Instead of seeing aid workers as life savers, they are attacked, said Sara Nyanti, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in South Sudan.
“Since 2013, we have had 134 deaths of humanitarian workers in South Sudan. Those 134 people were mostly fathers, almost all of them are men who left behind widows and children. And most of them are South Sudanese,” Nyanti told reporters in Juba Friday.
She said all five aid workers killed between January and July this year were South Sudanese. Nyanti called on the government to provide more security to protect aid workers from harm.
“It is the government's responsibility to provide safety and security for all South Sudanese, for all foreigners and for all people within the borders of South Sudan. We have raised the need for the government in terms of security. We will continue to dialogue with the government on this, but we also need the government to start holding people accountable,” Nyanti said.
If the government would hold gunmen responsible, it would serve as a deterrent so others stop killing, she added.
Major General Lul Ruai Koang, spokesperson for the South Sudan People’s Defense Force (SSPDF), noted some parts of the country are not under government control but said the army is willing to provide protection to humanitarian workers.
“These U.N. agencies move on their own, even in very risky areas; the country is at war. We have many non-state actors, we have a lot of rebels, and we have a lot of armed civilians. If the U.N. wants to give them extra protection where they are not feeling safe, they should be coming to the nearest SSPDF garrison to ask for an escort,” General Koang told VOA.
Koang urged armed groups to keep aid workers safe.
“The rules of engagement are very clear: everyone knows that if you are an armed group, you are not supposed to attack non-military targets. You are not supposed to attack civilians,” Koang said, adding, “For those who are carrying out illegal acts, when we find them, we will hold them accountable.”
But that has rarely happened. South Sudanese authorities have often promised to investigate deadly attacks blamed on unknown assailants with little results.
UNOCHA documented 232 incidents that hindered humanitarian access, 40% of which occurred in Jonglei and Central Equatoria.
Aid workers are doing their best to provide services to 8.9 million people in South Sudan who need humanitarian assistance, Nyanti said.
“Whether there is funding or not, they are out there. They are in the field, they are in IDP camps, they are in host communities and they are across this country trying to intervene in the lives of those who are losing hope, who feel that nothing else they can look to besides the humanitarian work to help them," Nyanti said, adding, “Unfortunately, the same people are killed.”
In a press release on Thursday, UNOCHA stated that South Sudan “continues to be most violent context for aid workers” in the world.
World Humanitarian Day is marked every August 19 to honor aid workers across the world and to pay tribute to those who have died or been injured doing their jobs.