The United Nations Security Council expressed deep outrage at the most recent attack on one of its protection sites in South Sudan. In a strongly worded statement, the 15-member Security Council said that the attack, which appeared to target civilians and United Nations peacekeepers may “constitute a war crime.” The latest incident happened in the compound of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) in Bor, the capital of Jonglei state. The attack left at least 58 people dead and injured dozens more. The United Nations has warned that the death count is likely to rise. Among those dead and injured were children seeking shelter at the base.
After the attack on the mission, the members of the world body demanded that the South Sudan government make concentrated efforts to ensure the safety of its civilian population and UNMISS protection sites. It also asked government authorities to investigate the incidents swiftly and bring the perpetrators to justice.
The country of South Sudan is the youngest in the world, having won independence from Sudan in 2011. Ever since its formation, the country has been mired in a bloody civil war that has left thousands dead and a reported million people displaced. According to Toby Lanzer, the top UN official in the war-ravaged nation, the conflicts in South Sudan began on Dec. 15 when security forces supporting President Salva Kiir clashed with army troops loyal to ousted Vice President Riek Machar. Since then the continuous violence has turned into “a cycle of revenge.”
Both sides have been accused of war atrocities and intense fighting. There have been reports of ethnicity-based massacres, child soldier recruitment, rape and murder of civilians, and raids on hospitals, among others. The United Nations is “particularly outraged” by the systematic and deliberate attacks on South Sudan civilians in medical facilities, religious institutions and UN peacekeeping bases “where people’s rights should be sacrosanct.”
In yesterday’s attack in Bor, most of the civilians seeking protection on the base were reported to be ethnic Nuer, the same tribe as the ousted Machar, who now leads a rebel force made up of ethnic militia and army defectors. Eyewitness accounts from the United Nations base state that about 350 armed youths in civilian clothing used extreme force to breach the protection site, where about 5,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) were seeking shelter. They opened indiscriminate fire on the crowd, killing and injuring dozens of people. Two peacekeepers were also injured in the exchange of fire.
Praising the peacekeeping forces from India, Nepal and South Korea, who were guarding the Bor site, Lanzer said that their quick and courageous actions prevented what could have become a massacre. Lanzer promised to do everything possible to “protect the lives of people in our protection, including the use of lethal force.”
Responding to the criticism of the world body, South Sudan’s Information Minister Michael Makuei accused the posted peacekeepers of provoking the demonstrators, who had gathered outside the base. The demonstrators were protesting against the sheltering IDPs, who were allegedly celebrating recent rebel attacks against the South Sudan government. According to Makuei, the situation escalated when the peacekeeping forces shot bullets in the air. The position taken by the South Sudan government indicates their deteriorating relationship with the United Nations, which is tasked with insulating thousands of civilians from the ongoing violence. Additionally, the humanitarian agencies are preparing for the likelihood of a famine in the country, which could impact a huge portion of the population.
South Sudan has seen four months of continuous and rapacious violence between pro- and anti-government forces. The internal conflict has resulted in the creation of 67,000 IDPs around the country, most of whom are seeking shelter on UNMISS bases. While the two warring parties have signed an agreement to terminate hostilities, violence has escalated in recent weeks. According to a United Nations spokesperson, if such outrageous attacks against their bases continue in South Sudan, the already dire situation is likely to spiral completely out of control.
By Monalisa Gangopadhyay