Protection of Civilians needs to be understood as a collaborative strategy and not a campsite

Hervé Ladsous, UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, visited the Bentiu Field Office of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), on 11 June. Mr. Ladsous was briefed by Field Office leadership on the security and humanitarian situations and toured Bentiu Protection of Civilians (POC) site as well as meeting with Bentiu POC site community leaders. Aerial view of Bentiu Protection of Civilians (POC) site. © UN Photo/Isaac Billy

Hannah Dönges

In Bentiu and other protection of civilian sites in South Sudan, the UN peacekeeping mission performs all the functions of a state within a state. With the help of humanitarian partners, it feeds, protects, and organizes those displaced by a bitter internal conflict into what are small towns. At this UNMISS PoC site, there are 98.000 internally displaced people, the biggest fraction of the estimated 170,000 IDPs living in similar sites across South Sudan in June 2016. It is a huge challenge and heavy responsibility for UN peacekeeping that stretches its traditional principles and practices.

At the sites I visited in May and June, the UNMISS peacekeeping forces are supposed to provide security from external threats, while within the fences UNPOL maintains the internal security of the camp. But of those needing protection only a fraction have made inside these boundaries and many vulnerable citizens remain outside these sprawling tent cities.

Protecting civilians is not just the responsibility of the UN mission’s uniformed forces. It is a job shared with many with the mission and partners from the humanitarian community. It should, of course, be first and foremost the government’s responsibility. But how did the UN mission come to be in such a position? What are the challenges on the ground when protecting civilians? Who shares in the responsibility for this mandate that the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations identified as a core responsibility for the for UN peace operations? How can constructive collaboration among organizations with a common goal of protection be enhanced?

Recurring conflicts

South Sudan’s government failed soon after independence when civil war broke out. The deliberate targeting of civilians took drastic forms after a fight in the military barracks in Juba between soldiers of two of the main ethnicities in December 2013. This mirrored an earlier split in the political leadership in July 2013 and fighting broke out between the Dinka of President Salva Kiir and the Nuer of ousted Vice President Riak Maachar. With government forces, the SPLA, being one of the main conflict parties, this social contract broke down. On an unprecedented scale, people from both ethnic groups fled to UN peacekeeping bases to find shelter from the violence that spiraled out of control across the country.

Decades of armed conflict preceded South Sudan’s independence on 9 July 2011. Historically existing local conflict dynamics lured in the background of the struggle for independence. This newest member of the UN was bequeathed a long history of inter-communal violence with limited national capacity to manage its own security or protect its civilian population from harm.

Even after it formally broke away from the north, there has been persistent fighting among armed groups, sometimes tribes and clans – often related to cattle rustling - and government forces in several parts of the country. Power struggles and ethicized conflict dynamics became very visible when President Kiir ousted part of its cabinet as well as his Vice President Machar in July 2013. After fighting broke out in Juba following a dispute within the presidential guard, the country has faced its third civil war since December 2013.

It remains to be seen whether the ongoing ‘IGAD-PLUS peace process’ will be create sustainable results. President Kiir’s 28-state-decree contradicts the process’ postulations and amplifies ethnic rivalries over land and resources, and may likely lead to renewed intense fighting in Upper Nile, particularly around Malakal.

Years of international humanitarian and political intervention in the region have given South Sudan a high international profile. This has meant the post-independence violence, which has had a surprising intensity and cruelty that was unmatched in the previous civil wars (according to reports in particular in its use of gender based and sexual violence), has not been ignored by media and politicians. Still, any actual armed violence impact assessment remains astonishingly incomplete, as far as to say “in South Sudan, no one is even counting the dead.” Many areas have not been accessed or monitored at all when fighting took place, and access still remains limited – as the result of security restrictions, small staff numbers, and geographical inaccessibility by any other means than limited air assets due to insurmountable road conditions during the rainy season (about six months per year).

But while a sustained struggle for self-determination is different from the ongoing internecine fight, Alex de Waal has argued that both conflict and crisis have retained basic structures across time. These were not sufficiently addressed in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and have been to different degrees overshadowed historical rivalries and conflict cleavages. The different conflict dynamics share that impunity and a lack of accountability for committing as well as failing to halt human rights abuses have fueled it. It seems that the “intractable culture of impunity” is even reflected throughout the country. Understanding reoccurring patterns is crucial to the developing current responses, both concerning specific local dynamics as well as the development of a rule of law system in conjunction with traditional court practices.

