Two Options for South Sudan

And Neither of Them Is Good

South Sudanese women and children queue to receive emergency food at the United Nations protection of civilians (POC) site 3 hosting about 30,000 people displaced during the recent fighting in Juba, South Sudan, July 25, 2016. Adriane Ohanesian / Reuters

South Sudan’s fragile peace is falling apart. Five years after the country gained independence, it is on the brink of a return to civil war. The international community, which has already invested a great deal in supporting the nascent state, is running out of options to respond, but is considering two possible steps: deploying troops and imposing an arms embargo. Both options could help halt the country’s slide into chaos, provided that there is the political will and commitment to back them up.


The UN already has a substantial peacekeeping presence of 13,500 troops and police and 2,000 observers in South Sudan. The mission’s mandate is to protect civilians through a variety of means, including political engagement, reporting on human rights violations, and facilitating reconciliation between local communities. But the UN peacekeepers’ most visible effort is at Protection of Civilians (POC) sites. When the civil war began in December 2013, tens of thousands of civilians ran to UN bases seeking protection. Although the UN facilities were not designed to shelter civilians, peacekeepers worked with humanitarian organizations to provide safety, security, and basic services to vulnerable and traumatized people in makeshift camps. Before the latest round of violence, around 170,000 people were living in these sites. Over 10,000 additional displaced persons are estimated to have fled to UN bases for protection from the recent fighting.

With UN forces under considerable strain protecting civilians at their bases, the international community is considering two options to strengthen their numbers. The first is for the UN Security Council to authorize more troops to help secure the civilian camp in Juba and other key sites such as Juba airport. However, a few hundred or even a few thousand more bodies would not enable the modest UN presence to withstand a concerted attack by government forces. Nor would it allow the United Nations to protect civilians outside of the bases.

A general view shows the United Nations protection of civilians site hosting about 30,000 people displaced during the recent fighting

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