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Indian Army colonel in UN peacekeeping operation injured in South Sudan

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SPLA soldiers redeploy south from the Abyei area in line with the road map to resolve the Abyei crisis.

As the UN peacekeeping operations in South Sudan struggles with inadequate resources and widening mandates, an Indian Army colonel was injured in crossfire between two warring groups there on Thursday, according to sources monitoring the mission in New York.

They said the officer was injured in the region of the back of the neck, but not seriously, when a camp in Malakal was hit. Indian peacekeepers are deployed there to protect several thousand refugees.

The Secretary General’s spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric, confirmed that a peacekeeper was injured but could not identify him or his nationality. “The UN Mission reports new firing outside of its compound in Malakal,” he said. “One peacekeeper was injured.”

India’s Permanent Representative Asoke Kumar Mukerji had warned the Security Council last week about the deteriorating situation there in two letters to its president, Raimonda Murmokaite that IANS has seen.

On May 20, he wrote, “It is extremely important that the Security Council take urgent action to prevent any casualties and collateral damage with regard to the Indian troops and internally displaced people (IDPs)” or refugees.

The attack occurred hours before the Security Council voted to extend the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) till November end and authorised it “to use all necessary means” to protect civilians “irrespective of the source of such violence.”

On Friday, the UN observes the International Day of Peacekeepers.

Of the 2,000 Indian troops in UNMISS, more than 800 are based in Malakal, situated in South Sudan’s oil-rich Upper Nile state that is sandwiched between Sudan and Ethiopia. The region has been wracked by fighting between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir Mayardit and supporters of former vice president Riek Machar Teny of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO).

The fighting escalated about a week ago when Major General Johnson Olony defected from the government side to Riek Machar’s, taking with him a large troop contigent. Kiir retaliated by moving reinforcements to the area.

Soon afterwards Mukerji wrote to Murmokaite, “The threat is both extremely grave and imminent” and asked for assurance that “every measure feasible will be taken to ensure that casualties and damage are avoided.”

His fears are underscored by the killing of seven Indian army personnel in two separate incidents in 2013 in South Sudan.

Diplomatic sources familiar with the situation in South Sudan said that the a political solution to the conflict was essential to bring peace to the area and the peacekeeping operation could not by itself achieve that. One of them paraphrased UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s quip, “You can’t keep peace if there is no peace” to emphasise the point.

Ban in a report to the Security Council last month conceded that there was a “lack of progress towards securing a peaceful settlement of the conflict.”

The sources faulted the Security Council, which does not adequately consult with troop-contributors, for not taking stronger measures to push the warring sides to a political settlement.

The peacemaking process has virtually been outsourced to a seven-nation East African organisation, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which has so far failed to broker an enforceable peace.

Earlier this month, IGAD admitted it was “deeply frustrated by the spread of violence to Upper Nile.”

Ban has also not given the South Sudan crisis the same level of attention as he has to others like Yemen.

Asked Thursday if the Ban plans to reinvigorate the peace process there, his spokesperson, Dujarric, deferred to IGAD, saying, “It’s something that IGAD continues to be in the lead. We are supportive of that process.”

Although the Security Council adopted the 4,600-word resolution backing the peacekeeping mission and emphasising its mission to protect civilians, the operations are hamstrung by lack of resources and logistical foresight, sources familiar with UNMISS operations said. This makes the peacekeepers vulnerable to attacks and the UN efforts there ineffective.

Recounting the conditions under which the Indian peacekeepers operate, a source who has seen the operations first hand, said that although the Security Council tells them “to use all necessary means,” they are virtual sitting ducks when they come under crossfire.

This is because they cannot retaliate as that would lead to direct attacks that could endanger the civilians they are protecting. “Best bet is to lie low and not do anything unless they are directly attacked,” the source said.

As a protection against mortar and heavy weapon fire, they need bunker-like defensive structure, which the UN and South Sudan government do not want built as that would appear to make the UN compounds sheltering the refugees permanent installations, the source said.

Due to lack of planning and logistics, most of the 5,000 personnel brought in during the troop surge authorised by the Security Council last year are still sitting in Juba, the country’s capital in the south instead of being deployed to areas needing them, the source said.

As result the peacekeepers in the conflict areas are stretched thin and pinned down guarding the refugees, rather than going out on confidence-building patrols. The patrols, undertaken on the ground or from the air, are an important element of the Security Council mandate because they also bring along staff from other UN agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for outreach activities.

Transportating troops, supplies and relief for refugees difficult because South Sudan has few roads. The Upper Nile state depends mostly on river transport and convoys require armed escorts, which are in short supply.

Bangladesh has contributed a riverine unit from its navy, but it is only now being deployed, the source said, and may vessels on dry docks.

More helicopters and aircraft suitable for operating there are needed.

