South Sudan

UNMISS concerned about suffering women and children in Tambura, appeals for leaders to intervene


Violence in and around Tambura in Western Equatoria State has forced more than 40,000 people to flee their homes. Their suffering is immense, with women and children having lost their husbands and fathers the most severely affected.

“Poverty and killings are having a terrible impact. We are very vulnerable right now, because we have no access to medication and food. We are doing any kind of casual work we can find to survive,” says Martha Arkanjelo, a displaced person in Tambura.

The devastation caused by the ongoing mayhem is not limited to Tambura. Some 30 kilometers away, a patrolling assessment team from the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) found numerous burnt-down houses, a looted health clinic and animals left to their own devices the only sign of life.

A 56-years old grandmother, Asunta Zambasende, narrated her story.

“I was asleep with two of my grandchildren next to me. Suddenly, I heard a scary sound, a blast of gunfire. I managed to escape with some wounds on my body, but I lost one of my grandchildren. I walked through the bush for three days to get here,” said Asunta, currently staying at a site for displaced persons in Mupoi payam (administrative division).

Such eyewitness accounts are making the UN peacekeeping mission’s Gender Affairs Unit deeply concerned about the widespread suffering in the conflict-ridden area. Some 70 percent of the people that have been killed in the area over the last three months are believed to be women and children.

“They are not just dying in crossfire; they are being targeted. Women and kids have been slaughtered, pregnant ones have been cut open and their fetuses have been removed. Some have died inside their houses, which have been set on fire. So, women cannot access basic things like water without being escorted,” explains Margret Modong, a Gender Affairs Officer.

“I am calling on the leaders of the country and this state, other stakeholders and the international community to demand that this senseless conflict stops so that women can go back to their normal lives,” she adds.

Her concerns are echoed by Dennis Fu, a Human Rights Officer serving with the peacekeeping mission.

“We have been monitoring the situation closely, and we can see that many grave violations of human rights are taking place. We will continue to monitor and document what we see, and will advocate for survivors’ right to justice,” she says.

Nicholas Haysom, Head of UNMISS, reiterates that the responsibility to protect civilians lies primarily with the government, but pledges that the peacekeeping mission will support as best it can.

“We always first call on the government to intervene. But having said that, we have peacekeeping assets, and we attempt to do whatever we can to make up for the shortfall or absence of national security forces in the area, but, more essentially, to provide, as it were, a flag around which internally displaced persons can gather and feel some protection and safety.”