Peace in South Sudan: Don’t repeat the same mistakes

Germany should advocate in the UN Security Council for a course correction on the international approach to peace in South Sudan. If high-level mediation, addressing impunity, and grassroots reconciliation are not prioritized, international pressure to form a transitional government by November 12, 2019, is likely to lead to renewed violence.

UN Security Council delegation visiting South Sudan, October 2019. Photo: Isaac Billy, UNMISS.

This text was published as DGAP Standpunkt on 29 October 2019.

In Juba, South Sudan’s capital, it seems to be Groundhog Day, with the same events reoccurring in a never-ending loop. The current run-up to a November 12 deadline to form a transitional government closely resembles the predicament of just half a year ago, when the parties had extended the initial deadline from May.

Under intense regional and international pressure after the collapse of the original peace agreement of August 2015, the government and opposition parties signed the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) in September 2018. It included a ceasefire, which largely still holds across the country, at least among signatories. R-ARCSS also foresaw the creation of a transitional government of national unity, with positions for the various negotiating parties, including five vice-presidential posts.

A delegation of the UN Security Council, led by the United States and South Africa, visited Juba on October 20, 2019. Its mission: impress upon all signatories to the R-ARCSS the need to abide by their commitments, including forming the transitional government by the agreed deadline. The United States has already hinted at additional sanctions if the parties fail. Yet with no adequate security arrangements and political agreements in place, such international pressure risks repeating the same mistakes made at key junctures since the start of South Sudan’s civil war in December 2013.

The issues hindering the peace process and the formation of the transitional government of national unity are well-known. In a statement from early October 2019, the UN Security Council listed them itself: not only is there no agreement between the parties on the internal borders of South Sudan’s federal states and the cantonment and training of government and opposition security forces, but the government is also dragging its feet in releasing funds to support these processes.

Unsatisfied with the lack of progress, the most prominent opposition group – the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) led by Riek Machar – announced in early October that it would not participate in the transition government. Machar maintained his objection during the Security Council’s mid-October visit. Similarly, the South Sudan Opposition Alliance, another signatory of the peace agreement, said that its participation hinged on the resolution of the outstanding issues. President Salva Kiir has maintained that he will form the transitional government even if some opposition groups choose not to participate. Meanwhile, there are already allegations that Kiir is training new forces.

Déjà Vu of the Original Peace Agreement

The current peace deal risks sharing the fate of the original peace agreement of August 2015, which quickly collapsed three years ago amid the escalation of fighting, spread of violence, and fragmentation of the parties involved. Then, international pressure brought Kiir, Machar, and a smaller opposition group together to sign this agreement, which included a ceasefire, a power-sharing arrangement, and a commitment to establish a hybrid court under the aegis of the African Union. As became clear in the following months, the parties never intended to follow through with many of these commitments. Worse, the regional and international guarantors of the agreement let them get away with it.

Barely two months after he signed the peace agreement, President Kiir announced the reorganization of South Sudan’s federal states, increasing their number from 10 to 28. As the power-sharing arrangements were tied to the original number, his move was a clear violation of the peace agreement. Furthermore, the government failed to withdraw the bulk of its security forces from Juba to cantonment sites on its periphery. Machar and Kiir agreed on security arrangements that brought hundreds of opposition forces to Juba to guarantee the safety of Machar and his team, further militarizing the capital.

Under international pressure and in a weak military position, Machar went to Juba in April 2016 to form a unity government. The arrangement proved to be deeply dysfunctional. When Machar’s and Kiir’s forces clashed at an illegal checkpoint in the city in July of that year, heavy fighting broke out, during which hundreds of civilians and fighters were killed. Machar fled Juba accompanied by a contingent of his rebels, with government security forces in close pursuit. The government later revealed that it had paid Paul Malong, then chief of military staff, five million US dollars directly from the central bank to pursue and kill Machar, then the country’s first vice president.

International and regional reactions to these events were underwhelming. Beyond verbal criticism, there were neither repercussions for Kiir’s reorganization of state borders, nor for the July 2016 crisis. In addition, international and regional partners implicitly accepted that Taban Deng Gai, who had represented the opposition during the peace negotiations, had replaced Machar as first vice president while Machar was on the run.

