UN: South Sudan must do more to stop civilian deaths


Semi-autonomous south Sudan must do more to protect its civilians from armed groups and bloody tribal clashes, the United Nation’s human rights investigator for Sudan, Sima Samar, said on Thursday.

Samar, who said this year’s violence was unprecedented in terms of casualties, the use of sophisticated firearms and because women and children were targeted, said the south should deploy security forces to conflict areas and disarm civilians.

Inter-tribal peace talks have followed dry season battles for centuries, but the increased violence this year has prompted worries over southern unity as a fragile north-south peace accord is implemented, Reuters explains.

South Sudan‘s government was set up in 2005 after a peace deal ended a war between the north and south over resources and differing ideologies. Two million died, often as the rebels battled other southern militias sponsored by Khartoum.

This year more than 700 people were killed in marshy and remote Jonglei State in attacks and counter-attacks by the Lou Nuer and Murle ethnic groups earlier this year. The bloodshed followed years of escalating cattle raiding.

Many of the south’s soldiers are deployed to protect the northern border and soldiers did not intervene in Jonglei. The south Sudanese army has 60 000 soldiers on its payroll, but UN experts believe there may be more than twice that.

“The lack of action by the government of southern Sudan in order to prevent the acts in Jonglei is a terrible thing,” Samar said, adding that punitive justice was needed as well as the traditional peace-making dialogue.

“They should somehow bring the people who did the crimes to justice,” she said, warning of impunity for the armed groups, typically made up of young men.

A report released this week by the Swiss-based Small Arms Survey said disarmament and controlling internal fighting was especially difficult for the war-ravaged south, which is focused on defending its border with the north and containing spoilers.

“The (south) continues to be driven by the belief that a confrontation with the north is likely,” the report said. Patchy disarmament attempts have failed to improve security, instead highlighting tribal divisions, the report continued.

Southern President Salva Kiir has already announced a new civilian disarmament campaign but the Small Arms Survey said a renewed attempt at tribal reconciliation is crucial for improving security and building confidence.

“In the absence of visible peace-building and development, the government will be unable to meet the south’s greatest challenge, which is to unify its people,” the report said.

It is unclear why soldiers did not try to protect civilians in Jonglei. Army sources have said that the central government issued orders not to intervene in the clashes, possibly because of worries over the implications of soldiers shooting civilians in gun battles.

The Small Arms Survey said that there have been reports that attacking Lou Nuer had been given guns by soldiers, some of whom may have defected to fight with their ethnic kin.

The United Nations said earlier this week that more people have died in tribal violence in post-war southern Sudan in recent months than in the western Darfur region plagued by ethnic and politically driven fighting.