South Sudan: MSF staff member among dozens killed in renewed violence in Leer

Destroyed tukul in Adok, Leer

South Sudan 2022 © Anna Bylund/MSF

NEW YORK/JUBA APRIL 19, 2022—The latest violence that erupted in Leer County in South Sudan earlier this month has resulted in the deaths of dozens of civilians, including a Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) staff member. Indiscriminate attacks by armed groups also continue to impede people’s access to vital medical services—exacerbating an already dire humanitarian situation as many remain trapped in an endless cycle of violence and displacement following the 2013-2018 civil war.

Peter Mathor Tap had been working with MSF in Leer since 2007, initially as senior department supervisor at the former MSF hospital—which was destroyed twice during the civil war, once in 2014 and again in 2015—and more recently as nursing care provider in one of MSF’s Community Based Health Care (CBHC) facilities. During the fighting on April 10, Peter was shot and killed while he was off duty. As a child, Peter had polio, which left him with a disability and required him to use a cane. This affected Peter’s ability to run away when the armed aggressors reached the area where he lived. He is the second MSF staff member killed in Leer since December 2021.

“We are shocked and profoundly saddened by the tragic death of our colleague Peter,” said Federica Franco, MSF head of mission for South Sudan. “We strongly condemn the indiscriminate violence being carried out by armed groups that have killed and injured many innocent civilians in Leer, including the most vulnerable, such as children, the elderly, and people with disabilities.”

MSF’s clinic in Leer has remained one of the few fully functioning health care facilities in the entire county, and the only facility providing advanced emergency care. Since the latest fighting began on April 4, the MSF clinic in Leer town has treated more than 30 people with gunshot wounds, as well as several other trauma victims, including survivors of sexual violence.

Initial assessments of the recent violence report widescale destruction, notably in Adok, Pilleny, Thonyor, and Touchria, where numerous people were killed, homes were set on fire, and properties were looted. As a result, thousands of people have been forcibly displaced, including MSF staff. Those displaced are too scared to return home. With many of them having lost all their belongings, they have little to return to. Many people have sought refuge in the swamps, where they are at risk of deadly waterborne diseases such as cholera and diarrhea, as well as malaria.

“They [the attackers] were shooting, and everyone ran to the swamp area because we were fleeing for our lives,” said Nyadeng*, an elderly female resident of Adok. “People were slaughtered, including mothers and young children. When we came out, we found the area was burnt, they took the goats and cattle, and they looted [property].”

Of the six CBHC facilities MSF operates in Leer County, three are now non-functional, as one facility was partially destroyed and two others were looted during these latest attacks. Despite this, MSF is continuing to ensure people can access much-needed medical care. MSF has also begun conducting mobile clinics to the main displacement sites.

“The level of atrocities witnessed, the persisting fear of being attacked, and the widespread destruction of medical facilities are severely affecting access to health care as people are reluctant to travel to search for treatment,” Franco said. “Thousands of people who’ve been displaced are in urgent need of humanitarian aid and medical care. We call on all armed groups to respect international humanitarian law and immediately cease targeting civilians and health facilities.”

*Name has been changed to protect the person interviewed.