Waking Up from Groundhog Day

Around 380,000 people are estimated to have died because of South Sudan’s civil war. The South Sudanese need a different international engagement. Germany supported the negotiations that led to the revitalized peace agreement last year with expertise and additional staff for the African Union (AU) and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the regional organization in the Horn of Africa. As a donor and a current non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, Germany – along with its European partners – now has the chance to steer international policymaking on South Sudan in new, more effective directions.

First of all, in partnership with the AU and IGAD, the Security Council needs to push for continuous mediation between the parties. Security arrangements and the internal political order were already at the heart of the failure of the previous transitional government. Therefore, it is baffling that IGAD has not yet managed to appoint a permanent head of the peace agreement’s monitoring body. South Sudan should not just be seen as an issue to shape US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft’s public profile; rather, it deserves sustained political attention from the region, as well as from international decision-makers, including in Europe. There is no shortcut around negotiations between the parties. High-level mediators not only need to bring all the main players to the negotiating table until there is a consensus, but they also need to quickly follow-up with sanctions in the event of serious violations.

Secondly, donor countries like Germany need to spell out their conditions for support of the peace process more explicitly. Right now, the South Sudanese parties shape the narrative by calling for international donors to release further funds for the implementation of the peace agreement, in particular the retraining of government and opposition forces. Instead, donors should insist on the South Sudanese government’s pledge to release 100 million US dollars for this process. While the government currently spends millions on a presidential jet and foreign medical treatment for MPs, it is neither paying security services nor providing sufficient food and water at cantonment sites. Any support of the peace process by external donors should be bound to financial audits and transparency of South Sudan’s oil sector.

Thirdly, peacemaking in South Sudan needs to move away from a purely transactional model of power-sharing, in which government positions are meted out to the parties according to their negotiating strength. As Lotje de Vries and Mareike Schomerus argued in 2017, a peace deal alone will not end the war in South Sudan. Europe needs to follow the US example by going after the cash flows funding the violence more aggressively than in the past. Thanks to investigations by the Sentry, a US civil society organization; the panel of experts appointed by the UN Security Council; and the UN Human Rights Commission on South Sudan, detailed evidence already exists of the patronage networks benefiting from the civil war. The EU should freeze the assets of more corrupt members of the South Sudanese elite. Addressing impunity by getting the proposed hybrid court on South Sudan up and running under the aegis of the African Union also deserves a higher priority.

International pressure on the parties needs to focus on resolving the outstanding issues, not on forming a bloated transitional government with minimal trust. Machar can be forgiven for not trusting the UN’s assurance of his and his team’s safety if they return to Juba. In July 2016, UN troops were bogged down amid the urban fighting in the city and did not even intervene to halt an assault on humanitarian and UN workers at a nearby compound, let alone protect civilians in the vicinity of its camps. While the UN Mission has been bumped up to include additional forces with a robust mandate and improved procedures, it is unclear whether these forces would be able to engage with the thousands of government troops stationed in Juba if the 2016 scenario were to repeat itself.

For the moment, sustaining the ceasefire needs to have priority. It has enabled the conclusion of more than 130 local reconciliation efforts in South Sudan’s myriad inter- and intra-communal conflicts. The UN Mission in South Sudan, as well as the South Sudanese Council of Churches, has supported many of these efforts. Both deserve the Security Council’s full political support. Over time, local peace agreements can help build national peace and development from the ground up – until, one day, South Sudan can break the loop of renewed violence for good.

Preventive Diplomacy: Invest in the Skills of Frontline Diplomats

In conflict-prone countries, diplomats must employ a special skill-set that allows them to escape from biased conventional wisdoms and balance the personal and the professional in negotiations. Ministries and international organizations should foster mechanisms such as structured spaces for reflection and frequent exchange with fellow diplomats from relevant missions in the region.

This post summarizing some key insights from my PhD thesis was first published on the PeaceLab Blog on 4 July 2019.

European diplomats visiting Abyei, May 2019. Source: https://twitter.com/SWalshEU/media.

