(CNN)UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has ordered an independent investigation into a raid on a compound in Juba, South Sudan, in which one person was killed and others were raped and beaten by uniformed men. The investigation will also look into allegations that nearby UN personnel failed to come to their rescue.
South Sudan attack: UN to investigate Juba compound raid
In one of the worst attacks on foreigners in the new country's history, between 80 and 100 South Sudanese soldiers attacked a compound that housed mostly foreign staff and carried out repeated rapes, mock executions, looting, and killing, according to reports by the Associated Press and by Human Rights Watch on Monday.
The attack occurred on July 11 in the capital Juba during clashes, which began days earlier when fighting resumed between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir, and those loyal to rebel leader Reik Machar.
The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) did not respond to repeated requests for help by those within the compound, according to reports by HRW and the AP and two witnesses interviewed by CNN.
UN chief Ban is outraged by the attack, and alarmed by allegations that the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) "did not respond appropriately to prevent this and other grave cases of sexual violence" in Juba, according to a statement issued by his office.
"Due to the gravity of these incidents, related allegations and the preliminary findings by UNMISS, the Secretary-General has decided to launch an independent special investigation to determine the circumstances surrounding these incidents and to evaluate the Mission's overall response," the statement read.
Despite being located less than a mile from the UN base, witnesses told CNN they were forced to rely on private security firms or South Sudanese forces for rescue.
"This horrific incident further underscores the need for an enhanced, assertive, and more robust international peacekeeping presence in Juba in order to better prevent crimes against civilians and the further deterioration of security in the capital," United States Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, said in a statement.
"The parties to the conflict must immediately cease attacks against innocent civilians and recommit to settle the conflict and leave the South Sudanese to live in peace at last."
On August 12, the UN Security Council moved to amp up the peacekeeping force, voting to send 4,000 additional troops to South Sudan. Around 12,000 are currently stationed in the country.
The compound had been on lockdown for days during the clashes.
But on the afternoon of Monday, July 11, the sounds moved closer to the Terrain compound.
At around 3pm it was attacked.
Soldiers shot for more than an hour at the steel door to gain entry to the two-story concrete structure. Witnesses believe they gained entry through a broken window.
Immediately after the soldiers entered, witnesses told CNN that the looting began.
When it seemed imminent that the soldiers would gain access, Filipino aid worker Gian Libot hid under his bed, staying there for two hours.
In a photo he took from his hiding place while, he says, soldiers were searching for valuables, the feet of two are visible -- one without shoes.
"Where is the dollar? Where is the laptop?" Libot remembers them asking the other residents. "Where is the phone? We are going to kill you."
"It would be the same thing again and again," he told CNN.
At the same time, around 16 people crowded into a small bathroom for cover. Soldiers began shooting at the door to the bedroom that led to them, those inside were in contact with their various aid organizations, the UN, and embassies.
"They were all on the phone constantly, texting, making [the UN] aware of what was happening to us," said an American woman, who did not reveal her identity for security reasons or to protect her organization.
Eventually the soldiers entered the bathroom where they were hiding. Witnesses told CNN the soldiers were young, some appeared to have been on drugs, but witnesses said they seemed to have come with the intention of sexually assaulting the women.
"They had an agenda," said the American woman. "As soon as they broke down the door they started picking women, it wasn't an afterthought -- it was part of the plan and the process."
"They took the girls out of the bathroom one by one," she said. "It was like each soldier kind of picked one."
She said she was thrown on the ground and beaten with an AK-47 for more than ten minutes.
The American woman then said the soldier shouted "Open your legs! Do you want to die? Open your legs!"
When she didn't, another man walked in, pointed his gun at the ground and shot -- just inches from her temple.
Another woman, who worked for an international organization, said she was taken from the same bathroom to a room alone, where she was beaten and then raped by three men. She was then moved to a separate building with two more women where they were raped again throughout the afternoon.
Libot said some soldiers used anti-American rhetoric, blaming foreigners for South Sudan's current issues.
"You foreigners you caused a problem here you're the reason for this. America has done this to South Sudan," Libot recalls one saying. "There definitely was an anger there -- a hatred."
He says soldiers then brought out a local journalist, 32-year-old John Gatulak at gunpoint. One soldier said the word "nuer" - relating to Gatulak's ethnic group, the same as the opposition leader.
"I felt this was the trigger," said Libot. "It was a split second, the moment that word was uttered out -- just two shots in the head right away, four more when he was on the ground."
"It was pure hatred, it was merciless," said Libot.
South Sudanese security extracted the first survivors after more than three hours, and a private security team released the last after 18 hours, witnesses told CNN.
Many witnesses told CNN they blame the UN peacekeepers, less than a mile away, for a lack of response.
"I'm really angry because nobody came," said the woman who was raped by five different men.
"We could prevent the violence all the people knew about us, we were there for four days (during the clashes) and nobody came."
In response to these reports, the UN Mission in South Sudan Principal Public Information Officer, Yasmina Bouziane, said "the immensely challenging and non-permissive security environment" in the country placed "severe limitations on the Mission's ability to conduct extractions of personnel in harm's way."
The UN Mission in South Sudan says it is currently investigating the incident.
"UNMISS and the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping have taken extremely seriously the terrible incident at the Terrain compound in Juba where a group of uniformed men targeted UN and international NGO personnel, premises and assets during the fighting that erupted in July," UNMISS said in a statement to CNN.
"UNMISS is carrying out an internal investigation into the circumstances of the incident, which will review its response to the incident against established protocols," the statement added.
UNMISS has repeatedly been criticized for failing to protect citizens.
MSF criticized UNMISS in February when peacekeepers did not intervene in fighting which broke out in a Protection of Civilians Site in Malakal, South Sudan.
Fighting at the site -- meant to be a safe haven for those displaced by conflict -- forced some 29,000 people who had sought refuge to be displaced once again.
During the clashes in July -- in which the Terrain compound was attacked -- the UN reported that around 100 women were victims of sexual violence. Many occurred right outside the UN compound, where South Sudanese had sought protection.
A UN report published in March found that groups aligned with the government were allowed to rape in lieu of wages.
"Rape is just part of it part of the bounties of war," said Jehanne Henry a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch, an author of the report.
That report demanded that such abuses be stopped, and that any soldiers responsible for abuses be held to account.
South Sudan Presidential Spokesperson Ateny Wek Ateny denies any knowledge of plans prior to the attack, and says the events are now under investigation and those found to have committed the crimes will be held to account.
The government of South Sudan denied any instruction to target foreigners.
"Some bullets may have strayed to hit the wrong target," the South Sudan spokesperson said. "During the fighting some isolated incident may happen but is not the policy to target Americans or foreigners."
"The government takes every report seriously -- if the crime is committed we will bring them to book," they added.
South Sudan, which gained independence from Sudan in 2011, descended into a two-year civil war in 2013 after President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, accused his vice president, Riek Machar, who is an ethnic Nuer, of plotting a coup against him.
In August 2015, the warring parties negotiated a peace deal to establish a national unity government, but that largely disintegrated in July when fighting resumed between forces loyal to Kiir and those of Machar after their security forces engaged in a firefight at the presidential complex. Around 300 people were killed in those clashes.
Since the July outbreak of violence, around 70,000 South Sudanese people have crossed the border into Uganda as refugees. Since fighting began in December 2013, more than 2 million South Sudanese have fled their homes, according to the UN.