South Sudan: UN calls for end to fighting, rights abuses; urges unimpeded access for aid

A peacekeeper stands guard at UN House while displaced children look on behind a fence.
UN Photo/Isaac Billy
A peacekeeper stands guard at UN House while displaced children look on behind a fence.

South Sudan: UN calls for end to fighting, rights abuses; urges unimpeded access for aid

With the Security Council renewing its call on all parties in strife-torn South Sudan to end the violence, protect civilians and ease access for relief workers, the wider United Nations organization today continued its efforts help alleviate the “extremely volatile” situation by moving to reinforce peacekeepers and scale up its humanitarian response.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced that he would dispatch Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Simonovic, to the country this weekend to look into cases of rights violations believed to have been committed by both sides in the conflict which has displaced more than 230,000 people, more than a quarter of whom are on UN bases seeking refuge from fighting between pro- and anti-Government forces.

“I have been urging and making it quite clear that those perpetrators of serious human rights violations will be held accountable,” Mr. Ban said in his first press conference of the year in New York. He added that there would be close consultations with the Security Council on the future course of action based on the evidence collected.

The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has been gathering evidence of violations, with around 60 international investigators backed by some 30 South Sudanese counterparts, the Office for the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) announced. The African Union has also announced an investigation.

Addressing journalists in Geneva, spokesperson Rupert Colville said OHCHR welcomed recent high-level commitments to investigate the serious human rights violations and establish who is responsible “as soon as possible in accordance with internationally accepted standards and principles of objectivity, transparency and due process.”

Mr. Ban and his Special Representative in the country, Hilde Johnson, along with High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and other senior officials have repeatedly called for an end to the fighting and urged a political solution through the ongoing talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, led by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

In a statement to the press issued late this afternoon, the Security Council demanded an immediate end to all human rights violations and abuses and stressed that those responsible will be held accountable. It also “welcomed and encouraged” the important efforts of UNMISS to monitor, investigate, verify and report on such violations and abuses.

The Council also welcomed the African Union Peace and Security Council’s (AUPSC’s) recent decision to establish a commission of investigation to ensure accountability, reconciliation and healing among all South Sudanese communities.

As for the peace talks, the Council underlined its demand for South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, former Vice-President Riek Machar and other political leaders to demonstrate leadership by immediately agreeing to a cessation of hostilities and commencing a broader dialogue as proposed in the mediation efforts underway by IGAD in Addis Ababa.

The Council members urged Mr. Machar, in particular, to move forward and agree to a cessation of hostilities without precondition and requested the Government of South Sudan, in particular President Kiir, to release all political leaders currently detained in order to create an environment conducive to a successful dialogue.

Speaking after a Security Council briefing yesterday, Under-Secretary-General for UN Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, said that the death toll was now clearly very much in excess of 1,000, but as yet, there were no precise figures.

UNMISS had asked for help in the gruesome task of disposing of hundreds of bodies lying in the streets of Bor and Malakal, Mr. Colville said. The Mission last week collected more than 200 bodies in Malakal alone. There are also reports of extrajudicial killings and summary executions, he confirmed.

The UN expects to have a “significant number of foreign police units” operating on the ground within the next few days, with the full 5,500-strong surge in UN peacekeepers and equipment deployed on the ground within eight weeks, officials have said.

In Bentiu, Unity State, the situation this morning is relatively calm after intense fighting yesterday triggered displacement, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ (OCHA) Jens Laerke.

UN agencies and partners are trying to access emergency stocks in the town in order to move it to those in need at the UNMISS peacekeeping base, one of 10 throughout the country sheltering 60,500 people.

In Mingkaman and surrounding areas of Awerial County, Lakes state, about 85,000 people had been displaced, OCHA confirmed. Relief organizations are stepping up assistance with food distribution underway. A water treatment system and latrines are also being provided.

It is believed that at least 231,000 people have fled their homes since 15 December, OCHA confirmed, with nearly 43,000 South Sudanese seeking refuge in neighbouring countries, mainly Uganda.

The UN has appealed for $166 million to be able to provide assistance to the displaced civilians through March. So far, an estimated 167,000 people of the 628,000 in need of aid have been reached.

Meanwhile, the head of UNMISS today lashed out at both pro- and anti-Government forces for looting UN supplies and endangering lives of people working with UNMISS, UN aid agencies and non-governmental partners.

Some 20 vehicles owned by UN and humanitarian agencies have been taken in Bor and Bentiu; storage facilities and warehouses looted; offices and accommodation compounds occupied and ransacked; and an UNMISS helicopter shot at, according to the UN Mission.

“This is unacceptable,” Ms. Johnson said. “I call on the leader of the anti-Government forces, Riek Machar Teny, to instruct the forces under his command to stop this practice, to make sure that looted assets and goods, including vehicles, are immediately returned, and to respect the operations of the UN and our humanitarian partners.”

Turning to the Government, Ms. Johnson urged officials “to facilitate the work of UNMISS at this critical time, and fully respect the mutually agreed legal framework for the UN’s work in the country”.

Government authorities have delayed UNMISS flights, which have transported critical supplies for peacekeepers, medical facilities and IDPs, and stopped some UNMISS patrols, the Mission noted.

Such activities, along with the impact of the ongoing fighting, are disrupting aid operations, the UN said.

“Conditions at the camps in Juba are dire,” UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) spokesperson Marixie Mercado briefed journalists in Geneva. She added that UNICEF is especially concerned about conditions at camps outside Juba where intense fighting has limited access.

“Displaced populations, the majority of whom were women and children, faced desperate shortages of food, water and safe sanitation facilities,” she added, noting that UN agencies and partners are working to bring aid to the civilians.

Among new activities, a measles and polio vaccination campaign is underway to reach some 30,000 children under 15-years of age in Juba, and 37,000 children in Awerial county and Bentiu.

UNICEF also expressed concern about children separated from their parents, some in the dash to safety and others in the confusion of crowded camps.

The UN agency is also concerned that the current mobilization and recruitment to both sides could attract children under 18 years of age.

Among activities to try to bring some normalcy to the camps, UNICEF said it identified some 340 students in Juba who had been scheduled to take their eighth grade graduation exams in December. UN and partner organizations are working in support of community elders and teachers preparing the students to take those exams starting on Monday.