UN Acting as “Parallel Government” in South Sudan?
January 22, 2014
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A recent BBC article reports that South Sudan President Salva Kiir has publicly accused the UN peacekeeping mission of hiding rebels and guns at their camps following the rebel’s capture of Bor over the weekend. South Sudanese forces led by the information minister attempted to gain access to the UN base in search of armed rebels, insisting that the UN should allow the government to search for weapons and rebels within the camps and demanding Unmiss (UN Missionaries) hand over any weapons or government vehicles they have acquired.
The UN has increased its presence in the region as the political dispute between Mr. Kiir and former deputy Riek Machar has escalated into full-scale conflict since mid-December. More than 500,000 people have been displaced (with approximately 70,000 residing in UN bases), and well over 1,000 civilians have been killed. The UN also states both government soldiers and rebels are guilty of committing atrocities that include ethnic killings, and fervidly denies any claims to holding weapons and knowingly sheltering rebels.
Based on the swiftly rising civilian death toll, in addition to threat of widespread ethnic killing, UN forces are obliged to maintain their presence in the region in order to protect the human rights of civilians. Persistent efforts of South Sudan forces to enter the UN base are additionally quite worrisome given the lack of cordiality between South Sudan forces and UN peacekeepers. While the UN insists of their neutrality, Mr. Kiir’s claims of the UN undermining the South Sudan government are toxic, heightening tensions between the two groups. To what extent is the UN capable of holding off South Sudan forces from entering their base? How is the international community expected to react to these repeated violations of South Sudan against their agreement with the UN?
Some scholars argue that this violence spread at such a fast rate due to the fact that there was no accountability for the 1991 massacres at the hands of Riek Machar’s revolt. Furthermore, both parties contest that their opponents are responsible for all atrocities committed during the current conflict. Thus, if/when this conflict ends, is it possible for reconciliation to be reached within victim communities despite a history of lacking accountability? Even if this conflict results in an international tribunals, would it even be regarded as legitimate by the region? I ask this based upon the inevitable claims of “victor’s justice” by the losing party, in addition to the high tensions already present between the UN and the Sudanese government.