Troops loyal to South Sudanese President Salva Kiir went on a rampage last month in the national capital, Juba, in which they killed, raped, and looted both locals and foreigners while UN peacekeepers failed to intervene, according to new reports by the Associated Press and Human Rights Watch.
According to the reports, on July 11, government troops raided Terrain, a residential compound popular with expatriates and foreign workers in Juba, shortly after their victory over opposition forces loyal to Vice President Riek Machar. Both forces have been engaged in a civil war since December 2013.
The Associated Press interviewed eight survivors, revealing that three of them were raped and five were wounded. One woman was raped by 15 troops in one day. The Associated Press further reported that a local journalist accused of being loyal to Machar's forces was shot and killed in front of a group of foreigners who were forced to watch.
“They were very excited, very drunk, under the influence of something, almost a mad state, walking around shooting off rounds inside the rooms,” an American witness said.
The American was beaten for an hour and had bullets fired near his feet and head, as soldiers accused him of hiding rebels.
A Ugandan employee of Terrain who witnessed the rampage reported that between 80 and 100 troops stormed the compound. They outnumbered the security staff and went door-to-door looting rooms, taking with them money, phones, laptops, and car keys.
A group of roughly 20 people took refuge in an apartment above the Terrain complex, only to later be assaulted and robbed by soldiers. Many of the women were raped; one Western woman reported that she was raped by five soldiers. The soldiers specifically targeted Americans, accusing them of supporting the rebels.
As the rampage unfolded, UN peacekeepers stationed in Juba failed to respond to the crisis. The Associated Press reported that in one instance, a local woman was being raped by soldiers just outside of the UN’s main camp in Juba, yet no one in the camp intervened.
Civilians hiding from the soldiers attempted to contact the UN and foreign embassies, including the US embassy, for assistance, but to no avail.
“All of us were contacting whoever we could contact. The UN, the US embassy, contacting specific battalions in the UN, contacting specific departments,” the woman raped by 15 soldiers stated.
A UN staffer in Juba learned of the attack at 3:37 PM, just minutes after the Terrain compound was raided. The UN camp in Juba received no fewer than five more calls for help but failed to respond. At 6:52 PM, the UN’s Department of Safety and Security stated that it would “not send a team” to intervene. Roughly 20 minutes later, an Ethiopian Quick Reaction Force from the UN mission was tasked to intervene but refused to do so.
“Everyone refused to go. Ethiopia, China, and Nepal. All refused to go,” an American witness said.
South Sudanese security forces ultimately reported to the Terrain and rescued all but three Western women and around 16 Terrain staff.
When asked why UN peacekeepers did not intervene, the UN said it is investigating.
“Obviously, we regret the loss of life and the violence that the people who were in Hotel Terrain endured, and we take this incident very seriously,” said Farhan Haq, deputy spokesperson to the UN secretary-general.
“As you’re aware, we have called on the national authorities to investigate this incident thoroughly and to bring the perpetrators to justice.”
On its part, the US embassy stated that it “was not in a position to intervene,” saying that the embassy contacted local government officials instead.
In the wake of the rampage, Human Rights Watch has called on the UN to investigate the factors “that are incapacitating their response to threats against civilians, limiting their operational effectiveness, and causing a crisis of faith in the mission.”