UNITED NATIONS (Oct. 5, 2016)—The United Nations needs to ensure transparency and accountability for the inadequate response of its peacekeepers during the July crisis in Juba, Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) said in a report released today. For its part, the Security Council should immediately impose an arms embargo, both to help protect civilians from further harm and in response to the national government’s obstruction of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

thumbnail of CIVIC – Juba Violence Report – October 2016The 84-page report, Under Fire: The July 2016 Violence in Juba and UN Response, documents how, during four days of intense fighting in Juba in July 2016, the parties to the conflict killed and injured civilians in displaced persons camps with indiscriminate gun and artillery fire. Government forces also broke into a hotel and apartment complex to brutally attack international and national aid workers, and, in the weeks following the crisis, raped South Sudanese women who went outside the displaced persons camps in search of food.

Much of the fighting occurred in close proximity to the main UNMISS bases, which were themselves hit by more than 200 rounds of likely indiscriminate fire. In that environment, the Mission’s defense of the 37,000 displaced persons sheltered on its bases was inconsistent, with some peacekeepers abandoning their posts during heavy fighting while other peacekeepers assisted civilians trying to enter the base perimeter. Outside the UN bases, the Mission’s protection was almost nonexistent, with devastating consequences for South Sudanese civilians and aid workers targeted by government forces.

“The UN peacekeeping mission faced a challenging environment during the July violence in Juba, but it underperformed in protecting civilians inside and outside its bases,” said Federico Borello, Executive Director at CIVIC. “To ensure that such problems are not repeated, it is critical that the UN be transparent about what went wrong and hold accountable any individuals or units that failed to live up to the Mission’s protection mandate.”

Many of the problems exposed during UNMISS’s response to the July violence are not new. In February 2016, government forces attacked the Malakal Protection of Civilians (POC) site, on which 47,000 displaced persons were sheltered. At least 30 civilians were killed and one-third of the camp was burned down. CIVIC’s investigation into that incident, as well as a UN Board of Inquiry (BOI), identified major failings. However, UN leadership refused to divulge which particular troops underperformed, and CIVIC’s new report also shows there was scant accountability, despite promises to repatriate units and specific officers.

In August, the UN Secretary-General appointed a Special Investigation to examine issues related to UNMISS’s response to the July violence in Juba. It is essential that the Special Investigation’s report be made public and lead to meaningful accountability for peacekeeping units as well as for individual civilian and military officials who underperformed, CIVIC said.

Although the Mission needs to perform better in protecting civilians under threat, many of its difficulties are compounded by the inadequate support it has received from the UN Security Council and UN leadership in New York. The crisis exposed major problems with medical care and evacuation; two peacekeepers died, including one who bled for 16 hours, after a UN position was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and the Mission was unable to get them proper medical attention. During critical parts of the fighting, peacekeepers were also unable to stay in their sentry posts along the POC site perimeter, as they were not reinforced with bulletproof material.

For almost three years, the Mission has been repeatedly blocked, harassed, and, at times, even attacked by the parties to the conflict. Civilians throughout the country have also been targeted deliberately, including for killings, sexual violence, abductions, and the destruction of homes and crops. In response, the Security Council has issued numerous condemnations but failed to take effective action.

“The Security Council has sat idly by as the parties to the conflict have repeatedly obstructed UNMISS’s movement and used weapons, including heavy weapons, against civilians,” Borello said. “It is time for the Council to finally implement an arms embargo.”

Under Fire is based on more than 100 interviews during two weeks of field research in Juba in August 2016 as well as on meetings and Skype interviews in Nairobi, Washington, DC, and New York in July and September 2016. CIVIC also sent a letter to UNMISS requesting official response to seven specific issues related to the July violence. The Mission’s written responses have been incorporated into the report.

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Notes to editors:

Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC)’s mission is to improve protection for civilians caught in conflicts around the world. We call on and advise international organizations, governments, militaries, and armed non-state actors to adopt and implement policies to prevent civilian harm. When civilians are harmed we advocate for the provision of amends and post-harm assistance. We bring the voices of civilians themselves to those making decisions affecting their lives.

For more information, contact Christopher Allbritton at +1 (917) 310-4785 or chris@civiliansinconflict.org.

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