Press Clip Source: The Guardian 
Date: October 30, 2015
Written by: Dariusz Dziewanski
Read original article: Here


An innovative model of peacekeeping called unarmed civilian protection is transforming communities blighted by war.

A wide, infectious smile spreads across Rocky George Ambago’s face when he talks about his work. Through his role with the Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) in South Sudan Rocky helps to champion an innovative model of peacekeeping called unarmed civilian protection (UCP). The non-profit organisation trains civilians to play a role similar to that of peacekeepers.

Rocky is committed to bringing peace to his native country. Before joining the NP he spent almost 10 years fleeing conflict in his homeland. After long periods of exile in the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, he was offered resettlement in Canada but refused to leave. “What am I going to do outside, when my country needs me?” he explains. Instead, he returned to South Sudan.

Rocky and his team work to save lives largely by monitoring warring groups and using their presence to exert social pressure so that would-be perpetrators of violence are more likely to act peacefully. NP-trained personnel also act as protective escorts for individuals – for instance, the displaced or those seeking medical attention – who might be threatened by violence.

Rocky in a training session
Rocky trains cattle herders to increase their understanding and awareness of protection in their community. Photograph: Nonviolent Peaceforce South Sudan
Following decades of civil war with its northern neighbour, South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, is awash with guns. The fledgling nation has been plagued by internal conflict since its birth and has a history of internal ethnic tensions. Although no official death toll has been kept, it is estimated that tens of thousands have died and 2.2 million have been displaced.

“The purpose of UCP is to create a safer environment ... for civilians to address their own needs, solve their own conflicts, and protect vulnerable individuals and populations,” says Tiffany Easthom, the organisation’s director in South Sudan. By comparison, she says, traditional peacekeeping uses armed military actors and the threat of force as a deterrent to “keep the peace”.

In the midst of what is going on in South Sudan, sometimes it will seem as if darkness has covered the light completely
Rocky George Ambago
Whereas traditional peacekeeping is often characterised by large contingents of foreign security personnel, the UCP model relies on small field teams of international and local staff that form deep grassroots connections throughout the country. Easthom explains that NP’s extensive community reach is particularly important since the 14,000-strong UN mission in the South Sudan “has had no static presence in opposition-held territories [and has] ... largely constrained its protection presence to the protection of civilian sites on United Nations’ bases.”

One of NP’s numerous field sites is in Rumbek, a flat and dusty city of just over 30,000 people in the heart of South Sudan. This is where Rocky works as the only South Sudanese to hold the position of NP team leader. His nine-person team has a reputation for going into conflict situations that other organisations avoid. Rumbek is in an area notorious for ambushes and inter-communal conflict.

“Whenever there are fights with our communities, NP would come to mediate,” explains Elizabeth Akon Mading, secretary of the women’s peacekeeping team in Maleng-agok, 16km to the east of Rumbek. Since 1996, this community has been at war with the nearby village of Cueicok, caught in a deep-rooted cycle of cattle-raiding and reprisal attacks. About 70 people have been killed in the conflict in the last 14 months alone, according to Rocky and his team.

Training circle of peace keepers
A women’s peacekeeping team trains in Maleng-agok. The team learns practical prevention and protection skills, and gains an awareness of human rights and gender-based violence. Photograph: Nonviolent Peaceforce South Sudan
Women’s groups like that of Elizabeth are an important part of the organisation’s work. They are made up of roughly 10 women who work as monitors and mediators against threats to the security of women and other local residents.

Following the last batch of fighting, those wounded from both sides were taken to a nearby hospital for treatment, where Elizabeth went to carry out a “proactive presence”. Acting as a civilian sentry and mediator, she sought to put herself between the injured and those looking to do them further harm. “People see me not as a woman of Maleng-agok, but as a woman of peace,” she says. Her presence is a powerful symbol.

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“In the midst of what is going on in South Sudan, sometimes it will seem as if darkness has covered the light completely,” says Rocky.

Yet, despite the fragility of South Sudan, he remains hopeful. Rocky works closely with Elizabeth and her team members, and is optimistic their shared struggle can eventually contribute to a lasting peace. “So long as you begin with one person ... then definitely you will [convey] peace to the next person. And that means, if the same spirit continues that in the long-run, I know that something good will come.”

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