A contingent of United Nations peacekeepers and the U.S. embassy failed to respond to multiple calls for help from a group of aid workers under attack in South Sudan, according to an Associated Press report published Monday.
The assault on the Terrain hotel complex was perpetrated by South Sudanese government troops July 11. Soldiers singled out U.S. citizens before gang-raping several women, beating aid workers and executing a local journalist, while forcing others to watch.
“All of us were contacting whoever we could contact. The U.N., the U.S. embassy, contacting the specific battalions in the U.N., contacting specific departments,” said one woman who was raped by as many as 15 men.
Records collected by the AP show that the U.N. Joint Operations Center in the South Sudanese capital of Juba was contacted about the attack at 3:37 p.m., just minutes after it began. Several other reports followed, but a quick reaction force was not mobilized by the U.N. Department of Safety and Security until 4:33 p.m. That team would never arrive. The timeline went blank for an hour and a half, ending with the words “DSS would not send a team” at 6:52 p.m.
After an Ethiopian team also failed to respond, South Sudan finally sent a detachment to collect the victims, though three women would not be rescued until the following morning.
“Everyone refused to go. Ethiopia, China, and Nepal. All refused to go,” said a U.N. worker who made the calls for help.
Farhan Haq, the U.N. secretary-general’s deputy spokesman, said the U.N. has called on local authorities to investigate the matter and “bring the perpetrators to justice.”
Gian Libot, a Filipino citizen who was present during the attacks, recalled one of the soldiers specifically targeting Americans.
“He definitely had pronounced hatred against America,” Libot told the AP. “You messed up this country. You’re helping the rebels. The people in the U.N., they’re helping the rebels.”
The U.S. embassy, which also received distress calls during the attack, “was not in a position to intervene,” Department of State spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau told reporters Monday, though it apparently passed along the information to South Sudanese officials.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power has requested an investigation as to why peacekeepers failed to respond, and has demanded “swift corrective action.”
“Throughout this three-year conflict, the Government of South Sudan has routinely allowed impunity for murder and sexual violence,” said Power in a statement Monday. “This must end. South Sudan’s leaders must investigate this incident and hold accountable the individuals responsible for these cowardly and brutal assaults.”
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