The Protection of Civilians (POC) site near Bentiu, in Unity State, South Sudan. (UN Photo/JC McIlwaine)

Abstract

[This abstract comes from a new co-written article (with Emily Paddon Rhoads) on South Sudan that is currently under review. I will conclude the presentation by sharing more recent comparative field research from CAR] 

Over the past decade, an important body of scholarship on civilian and community self-protection (CSP) strategies has emerged, drawing attention to civilian agency in conflict and advancing understandings of how civilians survive war. In this article, we argue that scholars, along with external practitioners, have conceptualized CSP in a narrow manner that reflects the nascent status of the field. The focus to date has largely been on responses to threats that are direct, physical and cause by the presence of armed groups. This obscures individual and community responses to forms of indirect violence and the secondary effects of war that for many are amongst the most harmful. Using the case study of the protection of civilians (PoC) sites in South Sudan and drawing on over 150 interviews conducted in-country between 2013 and 2015, we identify one type of protective civilian response hitherto neglected in the literature: community and popular justice practices. Although the PoC sites provided a measure of physical protection from violence outside, our article illuminates how residents faced a new range of threats inside that were only tangentially related to the conflict and in response to which community justice figured as a vital form of self-protection. Furthermore, our analysis reveals how these practices not only addressed short-term immediate protection needs but also constitute an important form of social ordering overlooked by scholars. Thinking about popular and community justice practices in this way provokes pressing questions about how the boundaries of (self) protection are and should be drawn. By initiating this conversation, our article hopes to deepen understanding of civilian agency in conflict and prompt further inquiry by others in this growing field.

Bio

Dr. Rebecca Sutton is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at Edinburgh Law School from 2020-2022. Her Leverhulme research project explores the role of emotions in the everyday practice of international humanitarian law (IHL). Rebecca is an Associate Fellow of the UK Higher Education Academy and has taught courses in criminal law, humanitarianism, and IHL at institutions such as the London School of Economics (LSE), the University of Western Ontario, and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). Before joining Edinburgh Law School, Rebecca was a Postdoctoral Researcher on the ERC-funded Individualization of War (IOW) project; she was based at the Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict, in the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford. Rebecca continues to conduct research on humanitarianism at McGill University, through a Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) post-doctoral grant. From 2014-2018 Rebecca carried out doctoral studies at the LSE, with the support of scholarships from the Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation and SSHRC. Rebecca’s doctoral research project examined how international humanitarian actors engage with IHL in their everyday practices, and the thesis is forthcoming as a book with OUP in 2021. Rebecca is qualified as a Barrister and Solicitor in Canada and holds a Juris Doctor from the University of Toronto, as well as an MSc in Violence, Conflict and Development from SOAS. From 2009-2011 she was based in Darfur, Sudan, as Country Director for the humanitarian NGO War Child Canada.

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