UN accused of ‘shocking’ lack of action over assassination and rape in South Sudan

Peacekeeping mission has failed to stop systematic inhumanities, MSF says, as civil war enters third year

The UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan has been accused of a complete and utter failure to protect civilians in one of the most dangerous and volatile parts of the war-ravaged country.

MA( c) decins Sans FrontiA” res( MSF ) says that although civilians in southern Unity state an oil-rich region and key battleground in the civil war have been subjected to assassination, rape and abduction for many months, there has been a shocking lack of action from the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan( Unmiss ).

There has been a complete and utter protection failing on Unmiss part in southern Unity, said Pete Buth, deputy operations director of MSF Holland and director of MSFs activities in Unity state.

There has not been any protection to speak of up to now while the violence has been ongoing and there have been thousands of people coming into the[ Protection of Civilians] sites in Bentiu from southern Unity those who manage to flee and they have been telling their stories.

He added: Its not like this is a secret. They talk about the most horrendous incidents of sexual violence and Im sure were only watching the tip of the iceberg.

Sexual violence is so common that one girl told MSF staff: If I came to the clinic every time Id been raped, Id be here every day.

According to the international medical charity, people in southern Unity are so afraid that they are hiding and sleeping in swamps and rivers, and eating waterlilies to stay alive. At night, children are drowning when they slip from the arms of their exhausted parents.

While inhumanities including forced cannibalism, sexual violence and the two attacks on civilians in their hospital beds have been reported across the country since the fighting erupted in December 2013, Unity state has suffered some of the worst and most protracted violence.

In May this year, pro-government forces killed as many as 129 children around the nation over a three-week period. Survivors said sons were castrated and left to bleed to demise, daughters as young as eight were gang-raped, and others were thrown alive into burning buildings.

Buth said the situation in Leer county, the home of the former vice president-turned opposition leader, Riek Machar, was particularly dire:

If youre a civilian in Leer county, the odds are that youve lost a relative who was either killed or kidnapped or raped; youve been burned out of your village at the least once; youve been displaced multiple times in the course of the past two years; your cattles have been looted and your few belongings have been stolen; youve been hiding in the inundates for months and your children are sick with malnutrition or some other preventable cancers, and you dont know where to get your next days food from. Every single civilian “ve been through” that crisis.

He added: We have had systematic, ongoing attacks against the civilian population for months and months and months but no action and thats shocking.

MSFs hospital in Leer has been targeted repeatedly and looted over the past two years, and its staff forced to evacuate in January last year and in May and October this year.

Although MSF and other NGOs have managed to regain access to Leer and cross the frontlines in recent weeks, Buth said they are simply unable to reach those most in danger and most in need.

Were seeing continuing abuses and violence against civilians and a situation that is too insecure to enable proper and sustained assistance, said Buth. It is not for us to determine how to fix the situation, but it is very, very frustrating to sit on the sidelines and watch it.

Unmiss, which currently comprises 11,350 troops and almost a thousand police officers from dozens of countries, is mandated to protect civilians under threat of physical violence, irrespective of the source of such violence, within its capacity and areas of deployment and to deter cases of violence against civilians through proactive deployment[ and] active patrolling.

A spokeswoman for Unmiss said the mission shared the deep concerns over the situation in southern Unity, but added: We underscore that the responsibility to protect civilians is primarily the responsibility of the host government, and the warring parties are directly responsible for their actions in violation of international human rights and humanitarian law. However, the mission rejects the allegation by MSF of a complete and utter protection failing on the part of Unmiss.

She said that as well as 24 -hour protection to more than 185,000 civilians in its bases across the country, Unmiss had followed patrols to southern Unity with the establishment of a base there in early November.

Since then, our troops have patrolled on a regular basis in the surrounding region to protect civilians and be participating in the parties to the conflict, she said.

In addition, the presence of the mission is creating an environment that allows humanitarian actors returning to the area, including MSF, to deal with the alarming high levels of malnutrition, illness and starvation among the local civilian population.

The fighting that triggered South Sudans civil war erupted in the capital, Juba, on 15 December 2013 after President Salva Kiir accused Machar, his former deputy, of planning a takeover.

The bitter feud between Kiir, a member of the Dinka ethnic group and Machar, a Nuer, has split the country along sectarian lines and unleashed a wave of violence that killed tens of thousands of people and decimated an already weak economy.

It has also displaced 2. two million within and outside the country and left 4.6 million severely food insecure. In October, three UN bureaux alerted there was a concrete risk of famine in four districts in Unity state before the years end.

Like previous truces, Augusts peace deal has failed to end the fighting. In early October, Igad, the regional bloc overseeing the mediation process, said the two sides had violated ceasefire agreements 53 days in 19 months.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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