UN soldiers fled, abandoning arms and ammunition during July 8th fighting in Juba

Posted: October 6, 2016 by PaanLuel Wël in Junub Sudan

UN peace keepers fled, used tear gas on South Sudan civilians

JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — United Nations peacekeepers abandoned their posts when fighting erupted in South Sudan’s capital in July and then used tear gas on frightened civilians who sought shelter at the center of the U.N. base, a new report says.

Wednesday’s report by the U.S.-based Center for Civilians in Conflict adds to a growing list of incidents where U.N. peacekeepers have been accused of failing to carry out their mandate in South Sudan, where civil war erupted in December 2013.

More than 12,000 U.N. peacekeepers are in this East African country. More than 200,000 civilians are sheltering in U.N. camps in the capital and elsewhere.

The new report, based on interviews with 59 South Sudanese civilians and 21 officials with the U.N. mission, among others, says some peacekeepers refused orders to protect civilians during the July chaos in Juba. Hundreds of people died in the fighting between government and opposition forces.

Peacekeepers with the U.N. force in South Sudan, or UNMISS, largely remained confined to their base during and immediately after the violence, and struggled to patrol the capital for weeks afterward, the report says.

The Associated Press has reported that peacekeepers also refused to respond to pleas for help as government soldiers looted and raped aid workers at the nearby Terrain compound.

Separately, the new report found that Chinese peacekeepers at a U.N. camp “fled en masse” from their positions in response to heavy fighting nearby, leaving behind some weapons and ammunition.

With those peacekeepers gone, and with nowhere in that part of the U.N. camp to seek shelter from gunfire, about 5,000 civilians “fled over fences and barbed wire” into the heart of the camp where administrative offices are located, the report says. Overwhelmed peacekeepers then struggled to manage the crowd, and civilian witnesses said some looting occurred.

A response came the next day.

“According to seven independent witness accounts, on the morning of July 12, UNMISS fired tear gas on the civilians with little or no warning,” the report says.

In response to questions from the AP, a spokeswoman for the U.N. mission, Yasmina Bouziane, said two tear gas shells were used by peacekeepers to assure the safety of U.N. personnel, and there were no injuries. She also that in response to some direct and indirect heavy fire, some peacekeepers took cover as a self-defense measure.

Two Chinese peacekeepers died during the July fighting, and six others sustained major injuries.

The new report raises concerns that peacekeepers have been unable to learn from past mistakes.

After South Sudanese government soldiers in February attacked a U.N.-protected camp in Malakal that sheltered 48,000 civilians, a report by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon found that peacekeepers had a “lack of a proactive mindset” for civilians and experienced “confusion with respect to command and control and lack of coordination.”

“There is very little accountability for peacekeeping failures in terms of protection of civilians,” Matt Wells, a senior adviser on peacekeeping at the Center for Civilians in Conflict, told The Associated Press. “As long as there is little consequence to failing to perform under a mandate, events like Malakal and Juba are unfortunately likely to happen again.” His organization advocates for protecting civilians in conflicts around the world.

At the same time, South Sudan’s government has repeatedly hampered the U.N. mission, according to a recent confidential letter from the U.N. chief to the U.N. Security Council.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said during the council’s recent visit to the country that she had “never seen a mission that is as obstructed as UNMISS in its movement.”

In August, the Security Council warned South Sudan’s government to accept 4,000 additional peacekeepers and remove restrictions on the U.N. mission or face an arms embargo.

On Wednesday, Martin Elia Lomoro, South Sudan’s minister of Cabinet affairs, told the AP that the government had accepted the force in principle, and that most of the deployment’s technical areas had been agreed to.

“If you insist on bringing 4,000, OK. Let’s see what they are going to do,” Lomoro said.

UN peacekeepers refused to help as aid workers were raped in South Sudan – report

United Nations peacekeepers stayed in their bases rather than protect civilians during an outbreak of fighting in South Sudan in July, a rights group has said.

Chinese UN peacekeepers in the capital Juba “abandoned their posts entirely” at one civilian protection site where tens of thousands had sought safety from successive bouts of fighting, a report by the US-based Centre for Civilians in Conflict (Civic) said.