Conflict prevention is an important objective for international organizations as well as in many countries’ foreign policies. However, engaging in state-society conflicts presents a fundamental challenge for diplomats and United Nations (UN) officials posted in “at risk” countries – those on the precipice of violence. State-society conflicts are defined as those relating to the distribution of power between and within societal groups as well as their respective access to state resources; in other words, nothing could be more political. Diplomats, however, are supposed to refrain – by law and convention – from meddling in another country’s domestic affairs. At the same time, for a reform process to be credible and sustainable, it ultimately needs to be driven by local actors – not outsiders. In short: diplomats are caught in a conundrum of seemingly contradictory conventions and political objectives.

So, how do frontline diplomatic actors handle this fundamental challenge on a practical level? This question was central to my PhD research, in which I found that such situations require careful balancing acts. Engaging in state-society conflicts is always marred by trade-offs, e.g. between inclusion and exclusion or legitimacy and effectiveness. There is hardly ever a perfect combination of international objectives. It often falls to frontline diplomats posted in countries experiencing such conflicts to balance the trade-offs presented by those objectives. Trying to influence state-society relations also involves balancing the level of coerciveness and the level of intrusion in diplomatic interventions. Fostering this duality in a competent manner requires closer attention to the ways in which frontline diplomats make sense of conflicts, interact with national stakeholders, and coordinate with their diplomatic peers.

This analysis is based on an empirical analysis of diplomacy in South Sudan since independence as well as in post-war Sri Lanka, where I interrogated the views and everyday practices of frontline diplomats. In total, I conducted 165 semi-structured interviews with diplomats, UN officials, civil society representatives, policymakers, and experts.

Prevention needs to balance actors and structures

As the American academic Barnett Rubin poignantly observed in 2002, “all prevention is political”: Constraining the repertoire of elite actions is inherently disruptive. Preventive action rests on a forward-looking, proactive and conflict-sensitive attitude, requiring courage and close interaction with people in the target society. International influence, though, is heavily circumscribed, and may be subject to geopolitical interests, regional rivalries, economic priorities, and divergent political preferences of local elites. Prevention is also disruptive within bureaucratic organizations, as it often entails questioning established relationships and accepted analyses in addition to imagining scenarios and new ways of engaging. In short: Prevention is not a separate activity, but rather a normative objective that affects diplomatic interactions across conflict stages.

Politics in countries at risk of armed conflict is often highly personal and informal. A thorough understanding of the nature of elite bargains by national stakeholders must incorporate both psychological factors and an analysis of a conflict’s political economy. Leaders in state-society conflicts may be geared more towards immediate political survival than reputational concerns, which has consequences for preventive diplomacy. Standard diplomatic appeals to leaders’ legacy or long-term interests may thus be ineffective. Diplomats need to balance the respective roles of structures and actors operating within them. In my research, I discuss how they do so across three levels of the diplomatic process at the country level: Knowledge production, political engagement, and international coordination.

Frontline diplomats are exposed to cognitive short cuts

When analyzing the politics of their host countries, frontline diplomats are exposed to cognitive shortcuts. Knowledge production involves balancing countervailing interpretations. Organizational rules and professional conventions dispose frontline diplomats towards a bias favoring the legitimacy held by formal state institutions. Even beyond the state, external actors easily assume a strong link between national stakeholders and local sources of power, and patron-client relations are often difficult to identify for outsiders. Diplomats need to reconcile structural forces such as ethnicity, religion, economic inequality, and ideology with the agency of their local interlocutors: Is their behavior an aberration or an expression of the governing political economy? Diplomats with long-term expertise are often more adept at recognizing such structural forces – but may also fail to update their beliefs and perceptions with changing elite incentives. This was the case following the independence of South Sudan in 2011, when many long-term observers struggled to recognize how the creation of the state had exacerbated internal tensions in the ruling elite. Such changes can be difficult to identify in bureaucratic systems that talk to each other mainly in writing, and that value conformity over questioning an internal consensus.

