UNMISS leads high-level international delegation on Jonglei peace mission
Communities across Jonglei are in the midst of a perfect storm.
Intercommunal fighting has cost hundreds of lives and forced tens of thousands to flee their homes. Flooding has devastated homes, crops and livestock and there is a severe food shortage.
In a bid to encourage local authorities to step up protection of civilians and support peacebuilding, a high-level delegation from the United Nations, African Union, Intergovernmental Authority on Development and Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission made a flying visit to Pibor.
The aim was to hear directly from communities about their needs and to better understand how the international community can help.
Those directly affected by the violence welcomed the delegation’s visit as a sign that their plight is recognized and that action will be taken.
“Your coming is a blessing for us,” said a women’s representative from Pibor. “During the conflict, we were running to the bushes in fear for our lives. But now we have come back because your presence here provides protection for us and you can understand our suffering.”
The delegation expressed its deep concern over the violence between community-based militias that has escalated in the region. The fighting this year is similar to that witnessed in early 2020 when thousands of fighters from Dinka, Nuer and Murle militias carried out coordinated attacks on villages, killing and wounding hundreds of civilians.
While the fragile situation is gradually improving, the delegation called on community leaders to take strong steps to silence the guns, address the root causes of the conflict, and fulfill their responsibility to protect civilians.
“Nobody seems to have an idea how to break this cycle so that we can have peace,” said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of UNMISS, Nicholas Haysom.
“Without peace, it’s very hard to have development. We can continue to supply humanitarian food aid and emergency support. But we don’t want this community to have to rely on that for the future,” he said. “We want people to be producing their own food, to have jobs and livelihoods, for children to be at school and for hospitals to be functioning. To get there, we have to find a way of making peace.”
The delegation said it would do everything possible to support the Government and people of South Sudan. But protection of civilians and support for displaced families, is first and foremost the responsibility of the Government and its security officials.
“Dialogue is the most viable instrument to realize peace and security in this area. We will continue to work together to assist this process, but political and community leaders need to be ready to cooperate. The solution lies with them and communities across this region,” said Professor Joram Biswaro, Head of the AU mission in South Sudan.
The visit follows a series of attacks on humanitarian workers and facilities in Jonglei and other parts of the country. In Gumuruk, food warehouses were recently looted and destroyed with the loss of 550 metric tons of food, enough to feed 33,000 people for a month.
The violence has contributed to the suspension of humanitarian operations in some areas where food was being distributed and the delegation said any further attacks would be catastrophic for communities already experiencing the highest level of food insecurity in the country.
UNMISS has been working to protect humanitarian food supplies where needed. It has established temporary bases and intensified patrols in the affected areas and is continuing to work with political and traditional leaders to promote reconciliation and support efforts to secure the release of abducted women and children.
State authorities are deeply concerned about the impact of the clashes but say they can’t tackle the problem alone.
“The fighting is causing suffering. Criminals are attacking people and abducting them on the roadside,” said Acting Jonglei Governor, Simon Pascal. “We will not give up though. We are seeking support from our friends, our government, to build capacity in Bor because we need peace. It’s an issue of how we can remind the people of South Sudan about the dividends of peace.”
Peace is certainly something these communities crave so that they can rebuild their lives and enjoy a more prosperous future.