Individuals responsible for the recruitment of child soldiers in South Sudan must be held accountable for violating international law, the top United Nations official in the country declared today during a visit to the devastated frontline town of Malakal.
According to a press release issued by the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, Ellen Margrethe Løj, said she was “appalled” by the level of destruction she witnessed in the main market and teaching hospital of the Upper Nile state capital amid reports of child abductions in the nearby community of Wau Shilluk.
A UNICEF education team recently reported, in fact, that 89 children were abducted in Wau Shilluk, where thousands of people have been internally displaced by the ongoing conflict. The actual number, however, could be higher.
According to witnesses, armed soldiers surrounded the community and searched house by house. Boys older than 12 years of age were taken away by force.
“I expressed my grave concerns about the forcible recruitment of boys recently at the Wau Shilluk village near Malakal and elsewhere in Upper Nile state,” Ms. Løj said in the press release.
“I stressed the importance of holding accountable all those who engage in this unacceptable practice, and I shared with the Deputy Governor the assurances given by President Salva Kiir Mayardit to me last month that the boys would be rescued.”
During her visit to Malakal, Ms. Løj met with local officials, including the Upper Nile state Deputy Governor, Gwinye Philipe Chan, to discuss the reports of continuing child recruitment. At the same time, she witness first-hand the devastation wrought by the country’s ongoing conflict.
Malakal has changed hands six times since the break-out of conflict in South Sudan, transforming what was once a vibrant river port into a ghost town during the months of intense fighting that engulfed the city, UNMISS noted.
The security situation in the world’s youngest country has deteriorated steadily over the past year since political in-fighting between the two leaders erupted in December 2013. The hostilities subsequently turned into a full-fledged conflict that has sent nearly 100,000 civilians fleeing to bases around the country managed by the UN Missions (UNMISS).
In talks with local leaders, Ms. Løj advanced the issue of establishing a forward operating base manned by UNMISS peacekeepers as part of the UN’s wider effort to promote “a more secure and safe environment for the thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) wishing to return to their homes on a voluntary basis,” the press release continued.
In addition, the Special Representative also visited the UNMISS civilian protection site where she met with community leaders of the IDP population, currently estimated at over 21,000.
According to the UN, the Organization’s bases across South Sudan are currently sheltering over 110,000 IDPs with an additional 1.5 million others displaced throughout the country and 500,000 outside the country. The displacement, the UN has warned, is increasing amid ongoing fighting.