03/02/2015
Llyr Attala

Disarmament

As discussed in the proliferation of guns section, the high number of weapons in the hands of civilians in South Sudan has had increasingly negative consequences and has changed the nature of warfare significantly in the past thirty years. It should come as no surprise that in the post-CPA period, civilian disarmament has been the main measure by the government and the international community to restore security in rural areas. While in theory disarmament campaigns are part of the solution to reduc-ing violence in South Sudan, many factors have to be in place beforehand. Weapon sources would need to be cut off to stop populations from rearming. Security would need to be enforced in order to ensure communities who cannot protect themselves are not made more vulnerable to criminal actors. Rule of law and justice must be in place for those who steal or abduct. Until that time is reached, disarmament cam-paigns are more likely to escalate violence and grievances rather than reduce it.

In the absence of a conducive environment for disarmament, such initiatives have of-ten exacerbated violence rather than reduced it. Furthermore, the process itself has been the source of major grievances against the SPLA and government due to the bru-tal methods employed, frequent human rights abuses, looting of civilian property, and the lack of consequences for soldiers who carry out these abuses. Rebel movements have been able to recruit young men as a result of these grievances.

Attempted disarmament of civilians has been the most frequent response to inter-communal violence in Jonglei. Since December 2005 it has been carried out five times (Amnesty International 2012). The last disarmament campaign in 2012 is an excellent example of the dilemma of disarmament. In 2011 the inter-ethnic conflict between the Lou Nuer and Murle of Jonglei State peaked, with mass killings and abductions of women and children on both sides, prompting the government to embark on a large-scale disarmament campaign. Despite warnings from human rights organizations that past disarmaments have proven to be unsuccessful, often involving grave abuses, the government decided to move forward. In order to counter the past problems of im-balanced disarmaments, leaving disarmed communities vulnerable for attacks from armed neighbors, the entire region was to be disarmed at the same time. As many as fifteen thousand additional soldiers and five thousand extra police were deployed to Jonglei for the disarmament campaign (Amnesty International 2012).

Both Lou Nuer and Murle community members who were interviewed before this dis-armament began claimed that they would be happy to disarm if they would receive government protection from rival raiders and armed groups. In the past the SPLA did not provide security to the newly disarmed communities. While the Lou Nuer initially received greater security, the counter-insurgency against Yau Yau pulled forces away. Moreover, in Pibor the process itself was appallingly brutal. Amnesty International traveled to Pibor in August 2012 to verify alleged reports of abuse. It found “that men, women and children were subjected to extrajudicial executions and other un-lawful killing, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and unnecessary or excessive use of force by the SPLA and SSPS Auxiliary Force, in-cluding shootings, beatings, simulated drowning, and rape” (Amnesty International 2012:8).

Not surprisingly, these types of abuses exacerbated community grievances with the military and thus the government. Murle and Lou Nuer explained that past disarma-ment processes only worsened the relationship with the government and increased the feelings of marginalization. In addition the consequent raids from rival ethnic groups, who recognized they could not defend themselves, led to the quick rearming of the community. Some Murle respondents pointed out that in previous campaigns SPLA who disarmed them had then sold the weapons back to them in exchange for cattle (Arensen 2012 a). Moreover, the ease of access to the arms trade made it sim-ple for communities on both sides to rearm through other means, quickly undermining any positive results.

Disarmaments in the past, as well as the one in 2012, have not only failed in creating security in Jonglei State, but have actually worsened the situation (Arensen 2012 a,b). They have exacerbated the frustrations the communities have towards the govern-ment and military. Disarmed communities also commonly complain over spikes in raids post-disarmament, which are adding to the grievances towards their rival com-munities (ibid). These issues regarding disarmaments are not unique to Jonglei or the Nuer and Murle communities. Unless future disarmament processes are carried out with minimal violence, soldiers who commit human rights abuses are held responsible, security is ensured afterwards by the state, justice and rule of law is applied to those who carry out criminal acts, and the ability of the communities to re-arm is ended, disarmaments will continue to be a conflict driver rather than a mitigating factor.

Amnesty International. 2012. “South Sudan: Lethal Disarmament.” London, United Kingdom. AFR 65/005/2012 (http://www.amnesty.org/ar/library/asset/AFR65/005/2012/en/a60e1cf6-168b-4fa2-a7ab-bd8167e964e7/afr650052012en.pdf)

Arensen, Michael. 2012. (a) “Murle Age-sets.” AECOM International South Sudan on behalf of USAID. Unpublished.

Arensen, Michael. 2012. (b) “Lou Nuer Youth: Report on the Recent Iteration of the White Army.” AECOM International South Sudan on behalf of USAID. Unpublished.