UNMISS Urges Bunj Authorities to Hold Perpetrators of Violence Against UN and Humanitarian Agencies Accountable
Life-saving medication litters the ground across the Relief International compound in Bunj.
At nearby humanitarian agencies, offices and tukuls have been burnt to the ground, the windows of dozens of vehicles have been smashed while others were torched.
The homes of aid workers were also targeted by hundreds of demonstrators who invaded compounds across the town in the Upper Nile region of South Sudan, causing mass destruction. It was terrifying for international and local humanitarians who were caught up in the violent rampage on July 23.
At Relief International, 45 staff were inside the compound when the attacks began. They ran to nearby bush to escape.
“Two minutes after my staff left the compound, people started to enter. They destroyed everything - all the medicines that we had for the nine health facilities in the host community. They just took them from the warehouse, smashed them into the ground and also took all the assets that we have,” said Relief International Area Manager, Amman Mohammed.
“The bunker, the safe place, where our staff should go, was destroyed. I’m not sure if my staff were there what would have happened.”
Peacekeepers serving with the UN Mission in South Sudan intervened to try and prevent further violence by firing warning shots into the air and providing a protective presence for humanitarians back at their base. The Head of the Mission and Special Representative of the Secretary-General visited Bunj to see the destruction first-hand.
“I’m horrified, really angry,” said David Shearer. “These people were here to help the refugees, more than 140,000 people in desperate need, not only that, but UNHCR and the aid agencies were here to help the local population that are hosting the refugees.”
More than $84 million dollars has been spent on supporting the local population and refugees, including building hospitals, water systems, providing education, and other assistance.
“This is how they reward that sort of effort. I think it’s disgusting,” said David Shearer.
As the designated official responsible for the security of all UN personnel in South Sudan, David Shearer met with humanitarian agencies and local authorities, demanding the government hold the perpetrators to account.
“The police must have known, the military, the SPLA must have known and yet they did nothing to try and stop it so were they in collusion and in cooperation with the youth or did they just decide they didn’t want to be involved and stood back and let it happen?” he asked the local county commissioners.
After the violent attacks, hundreds of humanitarian workers were relocated to the capital Juba with about 60 remaining on the ground to provide urgent assistance. Local authorities acknowledge the attacks will have a devastating impact on the provision of assistance to communities in need.
“I’m quite sure it will not repeat itself again because the culprits are being arrested. The Government is very serious to take accountability against whoever was involved in this incident,” said Acting County Commissioner, Nyango Yassin Weita.
He urged UN and humanitarian agencies to return to the area as soon as possible. But the SRSG said it would not be business as usual for some time given the level of destruction, need to rebuild infrastructure, and lingering security concerns.