Diplomatic engagement with national stakeholders is often most effective when it is based on dialogue and clear principles. Mediating the intra-party dispute in South Sudan before the start of the war, a seasoned diplomat insisted, was essential – but it was absolutely integral to ensure transparency and avoid even the impression of favoring one contestant over the other. When domestic leaders find themselves in a hole, external actors need to hand them a ladder to climb out rather than a shovel to dig deeper. If nationalist leaders insulate themselves, working through interlocutors can help to create space for constructive dialogue. At the same time, the risk of constructive engagement is abuse and impunity that normalizes extra-legal methods in political competition. Following the protocol of state-to-state relations is thereby no longer neutral, but may end up legitimizing the concentration of power in a central government. Informal politics often require personal engagement, using institutional networks and individual experience to gain access to key people and facts. When diplomats engage on a personal level, they may increase their risk of being dragged into domestic political fights.

Diplomatic coordination can provide the political cover for preventive diplomacy and reduce the exposure of informal engagement. This often poses a dilemma for principled engagement: Those international actors with the most influence may not be those with the most transformative approach. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)-led mediation in South Sudan was a prime example of this phenomenon, with its member states deeply divided and opposed to freezing the assets of certain South Sudanese elites. At the same time, international pressure is more effective when there exists a broad consensus. Shifting geopolitical power structures mean that alternative sources of legitimacy are readily available, as China’s role in Sri Lanka and its close support for former President Mahinda Rajapaksa demonstrates. International organizations such as a UN Country Team may convene a range of diplomats, and maintain a long-term knowledge base of international engagement – if diplomats regularly share and reflect upon their experiences.

Promoting skills to balance trade-offs and creating spaces for reflection

As my research project demonstrates, the individuals engaged in preventive diplomacy matter. Governments and the UN, which have both committed themselves to conflict prevention, should promote mechanisms, policies, and skill-sets that foster diplomats’ ability to make judgements about balancing trade-offs, weighing countervailing interpretations, savvy engagement, and efficient coordination.

Bureaucratic organizations should establish mechanisms to regularly reflect on the disruptive nature of threats and preventive possibilities. Escaping conventional wisdom requires structured spaces for reflection within missions and across government and international organizations. Too often, missions and regional desks are too thinly stretched to be able to conduct structured conflict analyses regularly. External expertise, regular facilitation, and dedicated support mechanisms from capital/HQ can help overcome the limited capacity of missions in at-risk countries.

In situations with strong regional dimensions such as South Sudan, diplomats from all relevant missions in the region should hold frequent videoconferences and meet for internal workshops. Bureaucracies would do well to revamp human resources practices to ensure that diplomats with appropriate experience and skills are deployed where they are needed. At least for heads of missions, experience in a similar context and some basic country training should be compulsory. Top policymakers must give more weight to principled engagement in at-risk countries and foster an organizational culture that encourages individual responsibility, accepts risks, and allows dissent.

Frontline diplomats, in turn, can benefit from maintaining a detailed overview of national stakeholders, including possible agents of change and spoilers. They need to be prepared to combine personal and professional interactions, based on consistency, integrity, and transparency. For them, what matters is a clear-eyed awareness of risks and benefits, and the readiness to seize opportunities where they arise.

South Sudan’s Peace Process Needs New Thinking

This piece originally appeared on the Global Observatory that is run by the International Peace Institute.

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Today marks the end of the fourth year of civil war in the youngest state on earth, South Sudan. Over the years, attempts to build a lasting peace agreement have faltered. The Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (ARCSS)—facilitated by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)—was signed by President Salva Kiir Mayardit and former Vice President Riek Machar Teny in August 2015, but by July 2016 the deal broke apart after several days of heavy fighting between Kiir’s and Machar’s troops in Juba. Current attempts to revitalize the ARCSS, although welcome, face an array of obstacles. To overcome these and to avoid repeating the same mistakes that led to the demise of the ARCSS, new thinking and approaches are needed.

