By Veronica Kerich, Creating Safer Space project manager, Strathmore University, Kenya
Amidst the escalation of violence in Sudan and the increased risks faced by civilians, African regional stakeholders recently held a meeting to look deliberate on the importance of UCP in the region and how it can be used by various stakeholders and also communities to strengthen civilian capacities against violence and conflicts.
Held on 31 May 2023, the meeting was attended by over 19 representees from the African Region working within the Creating Safer Space Network. It considered civilian protection in the region and the existing gaps that needs attention, particularly in the case of Sudan. It also show-cased the work of Nonviolent Peaceforce in the region, and how NP have been working with communities in Sudan since 2021 to implement unarmed civilian protection strategies and continue to work with civilian protection actors across the state.
Many issues were discussed in this workshop session, including:
- The active violence against civilians
- Disruption to the access of essential goods
- Displacement of civilians and restricted movement
- Sexual violence and gender-based violence
- Inter-communal violence
- Child protection
As a keynote speaker, Dr Felicity Gray presented the report Snapshot: Civilian Protection Needs and Responses in Sudan. She highlighted how the recent escalation of fighting in Sudan has introduced new and rapidly exacerbated existing civilian protection concerns.
According to the report, civilians are being exposed not only to the impacts of active fighting including gunfire, shelling, and unexploded ordnance (UXO). There is also an increased risk of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), displacement, child recruitment, and inter-communal mistrust and violence. The report also provided the background information to contextualise the current escalation of violence and rise in civilian protection needs and the risks facing civilians in Sudan.
“Responses must include dedicated resourcing for protection activities and programme. And they must go beyond monitoring to ensure action, including direct protection work by community and unarmed civilian actors; investment in community-based protection mechanisms; and recognition that to be sustainable, these protection responses must encompass all parts of the conflict cycle”, explained Dr Gray.
Prof Berit Bliesemann de Guevara, Principal Investigator of the Creating Safer Space project, also attended the meeting and talked of the importance of Networks such as Creating Safer Space that bring together conflict-affected communities, protection practitioners, academics, policymakers, journalists, and artists to jointly work on the vision of enhancing unarmed civilian protection practices, which create safer space for communities amidst violent conflict and help prevent displacement.
Issued that emerged during the meeting’s discussion were:
- How to target UN and other peacekeepers with findings; how to adapt findings for their take-up by regional actors such as: AU, IGAD, ECOWAS; and how to adapt UCP at the community level and turn findings into actionable recommendations for armed peacekeepers.
- That the African Region section of Creating Safer Space: Strengthening Civilian Protection Amidst Violent Conflict should target the UN and other organisations involved in peacekeeping with findings from the research.
- The meeting suggested that CTPSR has useful links with UN PK training programmes, and this can enhance their work in the region.
- It was suggested that at national level, the stakeholders could engage umbrella organisations like Council of Churches (in South Sudan) and seek collaborations with communities to increase UCP and to feed back the on-going research on UCP.
- It was pointed out that conflict in the region has significant impact on food security and that any peace negotiation should also look into the interest of small-scale farmers and pastoral communities.
- The African Regional Network proposed to have UCP training for different audiences as a way of strengthening UCP in the region.
- It was suggested that we need to hear voices of communities that are making a difference for learning through radio networks.