Following the deaths of 18 civilians in a displaced people’s camp run by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) in the city of Malakal on February 18, reporters are beginning to piece together details on the incident.
According to the Daily Beast, “The evidence so far strongly indicates that soldiers from the government forces of President Salva Kiir’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), possibly working with militias, planned, prepared, and carried out the attack.”
The role of UN peacekeepers in protecting civilians in the ironically named Protection of Civilians site is also coming under intense scrutiny from several quarters. South Sudanese lawmakers from the Malakal area lay the blame squarely on the UN. Onyoti Adigo Nyikwac, leader of the Democratic Change party said civilians were left “helpless” while government backed militia carried out indiscriminate killing in the camp.
The Daily Beast reports that UN peacekeepers took too long—about 16 hours—to react to the presence of the militia.
“It appears that when UNMISS troops decided to engage with the SPLA or allied militia, they were easily able to stop the threat. Why it took UNMISS troops around 16 hours to do this is unknown,” the Daily Beast reported.
In a move that unveils how bureaucracy stymied quick reaction by the peacekeepers, some UN troops were reportedly against the idea of using lethal force, instead demanding that they be issued permission to shoot in writing.
“When they received it, they were still reluctant to fire, until they were coaxed by the UNMISS military leadership,” reports the Daily Beast.
The UN has defended its role, saying it did “protect civilians within its capacity in Malakal.” It has also apologized, according to Eye Radio in Juba, quotingArianne Quentier, a UNMISS spokesperson who said, “We are really sorry, and sorry is an understatement.”
On its part, the government has denied any role in the killing in Malakal and has summoned the residing governor, Chol Thon, to the capital Juba to explain what happened. It is also launching an investigation into the incident.
Overall, the Malakal tragedy exposes significant gaps in civilian protection and calls for stronger measures to prevent such atrocities in the future. More ever, the tragedy calls for an investigation on the role of the peacekeepers on the site.