American diplomats were powerless to stop the country’s soldiers from targeting aid workers amid an orgy of theft and rape, but why didn’t they go public?
It’s been more than a month since soldiers in South Sudan, a country that gets more than a billion dollars a year in U.S. assistance, singled out American aid workers for beatings and abuse amid an orgy of theft, intimidation, and gang rapes.
The U.S. embassy in Juba knew what was going on when it was happening, but proved powerless to stop it. And the Obama administration’s public reaction? Nothing until the story finally broke Monday through Human Rights Watch and the Associated Press.
“The United States is outraged by reports of assaults and rapes of civilians,” began a statement by Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, as if her office and the administration had just discovered what was going on in the capital of a country that the United States had helped win its independence five years ago.
In fact, as Power conceded in her statement, on the day of the atrocities at a hotel complex called The Terrain, popular with foreign aid workers in the South Sudanese capital of Juba, the U.S. embassy was kept informed by victims and witnesses from the beginning.
“We are deeply concerned that United Nations peacekeepers were apparently either incapable of or unwilling to respond to calls for help,” said Power, who made her reputation in 2003 with her Pulitzer-winning book “A Problem From Hell” about the world’s failure to stop genocide in the Balkans and Rwanda.
Clearly some wheels have been turning behind the scenes. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein issued a report on August 4 deploring the sexual violence of soldiers on both sides of the on-again, off-again civil war. The report said the UN had documented “at least 217 cases of sexual violence in Juba between July 8 and 25 July,” some of them targeting “foreign nationals.”
And last week, the UN Security Council voted to create “a robust unit of 4,000 peacekeepers to respond swiftly to security challenges in South Sudan,” as Power put it.
But the new report from Human Rights Watch and the detailed picture of what happened in Juba in July published by AP correspondent Jason Patinkin on Monday, after he had left the country, makes it clear just how feeble the UN and U.S. peacemaking initiatives have become.
The Terrain compound, with its swimming pool and squash courts, has been seen by many foreigners and the South Sudanese elite as a kind of refuge, much as the Milles Collines hotel in Kigali, Rwanda, was before the 1993 genocide there.
SOURCE: CHRISTOPHER DICKEY