The UN’s own human rights reports have highlighted the immense difficulties and scale of atrocities faced by the South Sudanese population (even if most likely only scratching the surface as bags of bones of unidentified people are still being found) as well as actors engaged in the protection of persons and livelihoods. The conflict between government and opposition forces has reached new levels of violence and ethnicization and ethnic targeting has reached levels that reach far beyond the characteristics of previous fighting. “Where you would see one or two tukuls burned during cattle rustling, we only now saw entire villages being burned down in once instance,” one ICRC staff member told me. Human Rights Watch has said “all conflict we see is ethnicized.”Armed groups have long recruited along ethnic lines in South Sudan, but UNMISS fears a “Balkanization” across the country.

A shared responsibility

Without planning or foreseeing the scale nor timeline , the UN mission suddenly found itself in the business of protecting civilians on its own bases in unprecedented numbers. This security crisis created a both a new peacekeeping and humanitarian challenge for which the UN Security Council had not provided a mandate. At PoC sites, aid workers and peacekeepers now had to work closely together within UN bases to manage an emergency response.

The way they did this was different at each site. International actors had often diverging and, at times contradictory, understandings of what should be done. At some sites, they cooperated closely. At others, they regarded coordinating their efforts as only a necessity for security. For this reason, the experience of UNMISS is an interesting case study about the wider implications that PoC mandates have for future of UN peacekeeping as well as civil-military cooperation.

In UNMISS, the implementation of PoC mandate collided with the complex realities of the conflict. These challenged the traditional principles of peacekeeping with its emphasis on consent of the parties, impartiality, and the non-use of force except in self-defense and the defense of the mandate. The mission was caught in the middle of a difficult peace process between two main armed rivals, one of whom was the host government.

While the mission’s mandate may seem clear and strong (under Chapter VII) when issued in New York, the contradictions were self-evident on the ground. UN Security Council Resolution 2155 (2014) tasked UNMISS to protecting civilians, monitor and investigate human rights, create conditions to deliver humanitarian assistance, and support the implementation of a cessation of hostilities agreement. With the government being often the cause of threat, source of abuse, and creator of the humanitarian crisis, the mandate has put it add odds with the host, created tension, and often hostility to the mission.

Each of the four POC site locations I visited have their own composition and dynamic, and are in this aspect similar to refugee camps. They differ from refugee and IDP camps to the extent that they are built on UNMISS premises. The peacekeeping operation is the de-facto “landlord,” making decisions about its premises also affecting the humanitarian activities, and their main goal is the physical protection (and thus closely related to the force component of peacekeeping operation).

The protection dynamics differ from site to site, and have changed across time. I have visited Bentiu, Malakal, Bor as well as UN House in Juba. Most visibly in Malakal, the population within the POC site changed depending on who held the town at the time. Ethnic tensions exist within these sites and may lead to tensions as well as fighting. In Bentiu, Bor, and UN House in Juba, the majority of the people living on the sites are Nuer, but at times internal tensions lead to violence. A small-sized city a gang was formed at the POC site in UN House; in Bentiu families and clans from the same ethnic group sometimes fight each other. It is the job of the small number of UNPOL at each site to police these micro-conflicts, and they often call on help of the Formed Police Units as well as the military when they turn violent.

In South Sudan, the UN’s peace operation does not have a monopoly on this responsibility. It is a task shared by the UN and other actors in the field. POC sites as microcosms for this collaborative effort constitute challenges but also spaces to learn from each other.

The sites each have unique arrangements for civil-military coordination depending on who is running them and posted there. In each location, UN civilian, military, and police lived and worked alongside humanitarian partners. They not only protected the IDPs from the threat of physical violence, but also provided them with food, water, and basic medical care, although without complying with humanitarian sphere standards. But cooperation works more due to personalities rather than systems. It is well known that contingent rotation and staff turnover can impact the effectiveness of protection. There are synergies, but also tensions in the relationships between the UN and NGOs at the sites. Different mentalities, principles and mandates of a spectrum of humanitarian organizations on the one hand and the big peacekeeping operation on the other hand, are not always well understood and lead to (in parts natural and important) tensions.

