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February-April 2011 Sudan Field Report

Date: May 20, 2011

Contextual Developments

fieldreport22A resurgence of violence in south Sudan began in February after the announcement of the independence referendum results. Militia-related violence escalated throughout the region primarily affecting Jonglei, Unity and Northern Bahr el Ghazal states. While militia groups were active prior to the referendum, the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) had successfully brokered ceasefire agreements with virtually all of them to ensure stability for the referendum period. Critics raised concerns that the agreements were unsustainable because they lacked sufficient substance to be binding, and their predictions that there would be a return to violence proved to be accurate.

The militia groups appear to be motivated by publically declared concerns about the legitimacy of democratic processes, especially in regards to the current GoSS, which is heavily dominated by one political party (the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, or SPLM) is not sufficiently representative of the wider population of south Sudan. Most notably, Jonglei’s rebel leader George Athor announced that he had allied with four other militia groups reportedly to fight against the SPLA.

 

Intertribal conflicts continued to be prevalent, resulting in death, displacement and the destruction of villages and agriculture. The intensified fighting led to many INGOs restricting their programming due to security concerns and the UN’s World Food Programme halting aid in highly conflict-affected Jonglei and Lakes State. In the lead-up to south Sudan’s official declaration of independence on 9th July, thousands of southerners living in the North returned to South Sudan, further exacerbating resource shortages.

The south briefly pulled out of talks with the North in March, accusing Khartoum of funding the southern militia groups in an attempt to destabilize the region. Following pressure from the international community, the south quickly resumed negotiations. However, fighting between the South and North in the disputed oil-rich Abyei region continued resulting in displacement of thousands of more civilians, with the UN warning of troop build up on both sides. In April, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir made a public statement that the North would not recognize south Sudan as a separate state when it officially declares independence in July if it did not relinquish control over the region.

fieldreport23In Greater Mundri, the murder of a trader on 9th February sparked the beginning of  armed conflict between the communities of Mvolo County in Western Equatoria State (WES) from the Jur-Nyamousa tribe and Dinka communities from Yirol West County in Lakes State. While this particular killing was the tipping point that sparked the degeneration into violence in 2011, conflict in the area arises every year during dry season when Dinka cattle keepers from Lakes State migrate across the WES border into Mvolo in search of sufficient grass to feed their cattle. Tensions are inevitably inflamed as the cattle-keepers begin grazing their cattle and destroying crops on land claimed by Mvolo communities.

However, the conflict has been particularly severe in 2011, with brutal fighting starting in February and the conflict continuing throughout April. During NP’s assessments and monitoring visits, interviewees on both sides unanimously reported that this year there was a higher level of violence, a larger geographical area was affected and the conflict was lasting longer than it had since before the war ended in 2005 – with large scale destruction of property and attacks on civilians being the main concerns.  Between February and April and 2011, dozens of villages were burned down, hundreds of cattle and goats raided in Yirol West alone. Thus far, dozens of villages have been burned down, and an estimated 34,000 displaced people are living without adequate food, water and shelter. These shortages are particularly severe for the substantial portion of the IDPs who are living in the bush, with no host community on which they can depend. Such IDPS include many children who are reportedly dying from dehydration, meningitis and attacks by bees. Many other children remain missing, having been separated from their families when fleeing from attacks.

While the governors of both states met on 19th February and on 5th April, each time agreeing on a ceasefire, it proved largely ineffective because the decision was made at higher levels of government without the involvement of local leaders or communities, and thus its intended outcome failed to trickle down to the grassroots level where the violence was actually being perpetrated. Killings continued and displaced persons did not return home due to continued feelings of insecurity throughout the month of April.

 

NP’s Work

Child Protection

New UNICEF Project

fieldreport24In April, NP commenced its UNICEF-funded child protection and gender based violence (GBV) project with the opening two new field sites. One field site will be based in Nzara, Western Equatoria where communities are highly affected by ongoing attacks from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), one of the most brutal non-state armed groups in the world. The second field office will be located in Juba, south Sudan’s capital, and will focus on such issues as unaccompanied children, building state capacity to respond to GBV, and trafficking. Seven international and ten national peacekeepers were hired for the project and underwent an intensive ten-day Core Mission Preparedness Training in a remote location in south Sudan to prepare for deployment. The new international staff hail from four continents, with staff coming from Colombia, Uganda, Zimbabwe, the United States, the Netherlands and Sri Lanka.

