A United Nations spokesman said Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is “concerned about allegations” that UN soldiers did nothing while aid workers were being raped and beaten nearby in South Sudan and will investigate.
After winning a battle against opposition forces in the capital Juba, some South Sudanese troops waged a more than four-hour attack against a compound of foreign aid workers. “They shot dead a local journalist while forcing the foreigners to watch, raped several foreign women, singled out Americans, beat and robbed people and carried out mock executions,” reported the Associated Press, based on witness accounts. “For hours throughout the assault, the UN peacekeeping force stationed less than a mile away refused to respond to desperate calls for help. Neither did embassies, including the U.S. embassy.” One female aid worker was raped by 15 soldiers.
A spokesman for South Sudan’s army claimed their troops weren’t necessarily responsible because “everyone is armed, and everyone has access to uniforms.”
Human Rights Watch said in a report released Monday its investigators also “found evidence that government soldiers stationed in an area known as ‘Checkpoint’ along the road to Yei raped dozens of women sheltering at a protection of civilians camp at the UN base at Jebel who ventured out of the camp in search of food – in some cases raping them just a few hundred meters away from the UN peacekeepers’ base.”
“At the onset of the fighting, the army ordered [UN Mission in South Sudan] staff and peacekeepers to stay inside their bases. The mission stated that its peacekeepers were seriously hampered in protecting civilians inside and outside its bases as a result.”
The rescuers of the compound workers were not from the UN — there were battalions from Ethiopia, China and Nepal nearby who reportedly all refused to help — but South Sudanese security officers or private security guards.
UN spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters Wednesday that the secretary-general was “alarmed by the preliminary findings of a fact-finding investigation” into the attack and “concerned about allegations that UNMISS did not respond appropriately to prevent this and other grave cases of sexual violence committed in Juba.”
“Due to the gravity of these incidents, related allegations and the preliminary findings by UNMISS, the secretary-general has decided to launch an independent special investigation to determine the circumstances surrounding these incidents and to evaluate the Mission’s overall response,” Haq said. “The secretary-general reiterates his outrage over the acts of violence committed by the [Sudan People’s Liberation Army] and opposition forces in Juba from 8 to 11 July, during which many South Sudanese civilians and two UN peacekeepers were killed.”
“The secretary-general urges, once more, the government of South Sudan to investigate these human right violations and to prosecute those involved in these unspeakable acts of violence.”
Haq said the preliminary report won’t be made public, only the findings of the forthcoming special investigation.
Asked about the the head of the UN Department of Safety and Security in South Sudan earlier declaring the compound safe for workers from the United Nations Population Fund, Food and Agriculture Organization and others, Haq replied, “I’m not going to get into the specific facts of the case, which are being determined.”
“What I can say more generally is simply that we do rely on our Department of Safety and Security to determine, in any country, where places are that are safe for UN staff to stay,” he added.
The U.S. Mission to the UN has called for a quick and thorough investigation of the attack.
“Do you need a fact-finding mission to tell you that the UN did nothing to respond when they were told that they – these people, these aid workers, were in need of help?” a reporter asked at Wednesday’s State Department briefing.
“I think always in these kinds of incidents – and again, this was absolutely abhorrent what happened, but I think it’s always useful to look at – to not draw at any broad conclusions but to look at the timeline of what happened and to understand the decision- making that went into that process – as I said, if only to make sure that in future cases – similar situations, rather – that this doesn’t happen again,” spokesman Mark Toner replied.
Toner said he didn’t know how many Americans were involved in the attack.