Peacekeepers failed to protect civilians on South Sudan base

The UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan failed to protect civilians during a February attack on a base in the northern city of Malakal, where at least 25 people were killed, according to the international medical and humanitarian group Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

South Sudanese civilians flee fightings in the northeastern town of Malakal. Picture: AFP/Getty
South Sudanese civilians flee fightings in the northeastern town of Malakal. Picture: AFP/Getty

The group released a report on Tuesday detailing the failures of peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance during the attack at a camp for internally displaced people in Malakal, the capital of oil-producing Upper Nile State, in which two MSF staff members died.

MSF’s report found that despite a strong military presence at the camp, the UN mission did not fulfil its mandate to protect civilians and could have averted many of the deaths.

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A UN report based on an investigation into the attack found that at least 30 people died in the attack and placed the number of wounded at 123. According to MSF, community leaders put the death toll as high as 65.

“Prior to the attack, they failed to prevent the flow of weapons entering the camp; they chose not to intervene when initial fighting broke out in the camp, and when an attack came from outside the camp they were extremely slow to repel the assault,” said Raquel Ayora, MSF director of operations.

MSF said a survey found that over 80 per cent of the displaced people at the Malakal camp now feel unsafe there and have lost their trust in UN peacekeepers since the attack occurred.

In a note to correspondents, the UN secretary general’s office blamed the attack on deep-rooted historical land disputes and said it was triggered by two South Sudanese government soldiers trying to smuggle ammunition into the camp.

The UN report found there was “confusion with respect to command and control and rules of engagement and a lack of co-ordination” at the time of the attack. The investigation also said there were unrealistic expectations about how much protection the peacekeeping force could provide to the 48,000 displaced persons in the camp at the time.