The Nonviolent Peaceforce – 2010-12-28 19:27:43
(December 28, 2010) — “As the only organization focused solely on the direct protection of civilians…, there is both a moral imperative and a strategic opening for NP to take a lead role in [Sudan’s north-south borderlands].” Tiffany Easthom, Country Director.
In November, Nonviolent Peaceforce conducted two assessment missions along the tense border dividing north and south Sudan, one in Northern Bahr el Ghazal and one in Unity state, areas selected for their strategic significance, conflict dynamics, and importance as sites of return for internally displaced persons (IDPs).
Sudan’s North-South Border: A Role For Civilian Peacekeepers?
In November 2010, Nonviolent Peaceforce conducted two assessment missions along the tense border dividing north and south Sudan. Country Director Tiffany Easthom and Program Officer Anna Stein were invited by AECOM, a US contractor, to visit Northern Bahr el Ghazal and Unity State, areas selected for their strategic significance, conflict dynamics, and importance as sites of return for internall displaced persons (IDPs).
The mission team met with a broad spectrum of actors from state level government, county level government, civil society and international organizations, and surveyed the situation on the ground first-hand. The purpose was to assess the current and projected conflict dynamics, operating environment, existing protection and prevention mechanisms, and entry points for unarmed civilian peacekeeping.
Northern Bahr El Ghazal
Only 30% of the villages in Northern Bahr el Ghazal have access to improved drinking water and and 93% of villages have no access to health services. Approximately 140 000 people are considered severely food insecure, and an additional 309 000 people are moderately food insecure. Conflict between the pastoralist Dinka and Arab nomadic Misseriya and Rezeigat communities increases during the dry season migrations, resulting in abductions, cattle rustling, and burning of homes. The state is also exposed to violence spilling over from the conflict in Darfur: in November, the Sudanese military conducted four separate aerial bombardments inside Northern Bahr el Ghazal, pursuing rebels from Darfur.
NP had the chance to attend a reconciliation workshop facilitated by the US Institute of Peace in Wara Wara. The purpose of the workshop was to bring together Dinka and Misseriya for dialogue regarding migration-conflict.The common message from both sides was a shared interest in mutual coexistence coupled with a mutual frustration regarding broken or unimplemented agreements.
Since 2008, there have been many workshops and many conferences, but little ground-level support for stabilization and violence reduction. The mission team assessed this as an obvious entry point for unarmed civilian peacekeeping.
In Unity State, the humanitarian situation is no less dire: despite the fact that it contains much of Sudanâ€™s oil reserves, the benefits of resource extraction have not trickled down to the state’s citizens. Half of the households in Unity State are food insecure, one-fifth of them severely so; 42% of villages use untreated river water as the main source of water. Only 19% of villages have a school of any kind, and fewer than one in three girls are enrolled in formal education.
As the site of a disputed border and rich oilfields, and the battleground for recent political and militia conflicts, Unity State regularly experiences localized medium- to high-intensity violence. Cattle, land-use and migratory conflicts are particularly acute along the state’s borders. As observed by the assessment team, these issues are virtually identical to those in Northern Bahr el Ghazal. In recent months, rumors circulated that a troop build-up is occurring on both sides of the north-south border; NP was only able to verify a build-up on the south side.
NP met Mayom County Commissioner John Madeng, who identified a number of key conflict drivers in the county. In March of this year, an estimated one thousand heavily armed Dinka civilians carried out an attack in an area inhabited by Nuer, in which over 1800 cattle were stolen and ten people killed, including children. Commissioner Madeng said there have been 123 incidents of “revenge killings” in Mayom in 2010, and attributed these to citizens engaging in vigilante justice. The Commissioner has formed fledgling committees intended to deal with issues of conflict resolution, peace-building and security and expressed great concern that without technical support and security, these communities would not become effective. Providing protection, de-escalating violent conflict and supporting the implementation of these committees are key entry points for unarmed civilian peacekeeping in the county.
Unity State has also received over 27 000 IDP returnees since October; IDPs are returning from the north due to concerns about their status and security if the January 2011 referendum results in South Sudanâ€™s secession. Many IDPs are now living in schools in the state capital, Bentiu, waiting to return to home villages; displaced women and children are at heightened risk of sexual- and gender-based violence and abuse. NP met with the South Sudan General Women’s Association, whose members highlighted the need for civilian mechanisms designed to monitor the security of vulnerable IDP returnees.
Urgent Need, Urgent Response
NP has had significant success in its efforts to protect civilians and reduce violence in Western Equatoria State (WES) since establishing a field presence there in mid-2010. With support from the Government of Belgium, our work in WES will continue into 2011, with a particular focus on averting and de-escalating violence resulting from the January 2011 referendum on South Sudanâ€™s independence.