Peacekeepers’ movements are also restricted by the South Sudan government, the source said. Often, when they are cleared by the government, they also have to coordinate with opposition forces to ensure they are not attacked, the source said. But they do come under sporadic attacks.

Mukerji pointed out to he Security Council president in a letter last Friday that a camp at Melut in Upper Nile state ran out of water and the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army was not allowing the peacekeepers to fetch water from the river.

-IANS

Next Story

Concerns Rise Over China’s Stand at United Nations Human Rights Council

China has passed human rights reviews twice before this one, while more than 120 countries Beijing's human rights record during the most recent process.

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The 22nd session of the U.N. Human Rights Council meets in Geneva on Feb. 25, 2013. RFA

Rights activists are increasingly worried that Beijing’s influence operations are having a negative impact on the work of the United Nations Human Rights Council, which concludes its 40th session on Friday.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) China director Sophie Richardson warned in an article this week that China is seeking to undermine the mission of the U.N. Human Rights Council from within.

She also cited HRW research in 2017 which reported threats and harassment of U.N. staff involved in human rights evaluation by Chinese officials.

“As we head towards the final phase of [China’s U.N. human rights review], ask yourself: What other government threatens #humanrights treaty body experts?” Richardson tweeted on Thursday.

“As an [Human Rights Council] member #China is expected to uphold highest standards,” she wrote in another tweet, referencing a report in The New York Times. “Instead it tells people that merely attending an event is a ‘hostile act.'”

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During the recent round, the Chinese government said it accepted most of the 346 human rights recommendations put forward by the council. VOA

According to HRW’s 2017 article based on a 97-page report: “Chinese officials have at times harassed and intimidated U.N. staff, experts on treaty bodies, and independent experts focusing on specific human rights issues.”

The 2014 death in detention of activist Cao Shunli, who was detained on her way to a U.N. human rights event in Geneva, also sent a “chilling” message to Chinese activists who may want to participate in the U.N. human rights process, the article said.

HRW isn’t the only human rights organization worried about Chinese influence at the U.N.

Renee Xia, who heads the Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network, reported from a side-event of the Human Rights Council conference in Geneva this week that it was “standing room only.”

“Strong show of interest despite #China urging countries not to attend,” Xia tweeted.

“The strong attendance was more remarkable esp. after #China officials went to many countries’ diplomats at the U.N., Geneva, to threaten them with “serious consequences” if they attended the side events,” she wrote in another tweet.

“#Bullying at the UN must stop!” she wrote.

‘So many restrictions’

Wang Dan, a former leader of the 1989 student-led pro-democracy movement on Tiananmen Square, is also in Geneva this week.

“To tell you the truth, my feelings during my two days here are that China has huge influence at the U.N.,” Wang told RFA.

“For example, at one side-event, it wasn’t just the Chinese delegation who spoke against [criticisms of Beijing’s rights record], but other countries came to speak in support of China’s position,” he said.

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“Many of the countries participating in the Human Rights Council are actually the ones that are carrying out the most violations of human rights, Pixabay

Wang said tight controls over public speech also make it less likely that the ruling Chinese Communist Party will have to face criticism of human rights violations coming from within its own borders.

“There are a lot of people online in China, but they are under so many restrictions,” he said. “You can’t mention the Tiananmen Massacre. You can’t mention [late Nobel peace laureate and political prisoner] Liu Xiaobo. You can’t say this, you can’t say that.”

“I don’t think that’s how you define freedom … but then the Chinese point to the U.N. charter, which says that all member states must be respected,” he said.

‘Autocratic rule the default’

Veteran New York-based rights activist Liu Qing said the work of the council had become “unrecognizable” to him.

“Many of the countries participating in the Human Rights Council are actually the ones that are carrying out the most violations of human rights,” Liu told RFA.

“The only purpose of these countries in insinuating themselves into the Human Rights Council is to curb the positive role of the Human Rights Council and make autocratic rule the default setting on the international stage,” he said.

Amnesty International blogger Shao Jiang wrote in December 2018 that Beijing is reinterpreting universal human rights as merely the right to survival, freedom to access food, and regards other definitions of human rights as secondary to trade and economic development.

“The Chinese government has appointed government officials as independent experts into the UN’s Human Rights Council Advisory Committee, and the U.N. treaty bodies,” Shao said.

China has passed human rights reviews twice before this one, while more than 120 countries Beijing’s human rights record during the most recent process.

During the recent round, the Chinese government said it accepted most of the 346 human rights recommendations put forward by the council.

Also Read: Myanmar Government Calls Ethnic Armed Groups To Attend Collective Peace Discussions For The First Time

The United Nations now reports annually on government reprisals against human rights defenders participating in U.N. human rights efforts, Richardson wrote in an article in The Hill last December.

“China has topped the list of offenders in every report issued,” she said. (RFA)