South Sudan’s government must establish control over its forces, the head of the United Nations mission in the country reiterated on Wednesday, September 19, days after a peacekeeper was shot by a government soldier.
“UNMISS is sending a very strong message to local authorities and the Government that they must establish command and control over the armed forces to stop this kind of unruly behavior,” David Shearer, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the U.N. Mission in South Sudan told journalists in Juba.
A Nepalese peacekeeper was shot and wounded on September 15 while traveling in a convoy to collect water in the town of Yei.
The U.N. said an SPLA soldier began shooting in the air near the convoy which included two water tankers. The soldier then shot at one of the vehicles, hitting the peacekeeper in the leg, and then ran into a crowd. Peacekeepers did not return fire.
“The perpetrator must be found and held accountable by Government authorities,” Shearer said at the time. “This situation is evidence of a lack of command and control of armed forces which has resulted in unruly elements who continue to commit human rights abuses in the area. It is beholden on the Government to bring their forces under control.”
The attack followed reports of clashes between government and opposition forces in Central Equatoria which are under investigation.
‘Suspicion is still widespread’
Shearer said on Wednesday that the U.N. had seen “a reduction in the level of fighting since the signing of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement last year.”
“This is a positive sign, but it must be sustained,” he said. “The real challenge the parties face now is implementing the agreement.”
“From my discussions with them, suspicion is still widespread,” he said, adding that work needs to build trust between the former foes who signed the peace agreement.
The most recent South Sudan peace agreement was signed by President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar at a summit of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development regional bloc in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on September 12.
South Sudan’s latest war began in December 2013 when Kiir accused Machar of plotting a coup.
Several IGAD-brokered peace efforts and ceasefires have since failed, with the last agreement collapsing in July 2016 during days of fighting in the capital Juba that forced Machar to flee for his life.
Efforts to revive that agreement began in earnest in June this year with a face-to-face meeting between Kiir and Machar in the Sudanese capital Khartoum that led to the signing of a fresh ceasefire and a power-sharing deal that sees Machar returning as first vice president in the government. Kiir offered blanket amnesty to Machar’s Sudanese People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition and other rebel groups in a decree earlier this month.
But international backers of the peace process had raised doubts about whether the deal would stick given the depth of animosity between South Sudan’s leaders which dates back to the 1990s when Machar first broke ranks at the height of the war for independence from Khartoum.
Shearer noted that all peace agreements are imperfect, and acknowledged that “there has been skepticism whether the political will exists to implement the agreement. The reaction from people I’ve spoken to here has been hopeful but cautious.”
“The U.N. is poised to help with the implementation of the agreement. But there must be an agreed realistic plan to achieve this. We also need to see clear evidence that all the warring factions have the political will to stop the violence.”
“We want to see concrete action from all parties involved about their commitment to peace,” he added.
IGAD is expected to engage the U.N. Security Council to review UNMISS’s mandate to allow regional countries – Sudan, Uganda, Djibouti and Somalia – to contribute troops to the peace process, the U.N.’s Radio Miraya reported Shearer as saying. Currently, 2,300 of the 4,000 Regional Protection Force troops have been deployed in South Sudan, accounting for 60 percent of the force.
Amnesty uncovers new evidence of ‘war crimes’
Separately, Amnesty International on Wednesday said it had uncovered evidence of “war crimes” in a brutal government offensive on Leer and Mayendit counties in the northern state of Unity.
The offensive began in April and continued until early July, “a week after the latest ceasefire was brokered on 27 June,” which paved the way for last week’s peace agreement.
“Civilians [were] deliberately shot dead, burnt alive, hanged in trees and run over with armoured vehicles,” it said.
Amnesty said its report drew on testimony from around 100 civilians survivors.
The group also documented “systematic sexual violence,” rape and gang-rape as well as abductions of women and girls, and the deliberate killing of young boys and male infants.
The killings echo the type of brutality that is a characteristic of South Sudan’s five-year-old civil war.
U.N. rights experts have warned of “ethnic cleansing” and the threat of genocide. Amnesty blames the continuing violence on a failure to prosecute perpetrators.
A so-called “hybrid court” to try war crimes and crimes against humanity, proposed by the African Union as part of a failed 2015 peace agreement, has yet to be set up.
With reporting from AFP