By Kuyang Harriet Logo Mulukwat
In an interview with the United Nations Mission based Radio Miraya, the Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG), Ms. Hilde F Johnson noted that her decision and that of her team to open the gates of the mission premises for citizens fleeing to safety and those under imminent threat was the best decision of her tenure as the UN Secretary General’s representative in South Sudan – a decision she would unhesitantly make again. The fighting which erupted on the night of 15th December, 2013, spread rapidly and quickly across the capital, Juba swallowing in the other states within just days.
Accounts of precisely what triggered the violence vary and perhaps the most succinct being – the unresolved power struggle and ideological differences within the SPLM and the army.
Amidst the euphoria surrounding the creation of South Sudan, the UN Security Council approved a modest mission size and deployed 7,000 military staff and 900 police and civilian staff in 2011.While balancing the mission’s role in protecting civilians and the deployment of a large mission and the associated costs, the UN Security Council never adequately supported the functioning of the mission. On the night of 15th December, the leadership of the mission made a swift decision to protect civilians, a response which has been castigated by the government of South Sudan and yet in the truest essence, should have beckoned applause.
Subsequent demonstrations by pro SPLM youth against the Mission left the author and a host others tongue tied – clearly the political ideology of the SPLM blinded the youth, making them oblivious to the scenes of desperation unfolding.
Contrasted against responses of UN Missions in Rwanda and East Timor, in times of tragedy – the Mission in South Sudan deserves a resounding and an outstanding compliment. The author believes that two things stood in the way of a horrific genocide in South Sudan – the response of the mission and the presence of the Ugandan army.
Within the first week of the crisis, the Mission played a central role in offering protection to over half a million people with very limited military capacity. A swift adoption of additional United Nations Security Council resolutions to increase the troop ceiling – has received a lukewarm international audience and efforts to meet the required number of troops to boost the capacity of the mission are still painfully dragging.
Immediately following the early days of the conflict, Hilde Johnson noted that the mission was caught off guard and had not seen the crisis coming. And the scale and gravity of it, unexpected! While it is factual that the mission was caught off guard and thrown off balance – a myriad of challenges revolving around capacities and a reluctant partner in the form of the government to provide security and protection of its population tops the list.
For all its worth, credibility must be accorded where it is evident and due, the mission’s response in the face of the crisis – sets a precedent in the history of UN Missions globally. In essence, a regional assessment will highlight capacity and logistical challenges of the Mission in South Sudan, while an overall assessment will incorporate the response of the leadership in its lessons learnt log and adequately use the experiences in South Sudan as a best example in the face of tragedy.
Ms. Hilde Johnson left South Sudan but it is proper to applaud her distinctive leadership and foresight in making a decision which has saved thousands across South Sudan. The Mission continue to shoulder the ever increasing burden of protecting, treating and feeding civilians in the protection sites, while the government contributes nothing in that regard.It is only proper to extend the most sincere appreciation to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan – and to Hilde – to never ever doubt her decisions, because she inadvertently saved more lives within a short span in the first days of the crisis than anybody would have!
The author is a South Sudanese lawyer and senior Consultant, a continuing legal scholar and writer on Democratic Governance and the Rule of Law and lectures at the College of Law, Juba University on a part time basis.