Organizations outside of the UN family, like Médicins Sans Frontières (MSF) and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), emphasize and reiterate their independence and humanitarian principles as well as trying to maintain distance from all “combatant parties,” including UNMISS. But the difficult security situation – as well as needs within the POC sites - has at times still seen the same NGOs seek help from UN forces to evacuate them, store supplies, or provide them with space for their own facilities on UNMISS premises, within the POC site boundaries, and under the protection by UNMISS battalions.

In Bentiu and Malakal, MSF is part of the wider “humanitarian” hub behind the first line of UNMISS protection. The ICRC also encourages UNMISS to conduct long-range patrols in areas where is not present or the civilian population caught in crossfire between warring parties. This makes understanding the conflict dynamics – as well as a nuanced understanding of civil-military relations between a variety of international and national actors - in South Sudan an important pre-requisite to finding ways of protecting civilians in a concerted effort.

An unprecedented challenge

The phrase “POC site” has now entered the UN peacekeeping lexicon. It was first created in the field in UNMISS as informal term to refer to its facilities, where internally displaced persons (IDPs) sought refuge. The name was later formalized in May 2014 in UNSC Resolution 2155 when it mandated the mission. That civilians seek shelter at UN bases is not a new phenomenon. Civilians have done this before; most well known is in Rwanda in 1994, but also in the UN Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) in 1999. UNMISS itself did have contingency plans for providing physical security to a couple of hundred civilians, but only up to 72 hours.

No one foresaw the scale of the crisis that would peak in mid-2015 with almost 200,000 IDPs living at these sites. This huge presence triggered new discussions about the state – and limitations - of POC within South Sudan, the future of such mandates, as well as need for better and closer cooperation between peacekeepers and humanitarians and the need for policy guidelines and “exit strategy” as well as a balance of living conditions within and outside the sites. In improvising, the UN Security Council was been pushed by events into the humanitarian business without a serious discussion about the long-term implications for this expansion of its role.

While by UN standards UNMISS is a large mission with is 12,523 uniformed personnel and a $1,085,769,200 annual budget, the scale of crisis within South Sudan is outsized and remains volatile. It has been described as human rights as well as a humanitarian disaster. There are no comprehensive or up-to-date figures on the scale of it. A widely cited figure says that at least 50,000 people have been killed, 2.2 million displaced, and as many as 3.9 million pushed to the brink of famine.

It is unclear how long UNMISS must – and is able – to sustain its POC sites to protect what has been estimated to be only 10 per cent of the IDPs in South Sudan. It all combines to create a natural focus on the UN’s effectiveness in protecting of the civilian population and preventing human rights abuses.

Limitations of the peacekeeping POC in South Sudan

Civilians in South Sudan have been in a precarious position for some time. Almost five years ago, Security Council Resolution 1996 included a strong protection of civilians mandate, which reflected that POC was already an important issues in UN peacekeeping. Despite this, the role of POC in relation to other parts of the mission was disputed within the mission, even before civil war onset.

Prior to this 2011 mandate, the challenges of implementing POC were well known. In 2009, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) jointly commissioned the study Protecting Civilians in the Context of UN Peacekeeping Operations. On the first pages of the ‘Bible of POC’, it noted the ‘chain of events to support the protection of civilians – from the earliest planning phases, to Security Council mandates, to the implementation of missions in the field – is broken.’ The bluntness of this critique – and the openness about shortcomings - spurred internal and cross-institutional learning processes beyond ad hoc cooperation when faced with immediate crises.

As with other norms of protection, the host state holds the primary responsibility for the protection of its citizens. The situation changes when the state as armed actor(s) targets its own population or views parts of its citizens as opponents. When the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) became main party to the conflict, the UNMISS mandate had to shift and protection of civilians became its most prominent part. All forms of capacity building, including the training of police, were suspended.

The mission’s mandate now includes four key tasks: POC, human rights monitoring and investigation, creating conditions for delivering humanitarian assistance, and supporting the implementation of the cessation-of-hostilities agreement. The Security Council mandate on “protection of civilians” has often been called the “impossible mandate” – a peacekeeping operation cannot substitute state and society structures that have been eroded through decades of armed conflict, and now often leading to the repeated question: “How much deeper do we have to go to reach rock bottom?” When the life of a cow is more protected than that of a woman or a man, in a place where human life is worth so little, the spectrum of protection actors struggle with where to start, and priority areas are often those that are at least possible to access – logistically and for security reasons.

