Biden threatens sanctions against peace spoilers

Biden threatens sanctions against peace spoilers
U.S. President Joe Biden (photo credit: Financial Times)

The United States President Joe Biden’s administration is considering enforcing more sanctions on South Sudanese leaders who are delaying the implementation of revitalized peace agreements and those responsible for attacks on humanitarian workers.

Addressing the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday, US Deputy Representative to UN Amb. Richard Mills said humanitarian aid worth $1 million has been looted or burned and humanitarian workers killed in a span of months. This he said makes it difficult for the aid workers to deliver assistance.

 “The continuous looting, threats, violent attacks against humanitarian actors have led to the suspension of operations by numerous humanitarian agencies and a reduction of lifesaving assistance to vulnerable citizens,” Amb. Mills said.

The United States is one of a few friends of South Sudan providing millions of dollars in assistance to the war-affected nation. But rampant insecurity characterized by attacks on aid workers has made it difficult for the humanitarian community to facilitate successful delivery of that assistance.

Chilling warning

While reiterating the US government’s commitment to continue supporting South Sudan during the COVID-19 pandemic, the US diplomat warned that those behind the attacks against aid workers may be subjected to sanctions.

 “The United States remains committed to help the people of South Sudan and to working closely with the transitional government, our fellow members of the Council, and all stakeholders to enable peace and prosperity for South Sudan and the region,” he added.

In June 2021, the Heads of Mission of Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Turkey issued a joint statement expressing their serious concern about ‘unacceptable and appalling attacks’ on aid operations countrywide.

The statement came after weeks of direct attacks on humanitarian workers in Renk, Jamjang, Gumuruk Torit, and Panyijiar.

The Western diplomats said humanitarian workers have endured brutal beatings, attacks, and robberies in their compounds, roadside ambushes when traveling in clearly marked non-governmental organization (NGO) convoys, and the tragic death of two health workers.  

“South Sudanese aid workers and their families suffer the brunt of these targeted attacks and South Sudan tragically remains one of the most dangerous places to be an aid worker with 126 humanitarians killed while providing critical services since 2013,” the statement read in part. 

They said the killings, brutal beatings, roadside ambushes involving shootings, and large-scale looting of emergency supplies across South Sudan had put life-saving assistance and essential services in peril, disrupting aid delivery for the most vulnerable and especially the ones at risk of starvation.

“The violence in Gumuruk not only resulted in the loss of life, including humanitarian staff but also looting of supplies and the destruction of facilities,” they lamented.

According to preliminary estimates, the losses are estimated at over USD 550,000 and these included emergency food rations and nutrition supplies for South Sudanese people already on the brink of starvation. 

They noted that the losses would further deteriorate the precarious situation for people already on the verge of catastrophe.   

However, the Troika said the responsibility to provide security for all, including a conducive environment for aid workers, lies with the government of South Sudan.

“We urge the national and local government authorities and key individuals to facilitate access to assistance for those in need by putting a stop to this vicious cycle of violence”.

They called on the government to investigate all reported incidents to ensure the cessation of violence and revenge attacks and support the local peace dialogues and processes as the way forward, holding perpetrators to account and ending the impunity.

In May this year, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) issued a statement condemning violence against humanitarians working in the country, after the killing of two aid workers in the same month.

It condemned the violence and called on the government of South Sudan to protect civilians and humanitarians and to arrest the perpetrators in Renk, Torit, and Jamjang and hold them accountable.

“Violence against aid organizations not only puts aid workers’ lives at risk; it disrupts the flow of life-saving aid to those in need. Recent attacks have forced some organizations to suspend humanitarian assistance in Unity and Upper Nile states, which are nearing famine conditions, meaning that 45,000 people could lose access to the aid they desperately need.”

USAID said South Sudan was perennially one of the most dangerous countries for aid workers.

“Since the beginning of 2020, there have been more than 400 violent incidents against aid workers, according to the United Nations. Our humanitarian partners work tirelessly and at great personal risk to deliver assistance. Maintaining their safety and unhindered access to people in need is critical to keeping people alive.

“Attacks, intimidation, or threats against aid workers, regardless of nationality, are unacceptable. The Government of South Sudan must take immediate and effective measures to protect humanitarian workers and provide sustained and unhindered access to those who are experiencing food insecurity and other acute humanitarian needs,” the statement read in part.