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S Sudan distrusts UN probe of sexual abuse by peacekeepers: FM

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A file photo of UN peacekeepers in South Sudan

South Sudan has expressed distrust of a United Nations probe into allegations of sexual abuses by Ghanaian peacekeepers against the violence-stricken civilians they were tasked with protecting at a UN camp for the internally-displaced, demanding a role in the investigation.

The country’s Foreign ministry summoned the chief of staff of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) on Friday to condemn the sexual abuses against civilians at the UN protection camp in Wau state by the Ghanaian police officers affiliated with the world body’s peacekeeping force.

The development came after UNMISS confirmed on February 24 the allegations of sexual crimes at UN camps and declared that an investigation into the matter would be carried out by an independent office within the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), the Paris-based Sudan Tribune news portal reported Friday.

“We urge UNMISS to agree to an independent or joint investigation, and not to smuggle out the culprits until these investigations are concluded and offenders brought to book for their actions,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement following the meeting with the local UN chief.

Moreover, the ministry’s Undersecretary Baak Valentino Wol further told reporters after the meeting in the capital, Juba, that the government has no trust in an investigation into alleged crimes committed by UN peacekeepers by another UN agency.

“We want an independent or joint investigation because we don’t believe that an investigation conducted by one of their agencies or one of their employees would be fair and just,” the Foreign Ministry’s Director of International Organizations John Andruga added.

The ministry’s statement also pointed out that the issue had been discussed in South Sudan’s legislature as well, where lawmakers “debated this incident of abuse of our innocent women and girls in Wau,” and strongly “condemned the UN Police force for betraying the trust of our people.”

Women wait in a line for a monthly food distribution in the morning at the Protection of Civilian site (PoC) in Bentiu, South Sudan on February 13, 2018 amid reports of sexual abuses of UN peacekeepers. (Photo by AFP)

In a related development, the report added, the ministry further pointed to the growing number of reports submitted to the UNMISS concerning crimes committed by criminals residing within the Protection of Civilians (PoC) site in Juba.

The UNMISS estimates that more than 35,000 people are residing at its three PoC sites across the South Sudanese capital city.

Ghana has expressed willingness to cooperate with South Sudan over the case.

South Sudanese courts are not allowed to prosecute UN peacekeepers since they are protected by diplomatic immunity that prevents their trial by local courts for offenses they commit in the country of deployment.

UN peacekeepers in Africa have been hit by a series of sexual abuse scandals.

In the Central African Republic, dozens of UN peacekeepers have been named and punished over sexual crimes against refugees.

Earlier this month, the United Nations said it had registered 18 alleged cases of sexual abuse and exploitation by its peacekeepers and civilian personnel in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2017.

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