By Manyang Rwei Gach, Juba, South Sudan
Friday, July 03, 2020 (PW) — Currently, one of the challenges confronting state sovereignty and international community is the plight of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in which million victims of internal violent conflicts, egregious human rights abuses, or development projects-induced internal displacement resulted.
Undoubtedly, the ‘internal displacement’ has been an emerging humanitarian and human rights problem globally. A cause of internal displacement would either be human-made or natural.The latter cause of displacement is the focus of the researcher.
At the onset of South Sudan conflict in December 2013, UN intervened to establish the protection of civilians(PoC) sites of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). The purpose therefor was purely humanitarian grounded on the protection of the civilians. The Regional Protection Force (RPF) for South Sudan followed thereafter. The political-ethnic dimension of the conflict warranted such action since the country then deeply divided on ethnic lines resulting to wanton killings and massive external as well as internaldisplacement of the population.
Indeed, the conflict was a dark moment in the history of South Sudan. It took a heavy toll on and left permanent scars in many South Sudanese conflict shattered-communities. Tens of thousands South Sudanese still languish as IDPs in PoCs, many still taking sanctuary in churches or bushes, and million others fled to neighboring countries as refugees. Oftentimes IDPs are caught up in internal conflict marred by lack of accepted ground rules of battle.
A statement of Foreign Policy, New York, September 1994 confirms that, “today’s belligerents are more and more willing to use humanitarian access, live-saving assistance and even civilians themselves as weapons in their political-military struggles.” Thus, South Sudanese IDPs have no exception and are trapped in responsibility protection vacuum, continuing to suffer gross human rightsviolations in the hands of belligerent parties.
The IDPsbecome more vulnerable whenever their own government that has the primary responsibility to protect (R2P) is either unable or unwilling to provide protection.Consequently, the IDPs are uprooted from their base of protection and self-reliant livelihoods, subjected to round-up, forcible disappearance or conscription, sexual assaults or rape, arbitrary detention or arrests, pillage, killings, among others.
With Covid-19, the highest rate of mortality is self-evident in IDP camps or situation-like, since IDPs are equally deprived of basic services food, shelter, clothing, health and education.
However, efforts to provide protection and basic services to IDPs by international community, humanitarian partners or organizations are thwarted or impeded by the belligerent parties. Moreover, the principle of ‘sovereignty as responsibility to protect’ has also limited the ability of the international community to provide immediate, adequate and effective protection to IDPs.
Any international humanitarian intervention is often viewed with negative lenses by the government of the day as a “regime change.” Nonetheless, given the extent of IDPs or humans suffering, the international community ought to intervene forthwith on humanitarian reasons to fill the gap left by national authorities.
The humanitarian intervention should not be viewed negatively rather be seen also as an international responsibility to protect (IR2P) buttressed by ‘non-indifference principle’ stipulated in the Constitutive Act of AU 2000, Article 4 (h), and the Charter of the UN, 1945, Chapter IV. The said factors among others created huge legal conflict of responsibility protection-vacuum between sovereign state and international community.
The 1998 United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement is merely a guide and non-binding international legal instrument. Africa is the only continent that has adopted a binding international legal instrument known as the African Union Convention for Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons, 2009. However, the AU IDPs Convention is also marred by legal lacuna, absence of political resolve, financial constraints rendering its enforcement and implementation ineffective.
The regional bodies such as Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), African Union (AU), and East African Community (EAC) are somehow slow to act, or hesitant to fill the vacuum of irresponsive sovereignty. The present of UNMISS and RPF is unlikely to address urgently the plight of IDPs in South Sudan.
Needless to say, the conflict in South Sudan mostly requires homegrown solution. However, consistent and robust support from international community to achieve durable peace is equally critical.
That said, UNMISS and RPF have been providing commendable protection and assistance to IDPs though insufficient. On several occasions, the international protection has been overshadowed or tainted with human rights violations by some UN personnel. According to 2018 GRSS report, UNMISS-Ghanaian Formed Police Unit (FPU) stationed inside a UN PoC site in the northwestern town of Wau were accused of committing gruesome sexual exploitation of IDPs.
Indeed, the UN personnel accused were never held accountable, instead were recalled from the mission and left South Sudan. Sadly, the said UN personnel were willfully let off justice-hook, thus, the death of justice for the victims.
In conclusion, the crisis of IDPs in South Sudan is a failure of South Sudanese leaders to resolve amicably their internal political differences. Yes, South Sudan conflict needs homegrown solution. However, the political-ethnic overtones and deep-rooted mistrust among warring parties and conflict shattered-communities is worrisome. The belligerent parties often trade accusations and continue to commit atrocities with impunity at best.
The infamous war continues unabated in parts of the country. A likely political motivated wave of inter-communal violent conflict within POCs and among communities is equally alarming. To restore socio-political stability and rebuild tattered economy is a great challenge. The Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) offers a glimpse of hope although no strong political will to implement it genuinely.
In fact, the Agreement is at crossroads. Establishment of hybrid court for South Sudan or any appropriate justice mechanism is non-existent. The United Nations we see as fountain of justice and protector of the weak is no longer the case – for its personnel are unleashing immunity unjustly – thus becoming predators of IDPs with impunity. The tragedy of IDPs remains huge and unresolved as they are abused, persecuted and marginalized.
The responsibility to protect the IDPs is a conundrum. Indeed, the IDPs do not know when the conflict will end, return home, and be sure of safety and dignity again. Therefore, with uncertain future, many of the IDPs in South Sudan have no any other option but to continue languishing in the paradoxical sanctuaries so-called the PoCs.
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