Great moments in UN peacekeeping, redux: Sitting out a South Sudan massacre

Lather, rinse, repeatThe United Nations puts peacekeeping troops in countries despite their record of abusing the local populations on the off chance that a genocide, massacre, or pillaging might take place in the area. When they do, though, UN peacekeepers have another tradition: ignoring it, and the entire reason they’re in place. This time, they stood by in South Sudan, as did the US embassy even as marauders singled out Americans, the Associated Press reported yesterday:


On July 11, South Sudanese troops, fresh from winning a battle in the capital, Juba, over opposition forces, went on a nearly four-hour rampage through a residential compound popular with foreigners, in one of the worst targeted attacks on aid workers in South Sudan’s three-year civil war. They shot dead a local journalist while forcing the foreigners to watch, raped several foreign women, singled out Americans, beat and robbed people and carried out mock executions, several witnesses told The Associated Press.

For hours throughout the assault, the U.N. peacekeeping force stationed less than a mile away refused to respond to desperate calls for help. Neither did embassies, including the U.S. Embassy.

The State Department insisted yesterday that it did not ignore the attack. UN Ambassador Samantha Power sent out a release expressing outrage over the attacks, and is “deeply concerned” about the UN peacekeeping force’s lack of action:

During the fighting throughout the city, the U.S. embassy in South Sudan responded to distress calls from the compound and urgently contacted South Sudanese government officials, who sent a response force to the site to stop the attack. We are deeply concerned that United Nations peacekeepers were apparently either incapable of or unwilling to respond to calls for help. We have requested and are awaiting the outcome of an investigation by the United Nations and demand swift corrective action in the event that these allegations are substantiated.

This horrific incident further underscores the need for an enhanced, assertive, and more robust international peacekeeping presence in Juba in order to better prevent crimes against civilians and the further deterioration of security in the capital. Last week, the UN Security Council mandated the creation of a robust unit of 4,000 peacekeepers to respond swiftly to security challenges in South Sudan.


We need more peacekeepers to bolster the current peacekeepers? “A robust unit” is useless unless leadership has the will to act. Calling on the South Sudanese to get their troops to stop pillaging and massacring the locals is action of only the least committed kind. That’s especially true given the horrific treatment meted out to Americans and other Western observers by South Sudan troops:

After about an hour and a half, the soldiers broke into the bathroom. They shot through the door, said Jesse Bunch, an American contractor who was hit in the leg.

“We kill you! We kill you!” the soldiers shouted, according to a Western woman in the bathroom. “They would shoot up at the ceiling and say, ‘Do you want to die?’ and we had to answer ‘No!'”

The soldiers then pulled people out one by one. One woman said she was sexually assaulted by multiple men. Another Western woman said soldiers beat her with fists and threatened her with their guns when she tried to resist. She said five men raped her.

During the attack on the Terrain, several survivors told the AP that soldiers specifically asked if they were American. “One of them, as soon as he said he was American, he was hit with a rifle butt,” said a woman.


In fact, the South Sudanese troops had a message for the embassy:

For about an hour, soldiers beat the American with belts and the butts of their guns and accused him of hiding rebels. They fired bullets at his feet and close to his head. Eventually, one soldier who appeared to be in charge told him to leave the compound. Soldiers at the gate looked at his U.S. passport and handed it back, with instructions.

“You tell your embassy how we treated you,” they said. He made his way to the nearby U.N. compound and appealed for help.

Well, they did apparently file a strongly worded memo. That’ll show ’em.

What’s the point of sending in more UN troops if they have no will to intervene? All that does is give both sides in the civil war more targets of opportunity, and put more potential abusers in a region that already has their fill of them. The blue-helmet brigades have proven worthless in Africa and in the Balkans. Their presence doesn’t even provide a deterrent, and won’t as long as they have rules of engagement that dictate non-engagement and leadership that lacks the will to actually impose discipline and order.


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