Mediation process to end spiraling violence in Jonglei gets underway at peace conference hosted by UNMISS
Thousands of families have had their lives devastated by a vicious cycle of fighting and revenge attacks that have plagued the Jonglei region of South Sudan for the past six months.
More than 600 people have been killed during the violence between Dinka, Nuer and Murle groups. Women and children have been abducted, villages and homes torched, and thousands of cattle stolen.
At least 160,000 people are estimated to be displaced because of a combination of the conflict and widespread flooding which has devastated homes and crops.
The United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan describes the situation as a “quadruple threat” consisting of conflict, hunger, flooding, and now COVID-19.
“How are we able to work in an environment like that where this quadruple threat is increasing the level of vulnerability, making people so much poorer, and almost impossible for them to have the chance to get out of poverty and move towards a life where they can actually enjoy the fruits of the peace that is happening in the country,” says Alain Noudehou, who is also the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General. “That is not possible if we don’t deal with the underlying factors that we are facing.”
In an effort to end the conflict, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan brought together political leaders at the national and state level as well as community elders, civil society and other key stakeholders for mediation and peace talks at a forum in Juba.
Opening the event, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, David Shearer said that every community in the region had suffered from the violence.
“Whether Dinka, Nuer, or Murle, you have all been attacked. All of you have been aggrieved. All of you have had people taken. Everybody has had their cattle stolen and people killed. All three communities,” said David Shearer. “But that means all three communities are also in some ways guilty of doing that to the others as well. This is literally a race to the bottom, and we don’t want to see the people of Jonglei getting poorer and poorer and needing more and more outside humanitarian help.”
Humanitarian agencies are working hard to try and help people who are living in the open without shelter – or without health care, adequate food, sanitation – in the middle of the rainy season. But for recovery and rebuilding to take place, the cycle of violence must stop.
“Many humanitarian warehouses where we stock supplies have been looted. At least six humanitarian actors, many of whom are South Sudanese, also lost their lives. We have more than 144 humanitarian actors who have been relocated away from Jonglei to other places because of instability,” said Alain Noudehou.
The Governor of Jonglei said the region desperately need the support of donors, humanitarians and the United Nations if it is to find a way through the conflict and to build peace and security.
“We feel that, if we get the logistical support, the financial support, political support, if we get all this support, we should be able to solve this problem,” said Governor Denay Chagor. “But if we don’t, the catastrophe of it will be so great that it would mean the entire country of South Sudan would go back into a war. We don’t want that to happen.”
The SRSG pointed to a number of ways that UNMISS can support the mediation effort. These include political and logistical support for Governors to conduct peace talks across the State, providing peacekeepers to monitor buffer zones between the groups, increasing the capacity of local police and helping develop infrastructure to address underlying causes of the violence, such as building new roads, schools, and water points.
However, he said there has to be a genuine willingness among all parties to work constructively together to end the fighting first.
“It’s important that people come together and have this agreement because we know that, in the fighting over the past few months, it wasn’t just happening on the ground in isolation to what was happening here in Juba,” said David Shearer. “There were others who were supplying weapons and things that were fueling the conflict so we need now to have an agreement here that can be taken out around Jonglei and we can talk about peace and how we move forward.”
Without peace, recovery and development is simply impossible.
“Political stability, peace and security are essential to our ability to deliver humanitarian assistance and necessary to implement development programmes,” said Alain Noudehou. “More importantly, it is essential for families and communities to build a new life, a new life project on their own, and to move towards development aspirations for their own family.”
Those leading the affected communities through the mediation process say the special forum is an important start to the reconciliation effort and are confident that a path towards peace can be found.
“From what I’m seeing here, so far, so good. People have suffered a lot, they have seen a lot and learned a lot,” said Governor Denay Chagor. “I’m seeing something happening. I’m seeing enthusiasm from so many people who want to come here and change something. So, we are very happy about that. We cannot anticipate what tomorrow will bring. But we can, at least, put in an effort in terms of what we do tomorrow.”