Obstacles to a Lasting Peace Agreement

The model of peacemaking thus far has been characterized as “big tent”: after several rounds of fighting lead to a stalemate, the government provides rebel leaders with an opportunity to control and disperse resources, and to integrate their militia into the national army. This policy formed the basis of the ARCSS. In June 2017, the IGAD council of ministers called for a “high-level revitalization forum” of the ARCSS. The initiative has support within the government and from all major opposition groups who have expressed their readiness to participate in the negotiations. However, IGAD diplomats face a delicate balancing act. Some provisions of the peace agreement, including the security arrangements, are clearly obsolete and need to be reviewed. At the same time, opening the whole agreement for renegotiation risks drawing out the process and potentially losing some of the commitments to constitutional reform, economic management, and transitional justice that are included.

More importantly, it is fundamentally unclear how “revitalization” will look. Since the July 2016 crisis, political and military realities have changed considerably. After Riek Machar fled the country, President Kiir appointed the opposition politician Taban Deng Gai to replace him. Yet the government’s expectation that he would be able to bring along opposition fighters with him has not been met. Most of Riek Machar’s troops remain loyal to him. His involvement in the process remains a major stumbling block for the negotiations. No one in the diplomatic community in Juba that I spoke to during a recent research trip expects Machar to return to Juba, after SPLA units tried to kill him twice, in 2013 and 2016. Accommodating Machar in the government thus seems impossible, though marginalizing him has also not worked.

The underlying problem remains the logic of dividing the spoils. Positions of authority in South Sudan have served the self-enrichment of office-holders and the accumulation of political budgets. As a result of the insecurity in the country and the macroeconomic crisis, the resources that could be allocated are becoming smaller. Moreover, the lack of accountability of officials and politicians is a core challenge that contributed to the outbreak of the civil war in the first place. If there is no overarching political vision for South Sudan, another purely transactional power-sharing deal will inevitably result in dissent and confrontation just as in 2016.

No Easy Solutions

The last few years have made clear that there are no quick fixes in South Sudan. No single process will be able to bring a comprehensive peace to the country in the foreseeable future. For the time being, a number of measures can be taken that may mitigate and contain the scale and brutality of the violence, and even create space for a long-term peace agreement.

The first is for IGAD mediators and international interlocutors to make clear that perpetrators will face justice. Looting, sexual violence, and mass atrocities need to have consequences. Regional support for asset freezes and anti-money laundering measures, for example, is growing. In September, the African Union Peace and Security Council warned that the revitalization process represented “a last chance for the Parties” and threatened unspecified sanctions against spoilers. After the United States strengthened its unilateral sanctions regime, the Kenyan Central Bank instructed its banks to implement asset freezes that the UN Security Council had passed in 2015.

Second, international actors, such as the Troika—the three-nation group supporting negotiations consisting of Norway, the UK, and the US—but also Germany and the EU, could lobby other countries for an informal arms embargo on South Sudan. US pressure has already stopped Sudanese arms deliveries for Machar’s troops. Engaging with Ukraine, Uganda, and Egypt, which the UN Panel of Experts sees as the government’s arms dealers, would be crucial as well. A commitment to a ceasefire at the beginning of the revitalization forum could provide the diplomatic backing for those states to reconsider their covert arms shipments.

Third, empowering civil society and other constructive forces will be crucial. The churches play a very important role in peacemaking and reconciliation as they are the only institutions with a reach in all corners of the country. They also have the patience and stamina to stay engaged when national and international actors have long left. Their biggest advantage is also a challenge though. Part and parcel of South Sudanese society, they are not immune to the polarization that has divided the country. Work on intercommunal conflicts by the churches, the UN mission, and non-governmental organizations needs donor support, including for targeted early recovery measures.

A Need for International Introspection

Finally, Western countries, and in particular the Troika, will contribute more positively to negotiations if they are aware of their own impact on the conflict and the peace process. For example, Troika acceptance of the replacement of Riek Machar with Taban Deng Gai lent legitimacy to the process. On the other hand, the rushed and failed effort of the US to expand the UN sanctions regime and create an arms embargo “gave Juba a degree of increased confidence,” in one Western diplomat’s perception. The government then continued its operations in Equatoria that displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians, and obstructed humanitarian access. Another example is the disappointment of South Sudanese civil society organizations when German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel stood them up during a visit in August 2017.