Although Ethiopian troops appear to have withdrawn from their perimeter positions at another base, civilians said the peacekeepers helped evacuate civilian casualties and, on at least a few occasions, returned fire when fighters targeted the camp. Outside the fortified bases, however, peacekeeper presence was “non-existent”.

The failures came amid clashes in Juba between troops from the government’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), loyal to the president Salva Kiir, and opposition forces of his rival Riek Machar. The street battles, in which scores were killed, were the culmination of months of tension between the two factions, and resulted in the flight of Machar from South Sudan.

During four days of fighting between the rival forces, artillery rounds and gunfire hit two UN bases, killing two Chinese peacekeepers.

The Chinese troops subsequently abandoned their posts, leaving weapons and ammunition behind, the report said.

More than 300 people died in the fighting, with the majority of the military casualties sustained by the rebels. A number of government soldiers from the SPLA were also killed.

However, civilians suffered worst, with tens of thousands displaced by the violence and widespread human rights abuses by both sides.

 South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, with members of the UN security council in Juba last month. Photograph: Justin Lynch/AP

Civilians died inside and outside the UN bases and hundreds – possibly thousands – of women were raped, including many within view of UN bases. Aid workers were also targeted.

On the last day of the fighting, about 80 to 100 government soldiers attacked a compound in Juba where they raped and gang-raped at least five international aid workers and physically or sexually assaulted at least a dozen others, the report said.

They also killed a South Sudanese journalist, apparently because of his ethnicity, it was reported.

One UN base was only several hundred metres from the compound, but despite dozens of appeals for help from the besieged aid workers and personal visits from at least one who escaped from the compound, internal UN documents show no help was sent, the Associated Press reported in August.

The new report, based on about 100 interviews conducted in south Sudan, explains that though the UN gave orders for a peacekeepers to intervene, none “ever tried to leave their bases” with the Chinese and Ethiopian battalions refusing to go.

The UN has more than 12,500 troops from 61 countries deployed in South Sudan, which gained independence from Sudan in 2011 after decades of civil war. Under the UN’s terms of engagement, the force, which is equipped with armoured vehicles and heavy weapons, has the authority to take action to protect civilians and staff from imminent violence.

About 2,500 troops are stationed in two bases in Juba, backed by about 930 support staff and 350 police officers.

“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, the executive director of 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 protection mandate.”

Civic also called for a UN arms embargo on South Sudan, which was plunged into conflict in December 2013, when the president, Kiir, accused Machar, his former deputy, of plotting a coup.

A UN armoured personnel vehicle in a refugee camp in Juba, South Sudan. Photograph: Jason Patinkin/AP

A patchily implemented peace deal in August 2015 led to Machar’s return to the capital this year, but the agreement broke down.

The UN’s failings in July were not new, Civic said. The group previously investigated an incident in February, when peacekeepers from Ethiopia, India and Rwanda stood by as government soldiers attacked another Protection of Civilians site in the northern town of Malakal, killing at least 30 civilians.

Months later, the UN admitted to peacekeeper “inaction, abandonment of post and refusal to engage” during the Malakal attack, but failed to hold any commanders or troops to account.

Civic said the UN mission in South Sudan received inadequate support from UN headquarters and had been “repeatedly blocked, harassed, and, at times, even attacked by the parties to the conflict”.

“The UN’s failings began before guns were fired in July; the security council has not taken meaningful action to challenge the government of South Sudan as it repeatedly obstructed the movements and functioning of Unmiss.

“The mission, for its part, yielded to a situation in which, in effect, it needed [local authorities’] authorisation to perform many of its most basic protection tasks,” the report said.

UN peacekeeping officials said the report raised a number of important issues, noting that an independent investigation into the Juba violence ordered by the outgoing UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon was due to present its findings shortly.

The UN sites offering civilians refuge were “unsustainable and cannot provide a reliable option for the physical security” of tens of thousands of South Sudanese, the institution’s peacekeeping department said. “The investment we urgently need to make and prioritise in South Sudan is putting the peace process back on track,” it said.

Machar, the former vice president, is in exile in Khartoum, from where he has called for armed resistance against Kiir’s government, raising the prospect of a return to all-out civil war.

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