South Sudan Teach-in: What Have We Learned?

Thanks to all the panelists, participants, and guests of tonight’s teach-in on South SudanI was delighted to hear Mangok’s voice from Juba, but also learned a lot about tensions within South Sudan and the United Nations’ response.

For those of you unfamiliar with the background, I strongly recommend this Boston Globe article.  In short: Mangok is from South Sudan, a newly-independent country that has recently suffered from internal conflict.  During the most recent violence, four of Mangok’s young relatives were abducted by armed gunman; the gunman also killed the children’s parents, Mangok’s brother and sister-in-law.

For those of you who would like to help cover the expenses of recovering and resettling Mangok’s young relatives, please see this site.

If you were able to attend the teach-in, I am wondering:

What did you make of the South Sudanese call for accountability for crimes such as child abduction?  Why does the United Nations Mission in South Sudan strive to remain neutral on questions of inter-tribal disputes?

Did you think the rest of the world should intervene in South Sudan’s crisis?  If so, what kind of intervention do you think would be most effective?

Any other thoughts?

7 Replies to “South Sudan Teach-in: What Have We Learned?”

  1. I thought it was very interesting how the South Sudanese panelists responded meaning their tone. They were very upfront and sincere, and quite demanding for lack of a better term. They took what has happened very personally as they should and were not shy whatsoever in making sure that we understood their true feelings and position on this crisis. The UN strives to remain neutral because not only is there territorial integrity to maintain but, in the case of violence, both sides are accountable for acts of hate. I don’t think the rest of the world should intervene in South Sudan however I do believe the US should get involved only to help those in need of necessities and provide technology and personnel that can help track down missing people.
    Jay Schaff

    1. Jay, thanks for this, I was also very struck by the South Sudanese’s frankness about their disappointment with the U.N. Admittedly, the UN has its hands full now: apparently the UN mission is housing 75,000 people in refugee camps. But that’s no reason the UN might not have put pressure on the Murle tribe years before the current crisis.

  2. Before this panel I was very unaware of all the things that were actually happening in South Sudan. I was surprised to hear that the child abduction practices are not new and have been going on for a long time. On this note, I was glad to learn that there is a subsidiary body on the Security Council in the UN that works on child & armed conflict, and is tracking the child abduction practices in South Sudan closely. I was also glad to hear the earnest opinion of the Sudanese panelists. It is clear that the UN is making an effort in the situation. The UN has a great relationship with South Sudan, which makes them even more responsible for helping them. They also want to try to stay as neutral as possible in order to maintain this relationship. They have sent, and are continuing to send, thousands of Peace Keepers. Although very grateful, the South Sudanese believe that a lot more can be done in order to aide the crisis. They strongly believed that if the United States took action, the war in their country would end. I understand why they would think this way, however, I feel that with more diplomatic action more good will be done than with military intervention. Additionally, the continuation of the aide coming from the UN is essential in this crisis. Overall, the teach-in was eye opening to me, and I am very glad I attended.

  3. It is ironic to discuss humanitarian treatment during warfare as war is so inherently barbaric. It is in the nature of our world’s conflict, that the rights and security of many be violated. Yet, there are some atrocious acts of war that are even more unacceptable than the rest. Child abduction is such an act. It seems that the UN was very hesitant to get involved as they wanted to play a neutral role. It is understandable that they should want to keep this stance in order to perform negotiations, however it is not biased to condemn inhumane acts. If the UN doesn’t begin to hold the Murle accountable for their history of child abduction, it will continue to persist.

    In order to absolve this conflict the rest world must take some measures to put an end to the violence. While the future of the country should be entirely in the hands of the people, inaction towards atrocities such as child abduction indicates apathy and indifference. This is a precedent that cannot continue to be set. Whether this means having UN peace keepers with the authority to actually take action, moderated peace talks, or some other measure, it is clear that this conflict will not resolve itself. While it goes on, innocent civilians continue to be affected by violence and draw ever nearer to famine and widespread crisis. It is clear that imminent action is necessary.

  4. Not to be reiterating that which has already been said, but this opportunity to learn directly about the situation as it is in the process of being addressed was surreal from this side of the Atlantic. The first human rights crisis I had ever heard of was the conflict in Darfur in 2006. At that time, I was outraged that nothing was being done to help. Why was the U.S. wasting its resources on imperial-like warfare when it could be fighting genocide? The government appeared just as apathetic to me then as it might to the South Sudanese who were present with us on Monday. I think that the South Sudanese saw this event as their opportunity to come as close to directly influencing policy as they could. Their frustration showed as they, and I think all of us, felt the helplessness of the UN’s forced inaction. Dawn Schrepel made it clear that it would be impossible to move against the Murle. I would have to agree with her. While fully empathetic of our guest’s plight, to act against only one side would be unethical as that would diminish the neutrality vital to being a respectable resource for all humanist conflicts in the region. Once the UN starts choosing sides, so to speak, its accessibility to what would then be the opposition would be diminished. It is not the UN’s responsibility, nor is it its prerogative, to dictate policy in a sovereign state.

    However, the South Sudanese emphasis on holding the Murle accountable for child abduction was huge. Professor Rosenberger directed a question at Dawn, as if fishing to see if the UN was at least addressing this issue. She clarified that there is a subcommittee of the Security Council called Children and Armed Conflict. They recently passed a resolution, which can be found here:

    Focusing on protection is, I think, the only viable plan of action. The fact that the UN is housing so many refugees and now ‘officially’ capable of acting against those who use children is the best move.

  5. Last month I was struck by the lack of press coverage on the graveness of the plight of the South Sudanese; if I had not attended the Teach-In or was not in Professor Rosenberger’s class I am not sure that I would have been otherwise informed with such detail. Having had a month pass since the South Sudan Teach-In, I am curious if there have been any updates in the issue. Specifically, I would like to know if Mangok has been in touch again and if he has been able to make any progress?

  6. This Teach-In has been given me the unique opportunity to see two different sides of the issue, one affected by emotions and first-hand experience (the side of the panelists), the other logical and neutral (The UN). It is clear that the panelists want some sort of action to be taken to resolve the issue, and rightfully so as they have been unfortunate enough to have the firsthand experience of the atrocities of war and conflict in Syria. It is hard not to reiterate what has already been said on the UN’s stance on the topic, as they must remain neutral, but there is a going fear that the outcome of the Rwanda conflict will foreshadow the outcome of South Sudan if action is not taken. But to my understanding there are a few different conflicts going on, one that is both political and ethnic and nature, between the Dinka and the Nuer, while the other conflict is between the Murle tribe and the rest of the country. The conflict between the Murle and the rest of the country has to do with the fact that they are stealing cattle, and even more atrocious is the kidnapping of children due to their low fertility rate. The Panelists wanted the UN to take some sort of action to end the killing of civilians and the kidnapping, while others in South Sudan want the Murle to be wiped out. While the second would be a solution to the problem, it would be genocide and one sided. It is hard for the UN to take a side as it means giving up their neutrality, as both sides have committed crimes. Although it is clear that they have a more aggressive stance on child abductions as they have their own subcommittee and take this crime very seriously. Even though it was tough to see the emotional side of the issue without being upset with the UN, their current stance is logical as they cannot give up their neutrality, pick sides and set any kind of negative precedent that others may abuse.

    I wish Mangok the best of luck in finding his nieces and nephews and hope this conflict is resolved peacefully.

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