Patterns of mass atrocity show that identity-based hate crime is a key precursor to genocide. Due to ongoing ethnic conflict, South Sudan is currently a country of ‘serious concern’ of mass atrocities. Addressing divisions can help to prevent further escalation.
The South Sudan Youth Peace and Development Organisation (SSYPADO) engages youth in interethnic dialogue and peace-building. Rights for Peace is supporting SSYPADO in a DFID-funded project that is training and funding youth leaders to counter ethnic division.
In September 2019, a group of 25 youth leaders from different ethnic groups living across South Sudan travelled to Rwanda for an exchange visit to learn about the genocide, reconciliation and peacebuilding. In October they
participated in a training course in Juba, engaging in interactive exercises to explore identity, community divisions, and entry-points into overcoming conflict. The youth leaders also explored project design and measuring impact before receiving seed funding for their own initiatives.
Many of the young leaders grew up during the independence wars and still live in displacement camps. Although the risk of mass atrocities has reduced, they identified prejudice and unresolved land disputes as fueling ongoing divisions today. Gender-based violence was also highlighted as a significant issue, also fueled on prejudice and stereotyping. The youth-led initiatives in 6 locations are designed to challenge prejudices and misinformation, promoting dialogue and understanding.
Meet some of our youth leaders...
Aged 23 and currently living in the Bidi Bidi refugee settlement in Uganda, she has just graduated with a degree in Human Rights, Peace and Humanitarian Intervention. Her project is aimed at preventing sexual and gender-based violence in Bidi Bidi through the medium of sport.
What was it like growing up during the civil war?
41 days after I was born I was separated from my parents. The community I was born in was experiencing conflict between two rebellious groups. On that Thursday morning, my mother went to get water at a nearby well, when she was arrested. My dad, a shopkeeper in Maridi town, was arrested too. The speed at which the conflict was escalating forced my aunt to flee with me. We walked for 45 days in search of refuge, which we eventually found in a safe space called Dubajti refugee camp in northern Uganda. I narrowly escaped death on the journey - at one point, I was taken and thrown into a nearby bush, while my aunt was tied to a tree and raped. She was screaming and screaming but no one heard her. So, with no phones back then the family got separated and no one knew who was alive or dead. I finally returned to South Sudan after 16 years of living in the refugee camp, but I soon had to leave again due to the renewed conflict there.
Why do you want to be a youth leader?
Growing up as a mentally disturbed youth, I have seen and learnt a lot. Not only are my fellow youth engaging in criminal acts like rape, robbery and theft but teenage pregnancy often leads to many girls dropping out of school. Parents also force young girls into marriage, to provide for themselves and their families. They are traumatised and isolated too. This is something happening to many, not just me. Having worked with orphan children, as well as running sexual and reproductive health activities for young women, I have seen how many young people without parents suffer Ultimately, I want to foster a better sense of belonging and understanding in my country through advocating for children and youth who have been through the same experience as I have, after being separated from their parents during the various conflicts in South Sudan.
What problem motivated your project?
I’m currently living in the BidiBidi refugee settlement in Uganda, which is one of the largest in the world with over 28,000 people, many of whom are South Sudanese who fled the violent conflict in their country between 2013-2016. Sexual and gender-based violence is one of the most common forms of abuse suffered by refugees in the BidiBidi camp, with the victims mostly being women. Among other things, they are beaten up and raped, which makes them extremely vulnerable. Sometimes this even happens while they’re still in school. This type of violence is often motivated by tribalism, as well as a lack of gender inclusivity and fixed ideas about gender roles. The girls in BidiBidi also have fewer opportunities to engage in community activities, instead being told to focus on domestic work. This reduces their opportunities for social interaction outside of their families and tribes, which distances groups further.
How will your project aim to change this?
Our project will aim to educate youth in the BidiBidi refugee settlement about sexual and gender-based violence and identity-based violence, while bringing together youth from opposing ethnic groups. The idea is to run a training to encourage the youth to share ideas and knowledge about preventing SGBV, while developing key peacebuilding skills such as critical thinking, active listening, opening up and empathy building. After the training, the youth will play team sports such as netball, basketball and football together, which will encourage teamwork and build a greater sense of community
Sport is a powerful social tool which can foster mutual understanding and peer support among groups in conflict. It can also increase self-esteem among adolescent girls, giving them the opportunity to overcome gender-related barriers. Hopefully, our project will change the participants’ attitudes about different ethnic and tribal groups, as well as about gender roles. At the same time, we hope the girls will be empowered to continue to play sport and mix with other tribes, reducing their social isolation.