May 3, 2014 (JUBA) – The UN has expressed grave concerns for the welfare of children across South Sudan among credible reports 9,000 have been recruited by armed groups, while others have been raped and killed during indiscriminate attacks by both sides as the nation plunges further into crisis.
- Children wait to receive a measles vaccine at the UNMISS camp in Bor, the capital of South Sudan’s Jonglei state (Photo: UNICEF)
The UN high commissioner for human Rights Navi Pillay said 32 schools have been taken over by military forces and there have been more than 20 attacks on clinics and health centres across the country.
The chaotic nature of the conflict has severely interrupted the education of children in the country, with many also becoming separated from their families due to the fighting, which erupted in mid-December last year after political tensions turned violent.
The conflict has pitted government forces loyal to Kiir, a Dinka, against rebels aligned with Machar, South Sudan’s former vice-president, who hails from the Nuer tribe.
Women and children remain among the most vulnerable sections of society, with many subject to brutal sexual violence, including gang rape, says Pillay.
Pillay and UN special advisor on the prevention of genocide Adama Dieng recently held talks with president Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar during a three-day visit to the country.
Pillay has expressed dismay that both leaders seemed more concerned with advancing their own political interests rather than stemming violence in the new nation, which is on the brink of a catastrophe and a looming famine.
“The prospect of widespread hunger and malnutrition being inflicted on hundreds of thousands of their people, because of their personal failure to resolve their differences peacefully did not appear to concern them very much,” she said following the visit, adding that the conflict was now “reaching boiling point”.
The visit by the senior UN officials comes in the wake of mass killings last month in Unity state capital Bentiu and Jonglei capital Bor, which appear to be ethnically motivated, sparking international condemnation.
The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has alleged that more than 200 civilians were killed while sheltering at a mosque in Bentiu after pro-Machar rebel forces retook the town from government troops.
UNMISS said people were rounded up and killed based on their ethnicity and nationality, while hate messages were reportedly broadcast on local radio inciting violence and rape.
Two days later, the UNMISS base in Bor, where thousands of civilians are sheltering, was breached by an armed mob, with dozens killed in the attack.
The escalation in ethnic tensions led US secretary of state, John Kerry, who is currently visiting the region, to warn that the country is facing a possible genocide.
Dieng for his part says the attacks in the two towns seemed to have “changed the trajectory” of the conflict and that recent categorised as risk factors of genocide and other atrocity crimes.
US Republican congressman Frank Wolfe this week criticised the Obama’s administration’s foreign policy on South Sudan, saying the country was at risk of becoming the next Rwanda, the scene of a brutal ethnic genocide 20 years ago.
Meanwhile, at a press briefing in Geneva on Friday, Christophe Boulierac of the UN children’s fund (UNICEF) provided an update on the situation facing children in South Sudan.
He said while UNICEF is unable to verify the number of children recruited by armed groups, it says the information received was from reliable sources and is based on eyewitness accounts.
He said access to water at the UN base in Bentiu had improved in the past 10 days from two litres per person to 7.5 litres per person after a second well was dug to cope with the influx of internally displaced persons following the recent surge in violence in the region.
The average number of persons sharing a single latrine in the camp is 129 persons, down from 317, although Boulierac concedes this figure is still too high.
The first phase of the immunisation campaign against polio and measles, along with a supplement of vitamin A, also got underway on 23 April in cooperation with the ministry of health, UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) in seven states.
The program aims to vaccinate 2.4 million children in South Sudan.