Without Weapons and With Women: A Civilian Protection and Peacekeeping Model
The first day of the NGO CSW Parallel Events (held in buildings around the U.N. headquarters in New York and organized to give civil society the opportunity to engage with worldwide issues of women and gender) saw a talk entitled “Women Peacekeeping Teams Use Unarmed Civilian Protection (UCP) Methods in South Sudan” promote a noteworthy strategy in the field of civilian protection and peacekeeping. The timing could not have been more relevant or critical. Only three days previously had the UN released a report on South Sudan detailing systematic attacks on civilians, including horrific levels of sexual violence against women and girls. With armed conflict growing deadlier globally in the last few years, surely the conversation about alternative methods of civilian protection and peacebuilding needs to come to the fore.
Led by the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize nominee Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP), the talk aimed to highlight how women could prove key actors in protection and peacebuilding, rather than being constantly reduced to roles as victims of conflict. Equally unconventional was the presentation’s premise that these gender-equal peace-forces could operate completely unarmed.
From its experience operating in South Caucasus, Sri Lanka and Guatemala, NP’s representatives point regularly to evidence of an effective four-pronged strategy of (1) proactive engagement and protection; (2) conflict monitoring; (3) relationship-building among all parties; and (4) local capacity development. Along with recognition of its model’s achievements, NP’s methodology has grown in practice, with more than 50 civil society organizations having applied UCP methods in 35 conflict areas since 1990.
NP’s team of in-field professionals are trained, paid, non-partisan, predominately national and local and live in the communities they serve. In South Sudan, about half of its peace-force are women, over half are South Sudanese, and the other peacekeepers come from 25 other countries. It is worth mentioning that NP’s representatives had hoped to have female members from South Sudan and Kenya address the audience; however, much to everyone’s disappointment, they were not granted visas for admission into the United States.
Instead, presenting first was the co-founder of Nonviolent Peaceforce, Mel Duncan, who was quick to highlight not just the importance of the peacekeeping force’s diversity, but also the cost-efficiency. Duncan compared the expense of $35,000 per year for each NP protector to a that of $1 million per U.S. soldier on the ground in Afghanistan.
Duncan was followed by Christopher Holt, South Sudan Deputy Director, who was tasked with the unenviable responsibility of answering the question: What can Nonviolent Peaceforce do to bring peace to a conflict which has killed between 50,000-100,000 people and displaced about 2.6 million? To that, he detailed its strategy of protection, prevention and response. Its locally-based civilian peace-forces concentrate on forming a proactive presence in areas of conflict. These operations include clearly visible patrols of civilian areas and protective accompaniments of women and girls in otherwise unprotected areas. Simultaneously, the organization works to build on communities’ local capacities and their inherent skills and raise awareness among males in the community through positive messaging. Read more about NP’s South Sudan strategy and operations here.
The talk was concluded by Protection Coordinator, Shannon Radsky, who spoke at length from her personal experience working in southern Unity State. Radsky emphasized the importance of NP’s commitment to building relationships with all parties involved in the conflict and of maximizing its visibility, which has proven remarkably effective. In 2014, NP was alerted by women living in the Benitu Protection of Civilians Site that women were being raped, and sometimes gang-raped by soldiers as they ventured out of the camp to collect water and firewood. In the year after NP started sending 2 or more unarmed civilian protectors to accompany these women, no woman was attacked whilst accompanied.
While NP has managed to alter the behavior of armed offenders, it has also facilitated dialogue and trust-building between local civilians and other peacekeeping operations. Together with UN peacekeepers and the national police service, NP set up a joint patrol system of areas in southern Jonglei State. At a water access point in Kandako, women had reported 18 to 20 cases of sexual violence perpetrated by soldiers per month. Over a 6 to 8 week period of NP-encouraged UN peacekeeper patrols, the number of reported rapes fell from 18 to 0 per month. Despite the limitations of NP’s ability to alleviate the consequences of such a violent conflict, NP has achieved remarkable success in protecting defenseless civilians, particularly women and girls.
NP’s past and current achievements are testament to the potential of a peacekeeping methodology that can effectively protect civilians and reduce the likelihood of escalating violence. Its model of unarmed civilian protection should surely be brought forward for consideration among peacekeeping strategists and widen the discussion about methods of civilian protection among decision-makers and activists alike. While NP is clear that UCP is not appropriate for every conflict situation, it is applicable to many conflict scenarios and various stages. Evidently, it is NP’s multi-faceted approach that is key to its accomplishments and it is the emphasis on relationship-building among all parties and local capacity development that mark it out as a strategy to be considered for crafting more effective civilian protection and long-term peacebuilding programs. A representative peace-force is pivotal to that objective, and NP exhibits how effective women are as actors in protecting their communities and as essential agents of peace.
‘South Sudan: UN report contains “searing” account of killings, rapes and destruction’. United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner. 11 March 2016. Available athttp://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=17207&LangID=E
Norton-Taylor, Richard. ‘Global armed conflicts becoming more deadly, major study finds’. The Guardian. 20 May 2015. Available at http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/20/armed-conflict-deaths-increase-syria-iraq-afghanistan-yemen
Moore, Alexis. ‘NP Nominated For 2016 Nobel Peace Prize’. Nonviolent Peaceforce. 24 February 2016. Available at
‘Focus South Caucasus Overview’. Nonviolent Peaceforce. Available at http://www.nonviolentpeaceforce.org/what-we-do/past-operations/south-caucasus
‘Sri Lanka Overview’. Nonviolent Peaceforce. Available at http://www.nonviolentpeaceforce.org/what-we-do/past-operations/sri-lanka
‘Guatemala Overview’. Nonviolent Peaceforce. Available at http://www.nonviolentpeaceforce.org/what-we-do/past-operations/guatemala
‘UCP – What is it about?’ Nonviolent Peaceforce. Available at http://www.nonviolentpeaceforce.org/unarmed-civilian-protection
‘South Sudan Overview’. Nonviolent Peaceforce. Available at http://www.nonviolentpeaceforce.org/what-we-do/2014-09-19-15-18-31/south-sudan
‘Case Studies of Unarmed Civilian Protection’. Nonviolent Peaceforce. March 2016
 ‘Case Studies of Unarmed Civilian Protection’, Nonviolent Peaceforce (March 2016), p.6
 ‘Case Studies of Unarmed Civilian Protection’, Nonviolent Peaceforce (March 2016), p.10