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UN relief chief condemns attacks on aid workers in South Sudan

January 23, 2023 (JUBA) – The acting United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan, Peter Van der Auweraert has strongly condemned last week’s attack on humanitarian workers and assets in the Greater Pibor Administrative Area (GPAA).

On 18 January, several armed attackers reportedly broke into an international non-governmental organization compound in Pibor and beat up one humanitarian worker who eventually required medical attention.

The attackers, a statement from the UN humanitarian agency (OCHA) said, targeted the NGO looking for cash and other assets and stole valuables.

“Such attacks while humanitarians are providing critical services to most vulnerable people are beyond comprehensible,” said Van der Auweraert.

“The whole humanitarian community is united in its call for the immediate end of these repeated acts of violence against civilians and humanitarians,” he added.

The incident, OCHA noted, follows the killing of two aid workers in the Abyei Administrative Area and another aid worker in Jonglei State this month.

“The ongoing violent attacks against humanitarians inadvertently hamper the delivery of much-needed life-saving support to millions of people affected in times of escalating conflict and exacerbated the humanitarian situation,” explained Van der Auweraert.

He added, “The direct victims of those attacks are the humanitarian workers, almost invariably South Sudanese nationals. The indirect victims are the most vulnerable in the communities humanitarian workers serve. They see the services on which they rely to survive interrupted and, as was the case in some instances in the past, suspended.”

South Sudan, the UN said, is one the most dangerous places for aid workers, with nine humanitarian workers killed in the line of duty and 450 incidents reported in 2022, and already three humanitarian workers killed in 2023.

“Protecting humanitarian workers and civilians is a duty of the authorities. The humanitarian community is united in calling on the authorities to do all they can to stop attacks on humanitarians and civilians. But that alone is not enough,” stressed the top UN humanitarian official.

“I urge the authorities to bring the perpetrators swiftly to justice,” he added.

Ending impunity and ensuring accountability for crimes under South Sudanese criminal law and, where applicable, international humanitarian law, is critical to protect humanitarians and civilians alike and, ultimately, to bring long-term peace to South Sudan, according to Van der Auweraert.

In 2022, nine humanitarian workers were killed in the line of duty in South Sudan and three aid workers lost their lives on duty at the beginning of 2023.

An estimated 9.4 million of the most vulnerable people in South Sudan will need urgent life-saving assistance and protection in 2023, compared to 8.9 million in 2022, the UN said.

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