U.S., U.N. Stood by While South Sudan Troops Raped, Beat Aid Workers

Samantha Power at a U.N. Security Council meeting on South Sudan / AP
August 15, 2016

South Sudanese troops ravaged through a hotel complex frequented by foreign aid workers last month while a United Nations force stood by in a neighboring area and the U.S. Embassy did not act despite repeated pleas for help to both.

The Associated Press reported Monday:

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 harrowing incident underscores the failure of the U.N. peacekeeping force to protect civilians despite its mandate to do so, particularly those who are "just a few minutes’ drive away," according to the Associated Press.

The U.N. approved a U.S.-sponsored resolution last week to send 4,000 more peacekeeping troops to South Sudan to enhance civilian protection in the region amid escalating aggression toward foreigners and aid workers by troops under President Salva Kiir.

Kiir said his government would consider the U.N.’s plan despite initially opposing the proposal.

"There are people who are accusing the transitional government of refusing and fighting the U.N. ... this is not accurate," Kiir said last week. "The transitional government has not met to declare its final position. Deliberations will come later on a final position."

A report on the July assault put together by the owner of the Terrain hotel complex charged that at least five women were raped while others suffered mock executions, beatings, and looting.

One female aid worker interviewed by the Associated Press said a soldier pointed an AK-47 at her and demanded she have sex with him. She was successively raped by 15 South Sudanese soldiers and described how everyone at the complex was contacting anyone they could for help, including the U.N. peacekeeping force and the U.S. Embassy.

"All of us were contacting whoever we could contact. The U.N., the U.S. embassy, contacting the specific battalions in the U.N., contacting specific departments," the woman told the Associated Press, which described in its report how no one aware of the event came to help the aid workers until much later when South Sudanese security forces entered the complex.

South Sudanese army spokesman Lul Ruai said it was too soon to determine whether the army was responsible for the attack.

"Everyone is armed, and everyone has access to uniforms and we have people from other organized forces, but it was definitely done by people of South Sudan and by armed people of Juba," he told the Associated Press.

The troops reportedly singled out Americans during their assault, with a survivor telling the Associated Press that one attacker "definitely had pronounced hatred against America." He described how the attackers beat people they suspected of being American.

State Department Press Director Elizabeth Trudeau would not say whether the attackers specifically assaulted Americans because of their nationality, telling reporters during the department’s press briefing Monday that she "is not in a position to say any particular nationality was singled out."

Trudeau added that the U.S. Embassy was not in a position to intervene in the attack, but she said after receiving reports, the embassy "called the people who were best poised to go out and make it stop, which were the National Security Services and the presidential guard."

Many of the attackers had shoulder patches with the face of a tiger, the insignia worn by the president’s personal guard, the Associated Press noted, citing an American survivor.

South Sudan has been embroiled in a violent civil war since December 2013, pitting President Kiir’s forces against supporters of rebel leader Riek Machar.

Update: This article was updated from its original version to include comments from the U.S. State Department during its press briefing on Monday and the shoulder patch insignia many of the attackers had.