Ultimately, there is no silver bullet to ending the civil war in South Sudan. At the very least, international actors should ensure that their actions and omissions do not prolong the suffering, however unintentionally. Overcoming the tendency to broker conventional transactional power-sharing agreements would be an important start.

Gerrit Kurtz is a PhD candidate at King’s College London and a non-resident fellow with the Global Public Policy Institute in Berlin. His research focuses on conflict prevention diplomacy in South Sudan and Sri Lanka.

 

Fragiler Schutz

Bei der UN-Friedensmission im Südsudan

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Dieser Beitrag erschien zuerst auf dem Blog Junge UN-Forschung.

Gedrungene, dunkelgrüne Bäume sprenkeln die weite Ebene unter uns, die sich kaum zu einer Ansammlung verdichten, welche die Bezeichnung Wald verdiente. Nur selten tauchen strohbedeckte Hüttenrunden in dem Muster auf, begleitet von weißen Punkten: Kühe sind das Ein und Alles hier: Lebensunterhalt, Statussymbol, Konfliktanlass.

Ich bin im Südsudan, dem jüngsten Staat der Erde. Den weißen Nil immer im Blick befinden wir uns im Anflug auf Bor, die Landeshauptstadt von Jonglei, dem bevölkerungsreichsten Bundesstaat des Landes. Im weißen UN-Helikopter sitzen sich Offiziere und Zivilisten aus Indien, Australien, der Schweiz und anderen Ländern gegenüber. Meine beiden Kollegen und ich wollen in den kommenden Tagen herausfinden, wie die UN Mission im Südsudan (kurz UNMISS) zur Bearbeitung lokaler Konflikte beiträgt. Dafür besuchen wir zivile Teams an drei Standorten; Bor ist unser erster Stopp.

Sanft setzt der Hubschrauber auf dem planierten, nicht geteerten Rollfeld auf. Kaum ausgestiegen begrüßt uns Erik, ein gut gelaunter Endfünfziger aus Schweden, der uns in den kommenden Tagen auf vielen Treffen begleiten wird. Die Vereinten Nationen haben ihr Camp direkt gegenüber vom Flughafen errichtet. In immer-gleichen weißen Containern arbeiten und schlafen die Mitarbeiter der Mission. Um die Büros und Wohneinheiten herum haben die militärischen Kontingente ihre Lager aufgeschlagen. Neben Offizieren und kleineren Einheiten aus vielen verschiedenen Ländern sind das vor allem vier Länder: ein indisches und ein äthiopisches Bataillon, eine koreanische Ingenieurseinheit und ein sri lankisches Militärkrankenhaus. Insgesamt sind im dem Land, das ungefähr so groß wie Frankreich ist, über 11.200 Soldaten für die Vereinten Nationen stationiert, dazu etwa 2.300 zivile Mitarbeiter und 1.100 Polizeikräfte.

Seit der Unabhängigkeit im Juli 2011 hatte der Südsudan kaum Zeit, zur Ruhe zu kommen. Insbesondere in Jonglei fanden wiederholt Kämpfe zwischen bewaffneten Gruppen und Regierungseinheiten statt. Bewegungen von Militäreinheiten sind dabei weitgehend auf die vielleicht viermonatige Trockenzeit begrenzt. Wenn es anfängt, dauerhaft zu regnen in dieser sumpfigen, flachen Gegend, werden weite Gebiete überschwemmt. Der Boden wird derart zäh, dass kein landgetriebenes Fahrzeug durchkommen kann. Selbst mit Gummistiefeln bleibe man häufig stecken: im Grunde könne man in solchen Situationen nur barfuß laufen, hatte uns ein ehemaliger UN-Mitarbeiter in Berlin erzählt.

