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South Sudan Aid Convoys Under Siege

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By: Olalekan Adigun
South Sudan Aid Convoys Under Siege

Deadly Attack on Aid Convoys

Two truck drivers from Kenya and Burundi were tragically killed in an ambush in South Sudan, while another driver sustained severe injuries. The victims were transporting supplies provided by UNICEF for children and families to Yei in Central Equatorial State. The assailants set the trucks ablaze, resulting in serious damage and hindering the crucial delivery of essential aid.

Local Rebel Group Allegedly Responsible

The attack was linked to a local rebel group by Lainya County Commissioner Emmanuel Khamis, who appealed to the group to cease targeting foreigners, innocent civilians, and humanitarian organizations. He proposed that the group should focus its efforts on engaging with the South Sudan People’s Defense Forces (SSPDF).

UNICEF Condemns the Attack

UNICEF expressed strong condemnation of the incident in a statement, underscoring the importance of the safety and security of its staff and contractors. Hamida Lasseko, the UNICEF South Sudan Representative, emphasized that when such attacks happen, it is children and women in desperate need of assistance who suffer the most. Lasseko extended condolences to the families deeply affected by the attack.

Suspension of UNICEF Operations in the Region

Following the incident, UNICEF suspended all supply operations in the region, calling on the government to provide assistance to the affected community. Despite this suspension, the organization is working closely with the humanitarian community and authorities to ensure the continued distribution of life-saving medical, nutrition, WASH, and education supplies. The safety of the contractors who deliver these supplies remains a priority.

Increasing Dangers for Aid Workers

Historically, humanitarian aid workers belonging to United Nations organizations, PVOs, NGOs, or the Red Cross/Red Crescent have traditionally enjoyed both international legal protection and de facto immunity from attack by belligerent parties. However, attacks on humanitarian workers have been on the rise since the 1990s and 2000s. In 2017, the Aid Worker Security Database (AWSD) documented 139 humanitarian workers killed in intentional attacks.

Legal Protection and Challenges

The legal basis for the protection of humanitarian workers in armed conflicts is contained in the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the related Protocols I and II of 1977. However, while the Geneva Conventions guarantee protection for humanitarian workers, they do not guarantee access of humanitarian workers to affected areas. Governments or occupying forces may ban a relief agency from working in their area. Furthermore, the Conventions do not require that combatants provide security escorts when other factions threaten the safety of non-combatants operating in their area.

The continued attacks on humanitarian workers, and the recent incident in South Sudan, highlight the critical need for more robust mechanisms to protect these workers and ensure the safe delivery of aid. The international community, governments, and rebel groups must respect and uphold the tenets of the Geneva Conventions, which were put in place to protect humanitarian aid workers and ensure the effective delivery of aid, and the safety of those who deliver it.

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