JUBA, May 7, 2012 (IPS) - Civil society groups are calling on the United
Nations peacekeeping mission to withdraw support from a disarmament
programme they say could spark further violence in South Sudan's volatile
Jonglei has long been plagued by ethnic tensions and cattle raids made
exceptionally deadly because of the easy availability of arms left over from
a two-decade civil war that ended in 2005. With an aim to quell violence,
the government on Mar. 12 launched a disarmament campaign - first by asking
civilians to turn over weapons voluntarily, and as of May 1, enforcing the
Now, a coalition of civil society groups has released a report documenting
alleged abuses during the voluntary phase of the campaign, which it says
received logistical support from the U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
The groups warn that violence could escalate now that the government has
moved into the enforcement phase.
Incidents documented in the Apr. 30 report, titled Perpetuating Cycles of
Violence, include: tying young men to trees and beating them, simulated
drowning, and an armed clashbetween the Sudan People's Liberation Army
(SPLA) and members of the ethnic Lou Nuer community who resisted
disarmament. That clash resulted in both civilian and SPLA casualties.
"UNMISS is providing material support for a violent, abusive process that
weakens support for the state and continues the cycle of violence in
Jonglei," said the report, which was released bythe civil society groups
Pact, Community Empowerment for Progress, Standard Action Liaison Focus,
Serving and Learning Together and the South Sudan Law Society.
UNMISS denied giving "direct support" to the campaign, which has been
carried out by the SPLA. The mission's assistance has beenlimited to
transporting officials throughout the state "to sensitise the population
about civilian disarmament process," Josephine Guerrero, a spokeswoman for
the mission, told IPS May 1.
"As UNMISS has not provided any civilian or military contributions to the
process, there is also nothing to 'withdraw'," she added.
But one of the report's authors, who declined to be named due to the
sensitivity of the issue, argued that transporting government officials by
helicopter constitutes support for the campaign. The author added that
UNMISS endorsed the voluntary campaign in a Mar. 12 press release.
Guerrero said UNMISS monitoring teams have reported human rights violations
South Sudan's government spokesman, BarnabaMarial Benjamin, denied that
abuses have taken place. "There is no violence up to now," he told IPS in
Juba on May 1. "There's no resistance anywhere. You may get a few people
hiding guns somewhere, but it is going well."
Medecins Sans Frontiers provided IPS with the number of patients it treated
for injuries related to the disarmament campaign. The organisation said it
has treated 30 people so far, two of whom died due to their injuries. While
most sustained injuries from beatings, at least three had gunshot wounds.
The South Sudanese government launched its disarmament campaign in the wake
of attacks on ethnic Murlecommunities by members of the Lou Nuer ethnic
group. The assault followed a year of clashes between the groups that killed
at least 1,000 peoplefrom both sides, according to the U.N.
In the weeks running up to the attacks,UNMISS air patrols reported that as
many as 8,000 Lou Nuer youth were marching toward Murle communities in Pibor
county, which is about 273 kilometers from Juba. Despite advanced warning,
the government said it was unable to deploy enough troops to stave off the
assault. Government officials blamed logistical problems. Much of Jonglei, a
state roughly the size of England, is inaccessible by road. And many of the
existing roads become impassable when it rains.
The U.N. said the violence affected 160,000 people, many of whom are still
displaced and reliant on food aid. The Pibor county commissioner claimed
about 3,000 people were killed during attacks against the Murle in Pibor
county. Both the government and the U.N. dismissed that figure, but have
failed to provide their own estimate despite repeated requests from
UNMISS investigated the violence,andHilde Johnson, the U.N. secretary
general's special representative for South Sudan, told reporters on Mar. 6
that the UNMISS report would be made public within weeks. But two months
after her statement, and four months after the attacks, UNMISS has yet to
release its findings.
"UNMISS is finalising a comprehensive report on the violence in Jonglei,
which will be shared with the government once it is completed," said
Guerrero, the mission's spokeswoman. "It will of course be available to the
The Perpetuating Cycles of Violence report notes that disarmament programmes
have been carried out in Jonglei at least five times in the past six years
Not only have such campaigns failed to rid the state of weapons, but they
have been marked by beatings, torture and the killing of civilians,
according to previous reports. During a 2006 campaign that collected 3,000
weapons, for example, the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey calculated one
death for every two weapons seized.
The authors of Perpetuating Cycles of Violence argue that the proper
conditions must be in place before civilians will feel secure enough to hand
over their weapons voluntarily. These include strengthening the policing and
justice systems, addressing political grievances, promoting peace and
reconciliation between ethnic groups, and providing basic services such as
education and health care.
Until those conditions are met, both the government and UNMISS should halt
the current campaign, which is likely to result in increased violence as it
moves into its enforcement phase, the report said. "Far from being an answer
to insecurity in Jonglei, disarmament is a part of the cycle of violence
that has plagued the state."
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Received on Mon May 07 2012 - 18:41:04 EDT