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Preventing Sexual Violence in Emergencies: South Sudan Case Study

Date: March 19, 2014

Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) is successful in preventing violence in areas due to the comprehensive strategies that field teams follow when they work in communities. NP fundamentally believes in and works using principles of unarmed civilian peacekeeping. Unarmed civilian peacekeeping involves a number of strategies and methods.

The first strategy NP uses is proactive presence. Proactive presence involves direct physical protection of civilians who are under the threat of violent conflict. This is done by placing peacekeepers in communities that are under threat. The method works since perpetrators do not want to be seen committing violence by witnesses, especially international organizations such as NP. The second strategy that NP uses is supporting existing protection mechanisms and security actors, for example by supporting the police force or the army. NP helps them to be more effective and motivated to prevent violence.

NPs third strategy is helping to build the capacity of local civil society, so that they can protect themselves and prevent further outbreaks of violence. NP achieves this through training local communities, performing security analysis of areas where violence is likely, and by creating community protection teams. These strategies are both proactive and reactive. They are proactive, in the sense that they stop future violence from happening and reactive, as NP sends teams to areas that have already seen violence. Violence breeds more violence due to revenge attacks; it is the aim of NP to break this cycle.

To fully understand these methods, we can examine them in action in South Sudan. In South Sudan, NP sent a field team into an area which was affected by extremely high levels of violence. There were daily sexual assaults on women, beatings to men and civilian deaths occurring. NP responded to this situation by implementing three strategies.

The first strategy was to set up three daily patrols in areas that were identified as key spots for potential violence. The three patrols were carried out by NP peacekeepers, joint police and United Nations Police Force (UNPOL) forces and United Nations (UN) peacekeepers.

The second strategy introduced was a phone tree. The community was split into ten sections, each with its own section leader. If violence took place the section leader would immediately inform the local community chief. The chief in turn would inform local government officials, the police and NP. NP would then inform UN peacekeepers, the UNPOL police commissioner and country government officials. Once violence was reported, all the major peace activists in the area were informed quickly. This ensured the capability to respond immediately to the situation.

The final strategy implemented was the creation of community security meetings. These meetings were attended by the local community and security actors. The meetings gave the community an opportunity to update security actors and gave security actors a chance to modify their mechanisms and violence prevention measures accordingly.

Nonviolent Peaceforce encountered a problem with low turnout by women during the first meeting. To solve this issue NP created a separate community security meeting for women only. It was extremely successful, as it was attended by almost all of the local women. One of the participants remarked that this was the first time the security actors were able to speak to local women about their security needs.

The impact of NPs work was quick and spectacular. Before the NP presence there were around 150 reports of violence per month, in the month following the implementation of NP strategies there were zero reports of violence and this continued. Violence had been completely eradicated in the community. A local woman said, “When NP started working here, everything changed. Before, we were scared to even leave our houses. Now we even feel safe to be outside and bathing at midnight.” Another local woman said, “Now that there are patrols, [potential perpetrators] just walk [passed us] and leave us alone.”

 The UN was also so impressed with the results that they sent officials to study the strategies that were used, so that they could duplicate the results in other areas of South Sudan. It is important, however, to remember that no two situations are the same. Just because unarmed civilian peacekeeping worked in one area, does not mean that it will work everywhere. NP carries out extensive research of areas prior to arrival, in order to ensure that their methods will be successful. This research includes building relationships with local actors and leaders, as well as building an understanding about the perpetrators present in the area. NP is also made up of highly trained and specialized peacekeepers, meaning the likelihood of success is much higher. What this example does show is that there are more options in these situations than to think “send in the military” or “do nothing”.

Summary by Daniel Bartup

You can protect civilians who are living in or fleeing violent conflict. Your contribution will transform the world's response to conflict.