‘Sanctity of life paramount,’ UN relief chief says in South Sudan, spotlighting need to protect civilians

23 July 2015

Mid-way through a four-day visit to assess the humanitarian situation in South Sudan, the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator reviewed aid operations in the warn-torn country today, stressing that “everything” should be done to protect civilians from violence.

“It is very important that we carry a message that the one thing that matters above all else is that the sanctity of life should be paramount and that we should be doing everything we can to protect civilians, innocent civilians from the terrible risk and the fear of death from all the violence that is taking place,” said Stephen O’Brien, who is also the UN Under Secretary-General for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

In the South Sudanese capital of Juba, he met with President Salva Kiir to discuss the humanitarian crisis, expressing the need for violence to stop for the sake of the people and the future of the country.

Yesterday, the Under Secretary-General visited a UN civilian protection site in Juba, where some 20,000 people are sheltered, some for up to 19 months. There, he spoke with a group of women living in the UN protection site who shared stories of their suffering.

Tomorrow, Mr. O’Brien is scheduled to visit Unity state, one of the areas hardest hit by the conflict.

The security situation in South Sudan has deteriorated steadily over the past year since political in-fighting between President Kiir and his former Vice-President, Riek Machar, and their respective factions erupted in December 2013. The hostilities subsequently turned into a full-fledged conflict, resulting in reported atrocities and possible war crimes.

According to the latest estimates released by the UN refugee agency, more than 730,000 people have fled into neighbouring countries such as Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan, which has seen the highest arrival rate this year. Meanwhile, another 1.5 million remain internally displaced, often relocated to increasingly overcrowded 'protection-of-civilians' sites run by the UN Mission in South Sudan, also known as UNMISS.

Just two weeks ago, the UN Security Council marked the fourth anniversary of South Sudan’s independence by expressing profound disappointment in South Sudan’s leaders for putting their personal ambitions ahead of the good of their country and their people, sparking months of politically motivated violence that has left thousands dead and caused a “man-made…catastrophe.”

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