But last month’s mission made clear that the needs are equally urgent on the north-south border, and NP is expoloring a possible response. According to Country Director Tiffany Easthom, “Our strategy would be to position civilian peacekeeping teams at flash points along the north-south border area. As the only organization focused solely on the direct protection of civilians from physical violence, there is both a moral imperative and a strategic opening for NP to take a lead role in this region.”
If activated, the short- to medium-term impact of this strategy would be violence reduction, stabilization and direct civilian protection in a vulnerable, under-served area. The longer-term impact would be civilian peacekeeping teams able to take on a potential lead role in the civilian component of border monitoring, should next year’s referendum create a new international frontier.
Due to the strategic relevance of the border area, donor interest in stabilization and security programming is high. Given the prevalence of oil, the heavily-disputed border demarcation process, and the large-scale influx of returning IDPs there is particular donor and political interest in Unity State. Multiple organizations are conducting assessment missions in the area and donors can expect a barrage of proposals in the immediate future.
There is significant and vocal interest and support from county, state and regional government officials for an international civilian peacekeeping presence, and NP will seek to leverage that support if expansion to the borderlands takes place.
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For more information about NP in Sudan, click here:
As 2010 draws to a close, we are delighted to share with you what a difference your support has made in the lives of civilians in urgent need of protection. With deepest thanks for the lives you help save:
2010 Accomplishments And Moving Forward:
Goals for 2011
Created Peace Committees in schools. A school was so wracked by fighting that it became impossible for students to attend classes. NP worked with teachers and students to develop a peace committee, providing a forum for students to proactively address conflict triggers. The school has re-opened and students are continuing their educations.
Prevented cattle raiding violence. Conflict between migratory cattle-herders and farmers often escalates to violence, kidnapping and death. Stolen cattle and kidnapped children were returned after NP brought community leaders together to discuss the raids and alternatives to violence. Today the two communities continue to coexist peacefully.
Encouraged leaders to see eye-to-eye. Friction between a new governor and his predecessor caused regional instability soon after the 2010 election. At a conference in the state capital, NP facilitated a face-to-face meeting between the leaders, which resulted in a cooling of tension.
Sri Lanka Accomplishments
Protected and trained election monitors. During tense January 2010 presidential elections, NP accompanied, protected, and trained 60 Sri Lankan election monitors. As a result, the vote was conducted freely and fairly at 79 polling stations across the country.
Trained over 200 people in unarmed civilian peacekeeping. NP pioneered workshops and mentoring in Sri Lanka to help vulnerable communities address their security challenges. More than two-thirds of participants were women, and NP continues to showcase the value of women’s engagement and leadership on security and protection issues.
Protected children and prevented disappearances.
NP is now the only international organization doing civilian protection work in Sri Lanka. Our work was officially approved by the Presidential Task Force. NP continues to work closely with local groups and state partners like the Human Rights Commission on child protection, disappearances, and security issues.
Accepted an official role on the International Monitoring Team. NP is now protecting civilians and encouraging confidence in the peace process alongside the International Red Cross and the Mindanao People’s Caucus. This official role is an extraordinary honor and a testament to the confidence invested in NP by stakeholders.
Protected people who were forced by violence to flee their homes. NP made hundreds of visits to evacuation centers and private homes in the most vulnerable communities. And when a local feud erupted, peacekeepers ensured the safety of displaced people by repeatedly visiting an elementary school that had been turned into an evacuation center.
Facilitated dialogue between Catholics and Muslims. North Cotabato has been hard-hit by armed violence involving members of Catholic and Muslim communities, and between ethnic Moros and the non-Moro population. NP dialogues have helped local leaders to de-escalate tension and create long-term solutions.
Presented at the prestigious Caux Forum on Human Security in Switzerland. NP was invited to present unarmed civilian peacekeeping to an audience of 250 peace-building professionals from 41 countries, including ambassadors, academics, imams, bishops and a king.
Met with UN and international partners in New York City and Geneva. NP made the case for unarmed civilian peacekeeping as an effective alternative to military peacemaking to UN peacekeeping veterans, senior humanitarians, and other key policymakers.
Presented at the World Congress of Muslim Philanthropists in Qatar. NP brought unarmed civilian peacekeeping to a new audience, and several individuals from both state and non-state institutions approached NP for further consultation and engagement.
Moving Forward: Goals For 2011
Implement an effective, comprehensive civilian protection scheme in Mindanao that creates space for the renewed peace process to move forward.
Open a new office in Mvolo County in Western Equatoria. Establish an international protective presence in volatile Unity State along the border between north and south Sudan.
Lauch NP’s first European project in the South Caucasus and provide nonpartisan, third-party intervention to help ease the conflict between Georgia and the disputed territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Shift from a focus on protective accompaniment of threatened individuals in Sri Lanka toward strengthening development of community-based protection and violence reduction mechanisms.
NP is an NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. Nonviolent Peaceforce USA, 425 Oak Grove St. Minneapolis Minnesota 55403. 612.871.0005.
Tim Wallis is NPF’s â€¨Executive Director