Increase in Uniformed Personnel on UNMISS (2011- Present)

This line chart shows the increase in the number of uniformed personnel deployed (red line) and UN authorized levels of uniformed personnel (blue line) of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) from its inception (August 2011) to present.

A spectrum of protection actors

Within South Sudan, there is a vast spectrum of international organizations engaged in their own interpretations of protection – reaching from the civil-military actor UNMISS, over a wide array of UN agencies and funds operating under humanitarian principles, to humanitarian organizations outside of the UN system with a pronounced distinct approach like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

UNMISS’ operational concept on POC includes three pillars. First, the protection through political process; second, providing protection from physical violence; and third, establishing a protective environment. Within UNMISS, protection of civilians’ advisory section not operational but delivers support and policy guidance to other sections. The Relief, Reintegration and Protection section (RRP) is the “humanitarian interface” of the mission and coordinates with the different humanitarians within the POC site, and may at times be closest to the role of a POC advisory unit if there is no permanent representative of the POC section itself. From the mission’s perspective, all contact should be directed towards RRP first. However, at times humanitarians may directly communicate with other sections, for example UNPOL in cases of urgent security incidents on a POC site.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is the coordinating body. OCHA coordinates need assessments and humanitarian activities on the ground. It is also the body most prominently consulted for the development of peacekeeping mandates in New York. UNHCR is the coordinator of the protection cluster, which humanitarians as well as UNMISS (mostly represented by RRP) attend. With partners, for example the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) UNHCR delivers trainings on protection, with an emphasis on developing protection oriented mindsets that lead to “protection mainstreaming” and taking into account what impacts small and big actions may have on the safety of the populations. The ICRC’s protection of the civilian population (PCP) approach is built on engaging in “protection” dialogue with the armed actors (here also including UNMISS) to promote the respect of International Humanitarian Law (IHL). Further (and here sometimes collaborating with UNICEF in particular) the ICRC engages in family tracing and reunification.

Civilian protection by UN peacekeeping has been criticized as doctrinally deficient because its implementation remains ambiguous at the operational level. It has been criticized for encompassing too many (albeit important) concepts rather than focusing on a set of precise and clear-cut tasks and achievable goals for which actual on-the-ground capacities exist.

The criticism towards POC in peacekeeping does not only concern its perceived doctrinal “inefficiency,” but also that it includes the use of force as part of protection activities, making it a “combatant entity.” On a tactical level, this is further coupled by troop contributing countries’ diverging abilities’ – as well as willingness – to actively engage in protection. The ability – and mandate – to use force is a unique feature that UN peacekeeping brings to the protection arena, but it has its limits. The mission’s ability to muster and apply armed force is very weak and restrictive tool that works well in very few circumstances. As the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations or HIPPO report noted, the natural ‘difficulties of mandate implementation increase exponentially when there is little or no peace to keep.’

The ICRC and MSF have traditionally placed a strong emphasis on the importance of maintaining humanitarian space as well as the principles of impartiality, neutrality and independence. This distinction and differentiation remains important. “We are stronger overall, by not being visibly or publicly being associated with each other,” one ICRC staff member told me. In the middle between them and peacekeepers stand the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). UN agencies are more obligated to work closer with governments.

Scattered across the spectrum are a variety of NGOs at POC sites engaged in the delivery of humanitarian assistance and protection work such as the prevention of gender based violence. Their knowledge and inclusion in formulation of strategies of these external actors is most crucial in developing protection practices and supporting communities’ own coping mechanisms. The HIPPO report also recommends that peacekeeping missions ‘work more closely with local communities and national and international non-governmental organizations in building a protective environment’ re-emphasizing the third pillar of the Operational Concept on POC.

It is apparent that UN peace operations do not, cannot, and also do not wish to “own” the concept of protection. The 2009 joint study stressed this was a joint responsibility. A UN mission’s strength is that it can bring its multi-dimensional response with civilian, military and police skills and assets to any operational arena where others actors are present, including the host state, UN agencies, and NGOs, but it can be slow to adapt to change.

