Protecting displaced people in South Sudan

19 Aug 2014

imageUNDP is helping people displaced by the conflict to learn about their rights, and how to avoid intimidation and sexual and gender-based violence. Photo: Christina Feldt, UN Volunteers

Peter Gatkuoth Biel, has been elected to represent people displaced by the conflict in South Sudan – at a United Nations-run camp in Juba. He casts a concerned look at the hundreds of women, men and children who have gathered in his compound.

There are more than 14,000 in the camp, and the burgeoning population of displaced people has got him and the UN here worried. “We need social peace amongst ourselves. Women and children have been very vulnerable to different kinds of abuses," Biel says. "Also, we need to get rid of domestic violence that is rampant and continues to be so in the IDP camps.”

Rape, abuse, trafficking and domestic violence soar during conflicts. South Sudan, where over 1.5 million people have been displaced from their homes by violence in the last eight months, is no exception. Tens of thousands of people have been killed, raped or injured in the country as ethnic and political violence continues. UN Police, employed to keep order and provide protection in the camps that house the displaced, have their hands full. But a new project is hoping to reduce suffering.

United nations Development Programme (UNDP), together with the UN Police, the International Office of Migration and UNICEF, are training teams of displaced men and women living in all 108 IDP settlements across the country, to act as trainers. They will in turn be employed to travel across the country to teach other displaced people living in camps, a majority of whom are women and girls, about their rights (including the right not to be intimidated or threatened) and what to do if they witness or are victim to abuse. 

The training is extremely relevant says UNDP, because in times of conflict, people displaced by fighting often do not feel confident approaching local police.

The 46 people taking part in the first tranche of training includes traditional and religious leaders, village chiefs, heads of women and youth groups, and members of community watch teams from Juba and surrounding areas. All participants have been severely affected by the ongoing crisis.

Deborah Samwell, one of the trainees, says she is proud to help women and girls in her community to come up with strategies to avoid and report violence and abuse.

“I have nine children with me including my brother’s," she says. "Children and women should not be beaten or abused by men,” she says. “We want to be able to teach our community and our little girls about their rights, enable rapid reporting to the right authority and provide knowledge about access to immediate health care in case of sexual violence.”

The training takes place alongside new systems for community policing in the camps and is already helping to spread awareness about sexual and gender based violence, allowing Samwell and her newly trained colleagues to assure the women and girls that they speak to that physical protection will be provided. Over the past few weeks, UN Police have set-up a special investigation unit, documenting dozens of new cases of abuse, reporting them to legal or police authorities and providing physical protection and legal assistance for the victims.

According to Surendra Sharma, the UNDP Chief Technical Advisor working with the Ministry of Interior Police and Prisons Department, “the training will enable the IDPs to organize themselves in groups in order to protect the community, raise awareness about their own rights, and develop a system for improving community security.”

UNDP says that the ultimate goal is to improve security among displaced people living in camps to help pave the way for emergency employment and other livelihoods activities. In one state, for instance, UNDP plans to build a market that will benefit close to 100,000 people who fled the fighting. Many of them, who never went to school, will be trained to take up essential jobs as builders, mechanics, or tailors. Eventually, this will allow them to make their way home.

“When there is security, we can start thinking about IDPs going home, early recovery and a resumption of long-term economic and development activities," says Balazs Horvath, the UNDP Country Director in Juba. "People across South Sudan are fed-up with this conflict. What they need is a return to normalcy.”