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U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS)

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's decision 01 November 2016 to fire the U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) force commander is long overdue, accrding to South Sudanese analysts. Ban fired UNMISS Force Commander Lieutenant General Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki of Kenya, following the UN report that concluded its peacekeeping force in South Sudan failed to protect civilians and aid workers when fighting broke out in Juba in early July.

Ban had appointed Ondieki in May 2016 and he took up his post in mid-June. He replaced Lieutenant General Yohannes Gebremeskel Tesfamariam of Ethiopia, who will complete his assignment on 17 June 2016. Having served as Deputy Army Chief of Staff-Command and Control of Kenya Army Forces since 2013, Lieutenant General Ondieki was previously General Officer Commanding Western Command, Kenya Army, from 2012 to 2013, and Land Forces Component Commander of the Kenya Defence Forces in Operations from 2011 to 2012. In addition, he held the position of Sector Commander-United Nations Mission in Sudan from 2010 to 2011. Lieutenant General Ondieki holds a bachelor’s degree in peace and conflict studies from the African Nazarene University in Kenya, and is also a graduate the War College in China, and of the Command and Staff College in the United States.

Kenya says it would pull its peacekeepers from South Sudan, a day after the U.N. secretary-general fired the Kenyan general who is the force commander of the UN mission there. Kenya’s foreign ministry rejected the general’s dismissal and the U.N.’s offer to nominate a replacement. The ministry said they would immediately withdraw all Kenyan troops serving in the U.N. mission in South Sudan — of which there are about 1,000. Kenya also said it will discontinue plans to contribute troops to a Regional Protection Force in South Sudan and will disengage from the peace process.

On 04 August 2016 the preliminary UN investigations into the fighting in South Sudan, and its aftermath, revealed Government security forces carried out killings and rapes, and looted and destroyed properties, the UN human rights chief said as he called on the Security Council to take stronger action. Sexual violence continued after the initial fighting subsided and over 100 women and girls are reported to have been raped or gang-raped on the road leading out of Juba towards Yei. On 18 July, for example, 35 women and girls were reportedly raped in two separate incidents.

The crisis that took place in Juba, South Sudan, from 8 to 11 July 2016, saw three days of intense fighting that resulted in the death of many civilians, two peacekeepers of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), and the collapse of the fragile peace agreement between the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, and his former First-Vice President, Riek Machar. The Secretary-General announced 23 August 2016 the appointment of Major General (retired) Patrick Cammaert of the Netherlands to lead an independent special investigation into the violence in Juba, South Sudan, in July 2016, and the response of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). The investigation reviewed reports of incidents of attacks on civilians and cases of sexual violence that occurred within or in the vicinity of the UN House protection of civilians sites in Juba. It also determined the actions of UNMISS and whether the Mission responded appropriately to prevent these incidents and protect civilians within its resources and capabilities at the time. In addition, the investigation reviewed the circumstances surrounding the attack on the Terrain Hotel and assess the Mission’s response.

The crisis in Juba, South Sudan, in July 2016 saw violence against civilians, including sexual violence, within or in the vicinity of the UNMISS Headquarters, known as “UN House” and its two adjacent “protection of civilians” (POC) sites, which house more than 27,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), and the attack on Terrain camp, a private compound where UN personnel, aid workers and local staff were robbed, beaten, raped and killed by armed soldiers.

In three days of fighting, two Chinese peacekeepers were killed and several injured. Protecting the POC sites — effectively small cities of thousands of people—is beyond the capability of UNMISS or any peacekeeping mission, and a task that raised unreasonable expectations. There were several reports from the media and NGOs of sexual violence, particularly around the POC sites, alleging that peacekeepers failed to respond to incidents of sexual violence occurring directly in front of them on 17 and 18 July 2016.

In the weeks following the violence, UNMISS also struggled to send out armoured or foot patrols. During this period, large numbers of South Sudanese women were raped by soldiers from President Salva Kiir's Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA). Despite the early warning that fighting would take place near UN House, the Mission did not properly prepare for three critical and foreseeable scenarios. First, that fighting along the northern perimeter of UN House would prompt IDPs in POC site 1 to enter the UN House compound to seek greater protection. Second, that the Mission would face significant movement restrictions from the Government, envisaged in many scenarios but never clearly planned for in integrated military and security contingency plans. Third, that UN House would likely be caught in crossfire; watchtowers and defensive positions along the perimeter were poorly prepared and equipped to stop even small arms fire, severely limiting the Mission’s ability to respond when fighting with heavy weapons started.

The Force did not operate under a unified command, resulting in multiple and sometimes conflicting orders to the four troop contingents from China, Ethiopia, Nepal and India, and ultimately underusing the more than 1,800 infantry troops at UN House. The Force Commander appointed the Chinese Battalion Commander as the Incident Commander. In at least two instances the Chinese battalion abandoned some of its defensive positions at POC 1 on 10 and 11 July. The Nepalese Formed Police Unit’s performance to stop looting by some IDPs inside UN House and control the crowd was inadequate. The Force and Police components continued to display a risk-averse posture unsuited to protecting civilians from sexual violence and other opportunistic attacks.

It was rocommendated that the force immediately change how UNMISS troops implement their mandate to protect civilians from physical violence, including sexual violence, by enforcing a forward-leaning, highly mobile posture; conducting robust, dismounted day and night patrolling; dominating areas around the POC sites; and providing adequate protection aimed at preventing and ending human rights violations and abuses of civilians.

Kenya’s UN ambassador said 03 Novemer 2016 that the Kenyan general who was in charge of peacekeepers in South Sudan during a violent episode in July has been made a ‘scapegoat’ for systemic U.N. peacekeeping failures. Ambassador Macharia Kamau told reporters that the internal U.N. investigation into events during July 8-11, was conducted with a “preordained outcome in mind. ... What is clear is that UNMISS suffers from fundamental structural and systemic dysfunctionality, which has severely hindered its ability to discharge its mandate since its inception.... Regretably, instead of addressing these shortcomings directly, the United Nations has instead opted to unfairly attribute them to a single individual, in the name of the Lieutenant General Ondieki."

Ambassador Kamau said “The investigation was instigated and demanded by certain current and future members of the United Nations Security Council with vested interests in the political positions to protect in the contexts of what transpired in Southern Sudan during that particular incident that was under investigation”. China, a permanent council member, had troops in Juba. Investigators singled-out one battalion for poor performance during the episode. A Chinese commander was also criticized in the report, but had so far not been fired. Kamau said. “It’s very difficult for us to imagine… that it is possible that a guy who is in the job for three weeks can carry the full responsibility of events that transpired on his watch”.

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Page last modified: 06-11-2016 19:26:56 ZULU