8 April 2013 - The South Sudan government must take all necessary steps to protect civilians during ongoing military operations in Jonglei State, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General (SRSG) for South Sudan, Hilde F. Johnson, said in Juba today.
Addressing a press conference at the mission’s headquarters, Ms. Johnson said that groups of civilians ranging in size from hundreds to over 3,000 have been given shelter in UNMISS bases in Jonglei during clashes in recent months between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and armed rebel groups.
“The frequency and gravity of these cases underscore the importance of the protection of civilians mandate of UNMISS, but also the need to build the country's capacity for the Government and its security institutions,” said Ms. Johnson. “It is first and foremost the responsibility of the Government to protect civilians.”
Ms. Johnson noted the “credible efforts” made by the Government and community leaders to bring peace and stability to Jonglei but added that it was unfortunate that attempts to engage the militia leader David Yau Yau in negotiations had not produced any results thus far.
The UNMISS chief said that military operations against the Yau Yau armed group were underway and urged SPLA troops to draw a clear distinction between combatants and unarmed civilians.
“It is absolutely essential that the Government, the SPLA and all other security forces abide by their international and human rights obligations, especially those under the Geneva Conventions, which South Sudan signed last year,” she said.
The SRSG expressed concern over reports that youths are mobilizing for a possible attack in retaliation for the killing of at least 85 people on 8 February near the community of Wangar.
Ms. Johnson also highlighted the Mission’s policy of treating all communities in South Sudan with complete impartiality. She noted that six companies of UNMISS military peacekeepers have been distributed among different parts of Jonglei where the Lou Nuer, Bor Dinka and Murle ethnic groups each represent the majority population.
“I know that there are stories that we are protecting one community, and not the others; that we are biased,” she said. “Let me make one thing very clear, the UN is set to protect all civilians, wherever they come from, whatever their ethnic identity or background.
“Anything else would be a gross violation of our U.N. mandate.”
The UNMISS head also noted the resumption of oil production in South Sudan during the weekend of 6-7 April and expressed the hope that an apparent relaxation of tensions between the country and neighboring Sudan might open “a new chapter” for South Sudan.