A United Nations board of inquiry has found that the U.N. peacekeeping mission in South Sudan failed to properly manage a February crisis at a site under its protection, resulting in the deaths of 30 persons and injuries to 123 others.
Gunmen attacked the site in Malakal, Upper Nile state, between February 17 and 18 of this year. Nearly 50,000 locally displaced persons from the Dinka, Nuer and Shilluk ethnic groups were sheltering at the base.
The board of inquiry found that it was “highly likely” that the attack “was planned, or at a minimum supported by” South Sudan’s army, the SPLA and/or its affiliated militia. The panel said it was likely launched to “facilitate the ethnic reconfiguration of Malakal as the capital of a Dinka state.”
According to a summary of the report released by the U.N. on Friday, the inquiry board, led by Abiodun Oluremi Bashua of Nigeria, said some troop commanders “hesitated about the use of lethal force” during the attack, while others abandoned their posts. The panel also said some troops were not “adequately trained or familiar with the manner in which they were to respond.”
“This combination of inaction, abandonment of post and refusal to engage made the situation harder to contain and contributed to the negative effects of the incident,” the panel wrote.
At the time, the U.N. had contingents from Rwanda, Ethiopia and India in Malakal.
Among its recommendations, the board of inquiry said action should be taken in cases where units showed a lack of knowledge about the rules of engagement or displayed unwillingness to use force beyond self-defense. It also said each case of underperformance by soldiers and police should be thoroughly investigated, and “decisive action” should be taken to hold the troop and police contributing countries accountable, including sending their commanders and/or units home.
The U.N. Department of Peacekeeping has previously said that “there will be action taken, whether [against] individual units as a whole or those in command of certain units” regarding the attack.
The Security Council is currently considering whether to give the U.N. force a stronger mandate that would allow it to conduct offensive operations. The secretary-general has urged council members to impose an arms embargo on South Sudan and targeted sanctions on those preventing the implementation of the peace agreement.