Das gesamte Land stürzte in eine tiefe Krise, als am 15. Dezember 2013 ein Machtkampf zwischen dem Präsidenten Salva Kiir und seinem langjährigen Weggefährten und ehemaligen Vizepräsidenten Riek Machar außer Kontrolle geriet. Binnen kürzester Zeit nahm der politische Streit eine ethnische Dimension an, da Kiir und Machar unterschiedlichen Volksgruppen angehören und diese innerhalb der Regierungsarmee mobilisierten. Im Zuge dessen töteten Einheiten, welche der Gruppe des Präsidenten angehören (Dinka), Zivilisten der Nuer in Juba, welche sie der Sympathie mit dem als Putschisten geschassten Machar beschuldigten. Innerhalb weniger Tage weitete sich der Konflikt auf andere Teile des Landes aus; Gegenden, in denen viele Nuer leben, wurden zur Basis der bewaffneten Opposition unter Machar. Auch in Bor fanden heftige Kämpfe statt. Die Stadt wechselte die Kontrolle zwischen Regierung und Opposition viermal innerhalb weniger Wochen.

In den umkämpften Gebieten fürchteten viele Menschen um ihr Leben. Ihre eigene Regierung wandte sich gegen sie. Wo würden sie noch sicher sein? Die blaue Fahne der Vereinten Nationen versprach Rettung. Zu tausenden strömten Menschen im Dezember 2013 zu den Lagern der UN-Mission. Vor die Wahl gestellt, verantwortlich für die Versorgung von tausenden von Menschen zu sein oder zuzusehen, wie diese vor ihren Augen abgeschlachtet würden, ordnete die damalige Leiterin von UNMISS, die Norwegerin Hilde Johnson, an, die Tore zu öffnen. Auch das Lager in Bor öffnete seine Tore. „Am ersten Tag kamen 2.000, am zweiten waren es bereits 16.000 Menschen auf unserem Gelände“, erzählt uns ein UN-Mitarbeiter an unserem ersten Abend. „Wir waren nicht dafür ausgerüstet. Wir hatten kein Essen, keine Unterkünfte für diese Menschen.“ Wegen der Kämpfe wurden gleichzeitig viele Mitarbeiter von Hilfsorganisationen evakuiert: „Wir waren auf uns selbst gestellt in den ersten Tagen“, sagt er.

Anderthalb Jahre später sind viele Flüchtlinge immer noch da. Mittlerweile versorgen die Vereinten Nationen etwa 130.000 Menschen auf dem Gelände ihrer Stützpunkte im Südsudan (in Bor sind es noch etwa 2.400). Nie zuvor in ihrer Geschichte hat die Organisation so viele Personen über so einen langen Zeitraum direkt geschützt.

Straße zwischen Bor Town und den UNMISS Lager. Hier kam der gewaltsame Mob am 17. April 2014 entlang.

Am nächsten Morgen fahren wir mit Erik die breite Straße runter in die Stadt. Kühe säumen den Weg, Büros von internationalen Hilfsorganisationen und verlassene Villen lokaler Größen. Die meisten Einwohner von Bor wohnen in traditionellen Lehmhütten, die über ein weites Gebiet um die Hauptstraßen verteilt sind. Im Zentrum brummen Marktstände mit Leben, deren Auswahl allerdings auf wenige Güter wie Reis, Bohnen, Mehl, Tomaten, Zwiebeln, Okraschoten und weitere weitgehend importierte Güter beschränkt ist. Dazu kommt die hohe Inflation – ein kleines Bündel Zwiebel kostet schon mal 25 südsudanesische Pfund, über zwei Euro.

Wir treffen einen Minister der Landesregierung, der zum Einstieg betont, es gäbe keine Konflikte mehr in Jonglei, nur noch ab und an kriminelle Aktivitäten. Ja, die Rebellen kontrollieren einen erheblichen Teil im Norden von Jonglei, aber im Grunde ginge es dabei nur um politische Macht in der Zentralregierung in Juba. „Wir wollen Botschaften des Friedens im gesamten Land verbreiten“, sagt er. Wie ernst er es damit meint, bleibt unklar.

Die Wunden sitzen tief, gerade hier in Bor. Die Regierungsarmee vertrieb die Opposition aus der Stadt, was Flüchtlingen anderer Ethnien und nationaler Herkunft erlaubte, das UN-Lager zu verlassen. Nur die Nuer, welche der gleichen Volksgruppe wie die Rebellen angehören, blieben, weil sie Übergriffe von Regierungskräften gegen sie fürchteten. Die Beziehung zwischen der überwiegend von Dinka bewohnten Stadt und den Flüchtlingen blieb angespannt: Nuer wurden regelmäßig belästigt und angegriffen, wenn sie das Lager verließen. Als Berichte in Bor eintrafen, dass Nuer-Flüchtlinge in einer nördlichen Stadt des Landes dessen Eroberung durch die Opposition gefeiert hätten, griff die Stimmung über.

