United Nations peacekeepers failed in their mission to protect civilians during an outbreak of fighting in South Sudan in July, a rights group said.
Peacekeepers abandoned their posts or cowered in place, and then used tear gas on frightened civilians who sought shelter at the U.N. base, the U.S.-based Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) said in a report released Wednesday.
"The United Nations needs to ensure transparency and accountability for the inadequate response of its peacekeepers," the report said.
South Sudan erupted in a civil war within two years of gaining independence in 2011, when President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of plotting a coup d’etat.
Machar returned to the capital, Juba, this year after a peace deal was negotiated in 2015, but fresh fighting between his forces and government soldiers loyal to Kiir erupted in July. Hundreds of people died in the clashes.
The peacekeepers’ failings in July were nothing new, CIVIC said. The group investigated an incident in February in which peacekeepers from Ethiopia, India and Rwanda stood by as government soldiers attacked another “Protection of Civilian” site in the northern town of Malakal, killing at least 30 civilians.
In July, the report said the peacekeepers either fled or remained on their base as government forces broke into a hotel and apartment complex to brutally attack international and national aid workers, and in the weeks following the crisis raped South Sudanese women who went outside the displaced persons camps in search of food.
“Much of the fighting occurred in close proximity to the main UNMISS [U.N. Mission in South Sudan] bases,” the report said.
U.N. peacekeeping officials said the report “raises a number of important issues,” noting that an independent investigation of the Juba violence is to present its findings shortly.