Hundreds of extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, gang rapes, sexual slavery, forced abortion, massive child soldier recruitment and indiscriminate attacks against civilians with entire villages burned down have been perpetrated by all in sides in war-torn South Sudan, the United Nations reports.
“The constant attacks on women, the rape, enslavement and slaughter of innocents; the recruitment of thousands upon thousands of child soldiers; the deliberate displacement of vast numbers of people in such a harsh and poverty-stricken country – these are abhorrent practices that must be halted,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, whose Office (OHCHR) compiled the report along with the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
The country, which gained independence in 2009 after breaking away from Sudan, its northern neighbour, was thrown into turmoil when conflict erupted between President Salva Kiir and his former Vice-President Riek Machar in December 2013, killing thousands, displacing over 2.4 million people, 650,000 of whom fled abroad, and impacting the food security of 4.6 million.
“Very few places in areas of conflict have been safe, as the parties have intentionally attacked traditional safe havens, such as places of worship, hospitals and, from time to time, United Nations bases,” the report said. “These attacks reveal a shocking disregard for civilian life, with an increasing number of armed groups and communities involved in the violence.”
From the middle of 2015, a new pattern emerged, particularly in the central and southern counties of Unity state, with entire villages being burned down, food crops destroyed and livestock looted, amid indications this may have been a deliberate strategy by the Government or army to deprive civilians of any source of livelihood and force their displacement, it added.
The report documented at least 280 cases of conflict-related sexual violence, including gang rape, sexual slavery and forced abortion, as well as a sharp increase in child recruitment, with at least 13,000 to 15,000 child soldiers, recruited mainly, but not solely, by opposition forces, as of December 2015.
“Despite the severity of the human rights and humanitarian law violations perpetrated by both sides to the conflict, there are no tangible accountability mechanisms beyond the rhetoric of the main belligerents,” the report stressed.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative UNMISS chief Ellen Margrethe Løj underscored that accountability must be a fundamental element in the ongoing peace process seeking to end the strife.
“It is time to end the cycle of impunity that has allowed these violations to occur and embrace a brighter future of sustainable peace for all South Sudanese,” she said.
Zeid said: “Accountability and justice sound like empty words in such a bleak landscape, but they are essential if South Sudan is to come out of this terrible period. The current regional and international peace efforts offer some hope this perpetual cycle of bloodshed and misery can be brought to an end and I urge all sides to negotiate in good faith.”