Ein UN-Bericht detailliert, was am 17. April 2014 geschah: Morgens sammelte sich eine aufgebrachte Menge von hundert bis dreihundert jungen Männern, die sich mit Gewehren und Stöckern ausgestattet in einem Zug von der Stadt auf das UN-Lager zu bewegten. Sie umrundeten das Lager und gelangten zur der Seite, wo sich das Flüchtlingslager befand. Etwa zwanzig Männer überwanden den Zaun, Graben und Stacheldraht-bewehrten Wall, übermächtigen die Wache schiebenden UN-Soldaten und ließen mehre Dutzend weitere Männer herein. Die Angreifer gingen von Zelt zu Zelt, raubten die Insassen aus, schlugen sie und raubten Frauen. Sofern sie ihre Opfer nicht an den für Nuer typischen Gesichtsnarben erkannten, fragten sie ihre Opfer, welcher Volksgruppe sie angehörten und droschen auf sie ein, wenn diese nicht in Dinka antworten konnten. Der Angriff ebbte erst ab, als etwa eine halbe Stunde später eine schnelle Eingreiftruppe der UN einrückte.

47 Menschen starben in Folge dieses Angriffs innerhalb des UN-Lagers, und dass, obwohl sie „umgeben von Panzern“ waren, wie uns der hagere Vorsitzende des Flüchtlingsrats innerhalb des Lages später erzählt. Wieder einmal waren die Erwartungen auf Schutz und Sicherheit durch die blaue Flagge der Vereinten Nationen aufs Bitterste enttäuscht worden. Bis zum heutigen Tag ist keiner der Täter zur Rechenschaft gezogen worden.

Gut ein Jahr später gibt es jedoch auch Zeichen der Hoffnung. Ein lange schwelender Konflikt zwischen einer bewaffneten Gruppe einer dritten Volksgruppe, den Murle, konnte letztes Jahr beigelegt werden. Erst vor kurzem gab es eine weitere politische Annäherung auf Landesebene mit einem hochrangigen Treffen von Vertretern der ehemaligen Murle-Rebellen und der Landesregierung. Während in anderen Bundesstaaten des Südsudan sich die Opposition um Machar und die Regierungsarmee gerade Gefechte liefern, ist es in Jonglei relativ ruhiger. In einigen Gebieten mit traditionell gemischter Dinka-Nuer Bevölkerung scheint es vorsichtige Annäherungen zu geben. Die Vereinten Nationen unterstützen diese Prozesse nach Kräften. Ihr Zugang zu den Rebellengebieten ist allerdings sehr begrenzt.

Die Vereinten Nationen haben eine große Verantwortung übernommen für die Flüchtlinge, die direkt in ihren Lagen leben. Sie versprechen ihren Schutz, aber greifen teilweise nicht entschieden genug ein, wenn es darauf ankommt. Mittlerweile bindet der Schutz der eignen Lager und der angeschlossenen Flüchtlingslager über drei Viertel der militärischen Ressourcen und einen Großteil der humanitären Hilfe – dabei leben die allermeisten Flüchtlinge und Hilfsbedürftigen außerhalb der Lager, häufig in schwer zugänglichen Gegenden. Schwierige Entscheidungen stehen bevor.

Leise schlägt der Regen auf die Fensterscheiben. Wir fliegen zurück nach Juba, unsere Zeit in Bor ist zu Ende. Die Soldaten, Offiziere, humanitären Helfer und zivilen Mitarbeiter der UN Mission werden jedoch noch lange bleiben müssen.

Dieser Text gibt ausschließlich die Meinung des Verfassers wieder und entspricht weder notwendigerweise der Einschätzung der Vereinten Nationen noch von GPPi.