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JUBA - 23 Jan 2023

UN Humanitarian Coordinator condemns targeted attack on humanitarians in Pibor

The UN’s acting Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan, Peter Van der Auweraert, on Monday strongly condemned last Wednesday’s attack on humanitarian workers and assets in Pibor, Greater Pibor Administrative Area (GPAA).

On 18 January, several armed attackers broke into an international NGO compound in Pibor and beat up one humanitarian worker who eventually required medical attention. The attackers targeted the NGO looking for cash and other assets and stole valuables, according to a UN OCHA press statement.

"Such attacks while humanitarians are providing critical services to most vulnerable people are beyond comprehensible,” Van der Auweraert said. “The whole humanitarian community is united in its call for the immediate end of these repeated acts of violence against civilians and humanitarians.”

According to the statement, the incident follows the killing of two aid workers in the Abyei Administrative Area and another aid worker in Jonglei State earlier 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,” Van der Auweraert said. “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.”

“Only if there is a safe and conducive environment for all civilians with unrestricted access for humanitarian actors, humanitarian assistance can reach the most vulnerable people,” he added.

According to the UN, South Sudan 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,” the OCHA boss counseled. “I urge the authorities to bring the perpetrators swiftly to justice.”

“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,” Van der Auweraert concluded.

The UN estimate that 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.

South Sudan continues to be the most violent context for aid workers, followed by Afghanistan and Syria. In 2022 nine humanitarian workers were killed in the line of duty in South Sudan.