In preparation for the project, NP worked throughout February and March to establish relationships with the Ugandan People’s Defence Force, UN officials, religious leaders, local civil society organizations, government ministries and military officials. These relationships will form the foundation for NP to be able to increase women and children’s security in the new field sites. These stakeholders were especially enthusiastic about NP’s arrival in Nzara into an area where civilians are highly vulnerable, especially because no other international organizations have offices in the area.

Detention of Children and Capacity Building of State Child Protection Actors

In Mundri, NP was notified of the case of a 14 year-old girl who was forced into an early marriage and taken into custody by state authorities. In order to address the issue, NP collaborated with a social worker to organize a coordinated intervention involving the relevant paramount chief, the New Sudan Women’s Federation and local government official. The girl was subsequently released from custody, and is now living with her father and has resumed her education. The social worker emphasized that without NP’s support, she would not have been able to intervene on behalf of the girl. This achievement represented a significant success in terms of combating precedents for child and gender based violence and building linkages between civil society and government authorities.

Community Security

Mvolo-Lakes State Conflict

fieldreport25NP immediately began an assessment of affected civilians’ security following the outbreak of conflict between Lakes States and WES in February. NP was the first organization to locate pockets of IDPs hiding in the bush, and brought their needs to the attention of government officials, international organizations and UN staff. NP subsequently worked with the South Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (SSRRC), a government body that acts as the bridge between NGOs, the Government of South Sudan, and communities, to coordinate and carry out an interagency assessment with other NGOs from different sectors to identify the needs of these IDPs and how they could be addressed.

NP continued to work with leaders and civilians on both sides of the conflict through March and April to develop strategies to address the conflict. This included carrying out a week-long visit to Yirol West in Lakes State, where NP had the opportunity to witness the effects of the conflict first-hand, assess the protection needs in the area, and build relationships with the Lakes State governor, Yirol West County Commissioner, Inspector of Police and SSRRC and the affected, all of whom supported NP’s involvement in upcoming conflict resolution and violence reduction efforts.

In April, two Members of Parliament (MPs) who were investigating the conflict came to visit NP after several people they interviewed from both sides of the conflict recommended that they incorporate NP into their efforts. The MPs indicated that they would like NP to play a key role in planned peace dialogues, a strong indication that NP has been able to successfully establish trust with key stakeholders in the conflict.  

Monitoring of Humanitarian Aid Distribution

In March, at the request of the SSRRC, NP monitored the distribution of relief aid to IDP returnees in Mundri West to ensure it was distributed in a peaceful manner that did not lead to conflict. The distribution was conducted successfully and without incident.

Conflict Early Warning/Early Response Systems

In partnership with the Ministry of Peace and Comprehensive Peace Agreement Implementation and Catholic Relief Services, NP launched a Conflict Early Warning/Early Response System (CEWERS) project in the three counties of Greater Mundri. CEWERS are designed to collect information from conflict-prone areas with the purpose of anticipating the escalation of violent conflict. This information is then used to help decision-makers respond rapidly and effectively to prevent violence before it breaks out. Within south Sudan, the project builds on existing local structures to deter immediate threats of violence and build the capacity of communities to develop and operationalize self-sustaining systems that they could use to pre-emptively identify and mitigate conflicts as they arose in the long term.

The CEWERS project is being established on a state-by-state basis and eventually will cover all of south Sudan. The first CEWERS project was developed in Eastern Equatoria in the summer of 2010 by Catholic Relief Services, and the second project is being set up in Northern Bahr el Ghazal by Danish Demining Services. While both of these projects mainly target key decision-makers at the state level, NP’s WES CEWERS project is slightly different.  Instead of a top-down approach, the CEWERS project uses a grassroots, bottom up approach to early warning/early response, starting at the community level and working to connect it to the county level, and then higher levels of government as appropriate. NP conducted an assessment in each county interviewing community members, government officials, women’s groups, youth leaders and civil society organizations to determine which communities should be targeted, the  conflicts should be addressed, communities’ current responses to conflict, existing organic CEWERS structures, and their capacity to implement CEWERS.

Working together with the County Commissioners, three local government officials and civil society leaders from each county were selected to be members of the ‘Technical Team’ which will lead the design and implementation of the CEWERS at the community level. NP facilitated a four-day training for the nine-member technical team to carry out a baseline survey, introduce the concept of CEWERS in communities and prepare for developing conflict response strategies.

The technical team subsequently carried out baseline surveys in each of the target communities, building relationships with key stakeholders, and beginning to develop customized frameworks for analyzing the relevant conflicts in each area. A conference is planned for early June in which the technical team will present the results of the evaluation to key stakeholders and high level government officials and discuss the next steps in the project.

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