UNITED NATIONS (TRNS) – Fighting in the South Sudanese town of Malakal injured more than 30 civilians and “considerably [damaged]” a hospital inside a U.N. base on Monday, the second time in a week in which gunfire in the town resulted in collateral damage within the compound.
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) is currently sheltering 70,000 civilians across eight compounds across South Sudan, but despite efforts to create a safety buffer around those facilities, UNMISS is increasingly becoming enveloped by the more than month-long armed conflict that has enveloped the country.
On Sunday, the U.N. sent out a strongly-worded condemnation of efforts by South Sudan’s Minister of Information and a contingent of army soldiers for attempting to force entry into the UNMISS compound in the city of Bor.
Minister Michael Makuei claimed to be undertaking the visit merely to acquaint himself with conditions inside the facility, but he later accused the U.N. of sheltering rebel fighters among the 10,000 civilians inside the compound and thereby violating its impartiality in the ongoing conflict.
Fighting Now An “Internal Armed Conflict”
In other news, U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonović, briefed reporters in New York on Monday about his recent trip to South Sudan to investigate human rights offensive, saying that crimes committed so far included “mass killing, summary execution, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, sexual violence, looting, burning, and the use of child soldiers.”
Šimonović announced that his observations elevated the conflict in the country as having reached the legal threshold of an “internal armed conflict.”
Such a distinction triggers the enforceability of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, thereby allowing international courts to try the conflict’s participants for war crimes.
In spite of the grave abuses seen in South Sudan and the rising death toll, Šimonović said that, “so far, the number of victims would be much higher if our compounds were not open to people in danger.”
UN Unable To Visit Jailed Ex-Ministers
Asked if he had visited the 11 former South Sudanese ministers and top officials arrested at the orders of President Salva Kiir in the days following the outbreak of violence in mid-December, Šimonović said he was unsuccessful in arranging a visit, though he did not comment whether this was do to scheduling conflicts or an unwillingness by the Kiir government to let him see the prisoners.
The 11 ministers, which Šimonović referred to as “VIP prisoners,” have been repeatedly cited during the ongoing peace talks in Addis Ababa as an important bargaining ship between warring parties in the country.
Without outside verification of the condition of the 11 officials, some fear they may have been subjected to torture due to their status as political enemies of the president.
According to Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions:
“Persons taking no active part in hostilities, including military persons who have ceased to be active as a result of sickness, injury, or detention, should be treated humanely and that the following acts are prohibited.”