JUBA, South Sudan – The government of the Republic of South Sudan should delay a disarmament campaign in Jonglei state until relations between the state’s three major communities begin to stabilize and security can be ensured, said the Enough Project. Instead, to create the necessary conditions for a future disarmament campaign, the government should immediately initiate a high-level peace process and ensure that humanitarian assistance and security reach vulnerable communities. Conducting a disarmament campaign in the volatility of the current environment will create more insecurity, lead to a further loss of credibility of the government among the affected communities, and may result in catastrophic consequences for civilians.
“The conditions are not in place for a disarmament campaign to be effective,” said Amanda Hsiao, Enough Project South Sudan field researcher. “Without the capacity to simultaneously disarm rival communities, to ensure the security of disarmed communities, and to stop the flow of arms back into the hands of civilians, forcible disarmament at this moment will undermine, rather than facilitate, the government’s efforts toward peace-building in Jonglei.”
Enough’s statement comes ahead of a planned government disarmament campaign meant to bring security to Jonglei. In December, the state saw an upsurge in inter-communal violence when Lou-Nuer youth launched an attack against the Murle community. The U.N. now estimates that this attack, and subsequent reprisals, has affected approximately 140,000 people, most all of whom are now in need of humanitarian assistance.
The present security situation in the state is extremely precarious, as small-scale reprisal attacks continue and the threat of still larger rounds of violence remains. Given this volatility, the government of South Sudan’s plans to forcibly disarm communities, coupled with the government’s inability to restore order to date, will likely result in a renewed outbreak of violence and expose civilian populations to potential abuses perpetrated by government security forces. The subsequent insecurity will affect the ability of international NGOs to access civilian populations in need.
“What the people of Jonglei require right now is humanitarian assistance, security, and the establishment of a mechanism through which they may peacefully resolve their grievances with other communities,” said Jennifer Christian, Enough Project Sudan policy analyst. “A disarmament campaign initiated in the short term will only serve to frustrate the ability of international humanitarian organizations to get aid to where it is needed and further destabilize the state, which will, in turn, inhibit any progress towards reconciliation. What the government must do now is prioritize civilian protection and the initiation of a reconciliation process well above disarmament.”
At this critical moment, Enough calls on the government to focus its time, authority, and resources on the immediate initiation of a two-track peace process. The government should ensure and coordinate national, state, and local political support for the church-led grassroots reconciliation process on the ground, designed to engage youth, women, traditional leaders, and elected officials from the affected communities.
In parallel, the government should pursue a high-level peace track that begins to address grievances among the communities, investigates the causes of prior rounds of violence, ensure a sustained security presence in vulnerable areas, and strategizes with the international donor community on a long-term development plan for Jonglei. This process, as well, should contemplate a discussion of a future disarmament campaign designed with inputs from the affected communities, their leaders, and forces providing security in the area, among other relevant actors. Only after peace has begun to take root in Jonglei and sustainable security measures have been established should the government move forward with plans to disarm local communities.