UNMISS – A Mess?

Is the UN seeking more accountability from UN missions?

On 01 November 2016, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, sacked Lt Gen Johnson Ondieki, Force Commander UNMISS (UN Mission in South Sudan). The action follows a damning report that accused the Blue Helmets of failing to protect civilians, during the outbreak of violence, from 8 to 11 July 2016. The UN special investigation found, when fighting & killing broke out in Juba, there was lack of leadership in UNMISS resulting in a chaotic and ineffective response. Peacekeepers abandoned their posts and failed to respond to pleas for help from aid workers, when there were 12,000 peacekeepers in the country, at that time.

How Challenging is South Sudan?
UNMISS was created in 2011, when South Sudan gained independence from Sudan. However, in July 16, the world’s youngest country descended into civil war, again, when President Salva Kiir accused Vice President Riek Machar of plotting a coup. Kiir’s Dinka ethnic group disarmed and targeted troops of Machar’s Nuer ethnic group, resulting in deaths of thousands of people, both from conflict and starvation.

Was there a Precedent of sacking a Force Commander?
There are many cases of nations sacking their own generals; US President Harry Truman relieved General Douglas MacArthur, in 1951. The only other case, of a UN Secretary General removing a military General was of Boutros Ghali removing Italian General Bruno Loi, as Force Commander of the UN mission in Somalia, in 1993. Technically, the Secretary General can only recommend the removal of the Force Commander, to his parent country. South Sudan is a challenging humanitarian crisis, with more than 1Million refugees, in a population of 11Million. Command of UN troops is also challenging, as national contingents invariably require confirmation of Force Commander’s orders, from national channels. China, India, Ethiopia and Nepal also contribute troops, to UNMISS.

Assessment
The sacking of Lt Gen Johnson Ondieki by the UN Secretary General, may not be viewed kindly by the parent country, Kenya. Normally, such an action should have been initiated ‘through & by’, the parent country. Ban Ki-Moon is due to retire, at the end of the year and has set a challenging precedent for his successor, Antonio Guterres. The UN does not have an armed force, of its’ own. It has to depend on contingent troops, provided on deputation, from contributing countries. Peace-keeping, is the UN’s largest activity and with a growing demand. However, it was not visualized, at the time of writing the UN Charter, in 1945. The ‘deputation character’ of UN missions is an inherent weakness and manifests during times of crisis. Someday, the UN should hopefully raise its’ own force.

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