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On July 9, 2011, South Sudan gained independence from Sudan and became the world’s youngest country. After more than two decades of civil war, it was hoped that this separation would finally lead to peace for the people of the South. Unfortunately, independence has not brought stability to the entire country, as ongoing border clashes and internal violence continue to cause displacement. At the end of 2012, there were an estimated 203,000 refugees in South Sudan, and 111,000 internally displaced persons. In addition, more than two million returnees from Sudan are now scattered throughout South Sudan, many of them struggling to support themselves and gain access to citizenship and rights.
Current Humanitarian Situation in South Sudan
South Sudan continues to experience a multitude of humanitarian challenges in many areas of the country. Along the northern border, refugees who fled Sudan’s Blue Nile and South Kordofan states continue to live in very difficult conditions. Flooding and hepatitis E have been recurrent problems during the rainy season, and the threat of attack from the Sudan Armed Forces remains a constant fear for refugees in certain border areas. Camp relocations are underway, but progress has been very slow in a number of locations.
In 2013, Jonglei State in the east of South Sudan erupted in a new outbreak of violence. Unlike the inter-ethnic violence that has historically taken place in the state, this recent conflict has been largely between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and non-state armed actors. The SPLA has been accused of widespread human rights abuses in Jonglei, and of deliberately targeting and destroying NGO compounds. While South Sudan’s president has acknowledged the abuses, little action has been taken to hold soldiers accountable. The government has also blocked humanitarians and peacekeepers from accessing many of the affected areas. The UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has been criticized for failing to uphold its mandate to protect civilians, and it was warned by the UN Security Council in July 2013 to take "necessary actions to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence, irrespective of the source of such violence."
When violent conflict breaks out, the United States and other United Nations member states often call for the deployment of UN peacekeeping forces to create stability and protect people from harm. The UN Security Council has explicitly instructed peacekeepers to protect civilians under “imminent threat of violence” in most UN peacekeeping mandates since 1999. But there is no clarity as to what “protection” means in practice. Which circumstances require action and what level of force should be used? This has resulted in a lack of proper training, guidance and resources for peacekeepers to accomplish protection activities.