The slow process of recruiting additional uniformed contingents is well known, and its fault for this lies in the general way peacekeeping operations are deployed. The situation in Unity State has considerably improved since fighting peaked over the course of 2014 up until the second half of 2015. The peacekeeping operation, at that point, was only one battalion strong and UNMISS staff emphasized that “it would have made a difference if (the Ghanaian Battalion) had arrived earlier.” The slow relocation/new request for troops have led to gaps, but these gaps are even more structural also among existing force and UNPOL levels. If well planned and coordinated, it can do this in a near simultaneous way that amplifies the limited personnel and assets it may have in any one location.

With the escalation of violence in late 2013 the UNMISS mandate evolved and humanitarian agencies adapted their strategies. Outside of the UN mission, with its centralized budgeting and complex recruitment procedures, organizations like the ICRC were abler to rapidly refocus their efforts. Before the conflict, it had focused on livelihood assistance, protection and capacity building. For the ICRC, the “protection dialogue” refers to the promotion of knowledge and respect for international law. To do this, it trained and disseminated on IHL to members of the armed forces, armed groups and other weapon bearers. With the outbreak of violence in December 2013, the delegation changed tack and scaled up its emergency response. It began airdropping food and relief items to remote parts of the country as well as providing emergency medical services.

The opening of its gates to people fleeing from killings across the country is described by many as the most noticeable success of UNMISS. By doing so, the mission managed to prevent the experience of the genocide in Rwanda when UN peacekeepers were accused of standing by in the face of genocide. The ad hoc and timely decision of the SRSG as well as her management team in Juba, state coordinators, their staff and force members set a precedent that helped reshape the mission’s mandate. However, the scale and sheer endurance of the POC sites have also caught the mission by surprise and been exemplary for its (and New York’s) helplessness in finding long-term solutions.

POC sites have been criticized as tying down peacekeeping personnel. By the estimate of one UNMISS staff member between two thirds and three quarters of the mission’s soldiers and police are committed to protecting the sites from external threats as well as maintaining the camp’s internal security. This is to the detriment of establishing a presence throughout the country through long-range patrols. Inside the mission, views are conflicted as some worry that the sites neither provide a long-term solution nor constitute effective peacekeeping. Most notable, with a finally subsiding conflict in Southern Unity (where some of the most brutal and widespread cases of sexual violence had been reported) UNMISS opened a Temporary Operating Base (TOB) in Leer, partly responding to advocacy by humanitarian organizations within the UN family.

Attacks on the POC have only heighted these concerns. The most recent assault on the Malakal POC site in February 2016 as well as on Bentiu POC and Bor POC in Jonglei in April 2014 called into question not only the ability of UNMISS to fulfill its protection mandate beyond its own gates, but also within them. The attacks eroded respect for UN peacekeeping and the integrity of the mission’s mandate, and have led to a loss of trust into the mission’s capabilities on part of the IDPs on the site despite the formulation of new contingency plans. Questions have been asked whether the attacks could have been prevented through conflict mediation, better camp management, or other interventions by civilian and police personnel as well as effective protection from external intrusions by UN force.

Each of the POC sites reflects the surrounding conflict dynamics of the people fleeing from the groups or forces targeting them. With this divide, the POC sites have often been blamed by parties to the conflict for being partial towards the other side. But given the sites are filled with the population targeted by those who controls the surrounding territory, such accusation of partiality need to be treated carefully. The population of the Malakal POC has switched between different groups many times, depending on whether the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) or the SPLM/A-in-Opposition (SPLM/A–IO) were in control of the nearby provincial town in Upper Nile state. The town switched hands twelve times and after the almost complete destruction of the city, all three main ethnic groups – Shilluk, Nuer and Dinka – lived inside the POC site. According to several sources, fighting has at many times been averted due to well-managed coordination between humanitarians and peacekeepers under inclusive leadership of a former state coordinator. Under a different leadership and style, the February 2016 events escalated and the Dinka population fled the base.

UNPOL has the primary responsibility for ensuring security and safety on the sites, which also became its primary activity with the stop of capacity building under the new mandate. UNPOL, however is unarmed, and not equipped for more robust crowd control, unless it calls on Formed Police Units (FPUs). If any firearms are involved in fighting on site (some reports show their prevalence on the sites), the military is called directly.

