As armed conflict broke out in South Sudan in December 2013, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) had to quickly transition from supporting the nascent nation to protecting civilians from harm. Over the last two years, government and opposition forces, as well as armed militias affiliated with them, have often deliberately targeted civilians, including through killings, sexual violence, abductions, the destruction of homes and crops, and the looting of cattle. Based on field research in South Sudan in August 2015, including more than 80 interviews with civilians affected by the conflict, UN representatives, government and military officials, representatives of international humanitarian organizations, and local civil society leaders, this report examines the UN mission’s successes and challenges in proactively protecting civilians from harm.
Around 200,000 people displaced by the conflict are currently sheltered within six UN bases across the country. These sites have undoubtedly saved lives, providing many people a refuge from the horrific conflict-related violence. At the same time, around 90 percent of the displaced population in South Sudan is not within these sites, but rather in often difficult to access areas of the conflict-affected states. The protection needs of these civilians have been and remain enormous, and UNMISS needs to do more to project force and proactively protect people outside the UN bases.
UNMISS’s mandate is currently up for renewal at the UN Security Council. The protection of civilians should remain one of the mission’s highest priorities, with further support from the UN Security Council and Member States to better enable the mission to engage in robust protection in areas where it is needed most.