The interagency convoy of 59 trucks was carrying WFP food and nutrition assistance on Monday when it was attacked by armed gunmen near Gadiang, located in Jonglei state, some 160 kilometres from the state capital, Bor.
UNMISS peacekeepers were protecting the convoy, which was travelling to various locations to preposition much needed assistance for some 95,000 people ahead of the rainy season, when access becomes heavily restricted.
Lifesaving aid derailed
The Mission and WFP issued a statement strongly condemning the attempted ambush.
They said such incidents derail humanitarians from being able to deliver lifesaving assistance to people in need during the limited window of opportunity available to reach them.
Meshack Malo, UN interim Acting Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan, added that continued attacks on humanitarians, and attempted looting of vital relief, are a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law.
“At a time of major funding constraints, the loss of aid due to theft, looting or destruction, means that every bag of food, nutrition or other humanitarian supplies looted, is stolen directly from the South Sudanese families most in need,” he said.
Attacks on the rise
UNMISS and WFP have called on the Government to investigate the attack and bring the perpetrators to justice.
They also underlined the need to respect humanitarian operations and UN peacekeepers working to promote peace and stability in the country.
Attacks targeting humanitarian convoys and assets have been rising in South Sudan, surpassing 590 last year, according to the UN humanitarian affairs office, OCHA.
The rising violence has forced humanitarian organizations to seek protection from UNMISS forces during aid deliveries.
Human rights violations
This latest incident comes as the Mission and the UN human rights office, OHCHR, issued a joint report on grave violations and abuses committed during fighting last year in Tambura county, located in Western Equatoria state.
At least 440 people were killed, and 18 injured, in clashes between warring groups that occurred between June and September 2021.
The report further revealed that at least 64 civilians were subjected to conflict-related sexual violence, including a 13-year-old girl who was gang-raped to death. Some 80,000 people were also forced to flee their homes to escape the fighting.
Other violations reported included looting and destruction of property, child conscription, attacks on protected personnel and facilities, and hate speech and incitement to violence.
Hold perpetrators accountable
“We call on all parties to the conflict to hold to account all individuals implicated in the horrific killings, rape, and abductions, among other grave human rights violations,” said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet.
“Women and children who were abducted must immediately be released and reunited with their families, and survivors provided with reparations,” she added.
The report names members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army in Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) and the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF) – which is led by Major General James Nando – and their respective affiliated militias, as responsible for the violations and abuses.
Those suspected of instigating, facilitating and aiding the violence have been identified, and they include high-ranking military officials and community and religious leaders.
UN Photo/Laura Jarriel
“Allegations against these individuals must be promptly, thoroughly and independently investigated; and perpetrators brought to justice and held accountable,” said Ms. Bachelet.
Here again, the South Sudanese authorities have been called on to investigate and prosecute those responsible.
UN peace efforts
In the wake of the initial clashes, UNMISS brought together top-level officials in the capital, Juba, and Western Equatoria to address the violence.
The Mission deployed 21 rotations of military, police and civilian personnel in Tambura and enabled humanitarians to conduct assessments and deliver aid to thousands of displaced people.
Peacekeepers also established a temporary operating base so that they could provide protection, deter violence, and respond at short notice.
Ms. Bachelet stressed that sustainable peace in South Sudan is only possible if gross human rights violations committed during conflict are addressed through justice, truth, reconciliation, healing, compensation and reparations.
“The perpetrators of such brutal violence against the men, women and children of South Sudan cannot be left to benefit from impunity. Accountability is critical to deter further violations,” she said.