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The search for common ground: civil–military coordination and the protection of civilians in South Sudan

Research reports

Written by Wendy Fenton

Research reports

​Has civil-military coordination helped protect civilians in South Sudan? This report looks at the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), and its predecessor, the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), both of which had mandates with highly ambitious protection of civilians (PoC) objectives.

Key findings:

  • Neither UNMISS or UNMIS has had a clear and mission-wide understanding of what was expected in terms of PoC, and the military component (particularly in UNMIS) has lacked the skills, capacity and willingness to protect civilians in any substantive way.
  • There was tension within mission mandates between protecting civilians and supporting the implementation of the peace agreement (CPA), in the case of UNMIS, and providing capacity building support to the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) in the case of UNMISS. There appears to be no guidance on how UNMISS should respond when the security forces of South Sudan represent a threat to the population, and there is a widespread perception that UNMISS is unable or unwilling to challenge the GoSS and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) on issues such as rule of law and human rights.
  • Coordination between humanitarian and military/security actors in South Sudan in support of PoC faces a number of challenges, including changes in personnel and willingness of the missions’ leadership to collaborate, respect humanitarian space and engage in constructive dialogue. On the part of humanitarians, most interviewed saw UNMISS as largely irrelevant to their work, and had little if any regular engagement with the mission.
  • The existence of coordination structures and mechanisms in itself is not sufficient for effective civil–military coordination. Strong leadership among civilian and military components of a mission as well as within the humanitarian community is crucial.
Wendy Fenton and Sean Loughna