This means that simply ensuring the external (force’s responsibility) and internal security – of POC sites that well have the structure of a small town or in the case of Bentiu, a city - binds the manpower of the UN in unprecedented forms. They limit mobile capacities of the forces and constitute hotspots for own conflict dynamics which may be abused and fostered by conflict parties. Thus, the POC sites may constitute one of the biggest successes of UNMISS but also one of the biggest threats to the role UN peacekeeping wants to play. Solutions Working Groups have been established to discuss the future of the sites. They include UNMISS (RRP as well as POC advisors) as well as humanitarians.

The physical protection of the sites does not only stand and fall with the troop numbers, but also with the diverging quality of the troops sent, trained and equipped by troop contributing countries (TCCs). Frustration about non-action of troops to killings in direct proximity to their watchtowers, allowing access to armed soldiers to the UN House have led to actual calls of naming and shaming certain TCCs.

Preliminary observations

POC is not a one-size-fits-all concept. It is used by a variety of actors as an umbrella for several practices and different ways of deploying civilians and military forces in a conflict area. In South Sudan, the UN’s peace operation does not have a monopoly on this responsibility. It is a task shared by the UN and other actors in the field. While concepts and practices among the organizations on the peacekeeping and humanitarian spectrum diverge, in few or no other conflicts do humanitarians and peacekeepers cooperate as closely as this and on a large scale as they do in South Sudan. Also on a subnational level, POC sites need to be understood each as their own challenging environment rather than as a group. The projection of force as well as delivery of humanitarian assistance outside of the POC sites in Unity in the “Beyond Bentiu” strategy has yielded positive results and lessons learned in terms of referring to local conflict analysis in surveys and in particular women’s groups involvement should be seen as best practices for analysis but should not lead to generalizations on solutions for inherently different settings.

Peace operations need to better communicate within and without about what its POC mandate and capabilities are and are not. Within UNMISS, the POC mandate is differently understood by various contingents and among individuals. Since 2011, much has been done to create a “coherent strategy and operational guidelines.” Dialogues with local populations about the meaning of the mandate have been initiated, but tensions within the peace operation and with humanitarian partners highlight the need for good communication and finding agreement on what action to take. In settings, where communication is open and transparent –particularly depending on the leadership and often times on the individuals constituting the interface between the different organizations – relationships have been better than in settings where decisions and decision making procedures are not explained. The crisis is not over for UNMISS. It has learnt throughout its deployment, but the HIPPO report shows that the protection of civilians is still a contested concept. A common language to describe the responsibilities for protection and how to implement these is still a work in progress.

UNMISS’ limitations as well as learning processes should contribute to future missions. UNMISS has worked hard at improving its implementation of protection practices. In many ways, it has performed admirably on the backdrop dire conditions and its limited strength restricted mobility in a large country with virtually no road network. POC sites limit and prevent mass atrocities. However, humanitarian and protection disasters such as the attack on the POC site in Malakal tragically show protection by international actors gone wrong. POC mandates can distort expectations for security and by absorbing a mission’s resources in static locations it restricts the deployment of its forces. It is a weakness that is exploited by parties to a conflict. It frustrates peacekeepers deployed and challenges the assumptions of those who mandate them. In many ways, the dependency on the host state reflects the peacekeeping set-up globally and should lead to broader engagement with the question which role UN peacekeeping is most suited to play in the broader protection framework.

POC needs to be understood as a collaborative strategy and not a campsite. POC sites were an UNMISS innovation, but a reactive one. Rather than being understood as a defensive “band aid” applied by the military or police component of a UN mission more needs to be done to articulate a positive political strategy for POC. The deployment of POC advisors on site has led to phrasing constructive questions and raising awareness - sometimes contested – reflecting a protection oriented mindset. More needs to be done to find a way forward that involves a partnership with the UN Security Council, the peacekeepers it mandates, the humanitarians with whom they work side-by-side with, and the local communities they all intend to serve. The exertion of political pressure on the main conflict parties - in conjunction with South Sudan’s neighbors – is crucial so that these efforts do not fizzle out in vacuum.

Hannah Dönges is a doctoral researcher at the Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding (CCDP) and a PhD Candidate at the Department of International Relations/Political Science at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. Her dissertation on Protection of Civilians in armed conflict is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation. | Twitter: @HannahDonges