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South Sudan achieved independence from Sudan on July 9th, 2011, becoming the world’s newest nation. However, it faces a multitude of challenges. Since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in January 2005 that brought an end to the 21-year civil war between north and south Sudan, over two million refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) have returned to the south. Basic infrastructure and public services remain poor, despite the efforts of the government of South Sudan and its international partners. Fears that violence would break out along the border with Sudan upon independence were partly realized as conflict erupted in disputed Abyei territory.
Current Humanitarian Situation in South Sudan
While most southern Sudanese were able to participate in the January referendum in which they overwhelmingly voted for independence from Sudan, a separate referendum to decide the fate of adjacent Abyei territory was postponed, and fighting broke out in May. A peacekeeping mission for Abyei, UNISFA, was being established as of late July 2011, but Sudanese and South Sudanese troops remain in the territory, preventing displaced residents from returning.
A series of localized rebellions throughout South Sudan has also caused further loss of life and displacement, as have lethal raids by the Lord’s Resistance Army. The scale of need in South Sudan is immense, and communities will remain vulnerable to new humanitarian crises and outbreaks of conflict if gaps in basic services and professional policing go unaddressed. About four million people were displaced from the south during the war, two million have already returned home, and thousands continue to do so. Returning southern Sudanese and host communities must gain greater access to water, medical assistance, education, and sustainable livelihoods. Local women’s groups must be assisted so they can help reintegrate returnees, and effective conflict-prevention mechanisms and police activities are needed to ensure the safety of all civilians.
When violent conflict breaks out, the United States and other United Nations member states often call for the deployment of UN peacekeeping forces to create stability and protect people from harm. The UN Security Council has explicitly instructed peacekeepers to protect civilians under “imminent threat of violence” in most UN peacekeeping mandates since 1999. But there is no clarity as to what “protection” means in practice. Which circumstances require action and what level of force should be used? This has resulted in a lack of proper training, guidance and resources for peacekeepers to accomplish protection activities.