We are deeply concerned by the deteriorating security conditions for humanitarian aid workers in South Sudan. We strongly condemn attacks by all parties to the conflict on those who are working to protect the lives of the most vulnerable. Such violence must stop and those responsible for such acts must be brought to justice.
The 10 April attack on the International Committee of the Red Cross’ (ICRC) compound in Leer is particularly alarming. The attack, in which the ICRC field base was targeted by gunfire, has led to the evacuation of staff and suspension of program activities. This leaves 16,000 people without desperately needed supplies, at a time when food security is deteriorating. The upsurge in conflict and threat of violence in southern Unity State has led to withdrawal of a number of humanitarian organizations. The January 2018 IPC food security assessment is clear: if humanitarian access and assistance are not maintained, 155,000 people in South Sudan could be at risk of reaching famine conditions in the coming months.
The attack on the ICRC compound is part of an intensifying pattern of violence against humanitarians. Four more aid workers were killed in April, bringing the total number of humanitarians killed since the start of the conflict in December 2013 to more than a hundred.
We are also deeply disturbed by an increasing number of kidnappings. On 15 April, seven humanitarian aid workers were released, after being held in captivity for nearly three weeks in Lainya in Central Equatoria. On April 30, another ten aid workers were released after they went missing five days earlier outside Yei town, also in the Central Equatoria region.
Over 60 percent of the 70 humanitarian access incidents reported to OCHA in March this year involved violence. Twenty-nine of these incidents involved violence against personnel, which points to a persistently hostile operating environment for humanitarians. Physical and legal access impediments, exorbitant fees and taxes, looting of supplies and harassment of personnel further compound the difficulties of providing life-saving support to the people of South Sudan. This has grave consequences for the vast number of vulnerable people in South Sudan.
Customary International Humanitarian Law and the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement signed on 21 December 2017 clearly oblige all parties to the conflict to facilitate rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief for civilians in need and to respect and protect humanitarian relief personnel. Any attack on humanitarian aid workers or attempts to hinder delivery of humanitarian aid is a violation of humanitarian principles and Customary International Humanitarian Law that we strongly condemn.
Targeting of aid workers must stop.