The (Self) Protection Of Civilians In South Sudan: Popular And Community Justice Practices

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African Affairs


Over the past decade, a body of scholarship on civilian self-protection (CSP) has emerged, advancing understandings of civilian agency in war. In this article, we argue that CSP has been conceptualized in a narrow manner, reflecting the nascent status of the field. Scholars have focused on responses to threats directly related to the dynamics of conflict, physical in nature, and caused by the presence of armed groups. Using the case study of the Protection of Civilians (PoC) sites in South Sudan and drawing on over 150 interviews, we identify one type of protective response neglected in the literature: community and popular justice. Although the PoC sites provide a measure of protection, residents face a range of daily threats that are indirectly related to the conflict, such as crime. In this context, community justice emerged as a natural response, an overlooked yet vital form of CSP that addresses immediate protection needs and fulfills a social ordering function. By conceiving of justice in this way, this article aims to deepen understanding of civilian agency and start a conversation with scholars and practitioners about the boundaries of (self) protection.

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