lisa monaghan

C. Huser (2015). Lived Experiences of Conflict Affected Peoples in Southern Unity State

In December 2013, barely two and half years after South Sudan’s independence, a brutal armed conflict plunged the country into civil war, pitting community against community, and precipitating a large-scale humanitarian crisis. Already underserved, underrepresented and impoverished over 4 million face acute humanitarian needs. Civilians have been made a target in this conflict, and exposed to egregious acts that are tantamount to crimes against humanity: rape, sexual slavery, forced recruitment, extrajudicial killings, torture, destruction of livelihoods, and restrictions on movement.[1] Nascent state institutions mandated to ensure the protection of the citizens have failed leaving civilians having to make untenable choices to secure their safety and dignity. Though capacity to act is one thing more apparent are the historic political, social and economic fault lines that these institutions perpetuate at the local level.


As the current conflict in South Sudan passes its one-year mark this paper seeks to understand what the actual experiences and independent efforts of conflict-affected individuals have been to violence and abuses they have faced. Specifically, it considers the immediate aftermath of violence and during the initial stages of displacement of people in Koch, Leer and Bentiu. It recognises that in South Sudan people have resorted to protecting themselves taking on an array of strategies: avoidance of a threat, reduction of other threats, and absorption of new risks- being amongst the most obvious. These strategies are closely tied in South Sudan to freedom of movement given a large majority of those affected, over 90% are agro-pastoralist groups and reliant on cattle rearing, access to fields, trading and remittances. This point is critical to remember as notions, resources and capabilities to auto-protection are specific to the individual and the context but also overlaid, therefore it is not simply protection verses assistance but how these interplay with each other (see p.6).

The choices people can and do make in the face of direct threats to their safety and dignity varies according to social and political boundaries, identity, gender, historical positioning, social status, amongst other things. In turn, the impact of violence is directly related to the specific vulnerabilities people have. The research concludes that South Sudanese in southern Unity State, the epicentre of some of the fighting, have endured immense violence and consequential hardship, and though people have adapted and demonstrated some resilience to prolonged shocks, available resources and capabilities are being severely tested and are inadequate. Only a full resolution to the conflict, its political, social and economic drivers, accountability for atrocities committed, space to recover livelihoods and build trust across now fractured communities, and trust in state institutions can lead to rebuilding the lives of people in South Sudan.

[1] See Human Right Watch reports http://www.hrw.org/africa/south-sudan.

Category: Conflict, Human Rights and Protection

Sub-category: Armed Groups/Actors, Displacement and Protection of Civilian Sites