimpeded access for mission staff and humanitarians is non-negotiable.