After an independent inquiry found that the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) failed to protect civilians as deadly violence broke out in and around its premises in the capital, Juba, in July, the top UN peacekeeping official today announced that he has established a task force to carry out the probe’s recommendations, which include ensuring greater accountability of the mission’s leadership.
“I have established a task force, with a calendar, to implement all the recommendations that were made. The Secretary-General has approved these recommendations, so we will try to move things forward as quickly as possible,” Hervé Ladsous, the Under-Secretary-General for UN Peacekeeping Operations, told reporters after closed-door consultations with the Security Council.
Mr. Ladsous’ discussions with the Council come after the Secretary-General received yesterday a report (summarized here) from the Independent Special Investigation, which revealed “serious shortcomings” in UNMISS’ response to violence that broke out in and around Juba in early July, in which, according to some conservative estimates, at least 73 people were killed, including more than 20 internally displaced persons in the Mission’s civilian protection sites.
Recalling other outbreaks of violence in the young country, including this past February in Malakal, Mr. Ladsous, in his informal comments to the press, stressed: “When we think back on the incidents in July, which were extremely bad, one has to also remember that the primary responsibility for what happened there, lies with the government of South Sudan and various South Sudanese political actors […] In the words of the Secretary-General, these political actors […] are betraying their people by allowing these awful situations to happen.”
The incidents occurred during a spate of clashes between rival forces – the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) loyal to President Salva Kiir and the SPLA in Opposition backing First Vice-President Riek Machar – that broke out on 7 July, close to the fifth anniversary of the country’s independence.
UN compounds and UNMISS-managed civilian protection sites were attacked during the fighting and, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, a separate preliminary UN investigation into the violence and its aftermath revealed that Government security forces carried out killings and rapes, and looted and destroyed properties.
The report, commissioned by the Secretary-General found, among others, that “a lack of leadership on the part of key senior Mission personnel culminated in a chaotic and ineffective response to the violence.”
Mr. Ladsous stressed today that in all this, there are a number of issues of a systemic nature that need to be addressed, with troop-contributing countries and with the Security Council, “because they are the ones who are giving us these very difficult mandates to handle operations of peace, when there is in fact no peace.”
Moreover, he drew attention to the victims, saying that while “any victim is one victim too many, [we] still have 200,000 [internally displaced persons] at bases and camps in South Sudan; and probably most of them owe their lives to us, and that work continues.” Indeed, he described the situation on the ground as “very difficult,” with fighting in various parts of the country, as well as a rise in hate speech, “which could fuel ethnic frictions, and possibly worse, so this is something that needs to be watched very closely,” and all of this in a context where “the political process is not getting any traction.”
Asked about fallout from the Secretary-General’s request, in line with eth report’s recommendations, for the “immediate replacement” of UNMISS Force Commander, Lt. Gen. Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki, of Kenya, Mr. Ladsous said there is system-wide accountability. We all have a degree of responsibility. In the matter of the Force Commander […] I think the conclusions were irrefutable.”
At the same time, he said the UN regretted Kenya’s decision to withdraw its troops from UN operations, “because Kenya has been a solid contributor to our police, and troops in peacekeeping operations. It is their sovereign decision, I respect that, but of course I regret it.” In any case, the UN is assessing what consequences this will have on the regional protection force that was agreed upon by the Security Council in early September to be deployed as part of UNMISS, “that we are trying to bring into existence as quickly as possible.”
South Sudan has faced ongoing challenges since a political face-off between Mr. Kiir and Mr. Machar erupted into full blown conflict in December 2013. The crisis has produced one of the world's worst displacement situations with immense suffering for civilians.
Despite the August 2015 peace agreement that formally ended the war, conflict and instability have also spread to previously unaffected areas in the Greater Equatoria and Greater Bahr-El-Ghazal regions of South Sudan.