According to a new report by the UN Human Rights Office, the South Sudanese government is deliberately targeting civilians as part of a “scorched earth policy” including rape, killing and pillaging.
Since fighting broke out in December 2013, the government and opposition have attacked civilians. The UN report which was published on Friday March 11, 2016 claims that “state actors bore the greatest responsibility during 2015, given the weakening of opposition forces.”
More than two million South Sudanese have been displaced and tens of thousands killed. According to the report, perpetrators of these horrendous acts of violence are said to be using crude methods including civilians being burned alive, being hung from trees while others are cut into pieces.
Women and children have not been spared. Sexual violence has been used to terrorize women and young girls in the world’s newest country which has experienced conflict for nearly half its five-year existence.
The report notes that from April to September 2015, more than 1,300 cases of rape were reported in just one South Sudan’s ten states, oil-rich Unity. The militia are raping women in lieu of wages- operating under a “do what you can and take what you can" agreement that allows them to rape and abduct young girls as form of payment.
“The scale and types of sexual violence - primarily by Government SPLA forces and affiliated militia – are described in searing, devastating detail, as is the almost casual, yet calculated, attitude of those slaughtering civilians and destroying property and livelihoods,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra`ad Al Hussein. “This is one of the most horrendous human rights situations in the world, with massive use of rape as an instrument of terror and weapon of war -- yet it has been more or less off the international radar.”
Harrowing accounts by civilians
Civilians suspected of supporting the opposition undergo traumatic experiences not only to the victims but also young children who are forced to watch as their parents are killed and their sisters raped by the crude militia. The disabled have also faced the wrath in the hands of the militia.
- One woman told the team she had been stripped naked and raped by five soldiers in front of her children on the roadside and then raped by more men in the bushes, only to return and find her children missing.
- Another woman was tied to a tree after her husband was killed and was forced to watch her 15-year-old daughter being raped by ten men.
- According to witnesses, several women said they were raped when they left UN protected camps to search for food; others were abducted and held in sexual slavery as “wives” for soldiers in barracks.
- A witness said that women who tried to resist, or even looked their rapist directly in the eye, were killed in some cases, while the young or good looking women were targeted and raped by ten men. Older women were raped by about seven to nine men.
The prevalence of rape, “suggests its use in the conflict has become an acceptable practice by SPLA soldiers and affiliated armed militias,” says the report. Women and girls “were considered a commodity and were taken along with civilian property as the soldiers moved through the villages.”
Speaking to the BBC, President Salva Kiir's spokesman, Ateng Wek Ateng, said that there were no militias fighting on the government side. He argued that the South Sudanese soldiers only fought people in uniforms, not civilians.
Mr Ateng told the BBC that the government disputed the report and would take appropriate action as the allegations detailed were “too serious to ignore”.
In a separate report also released on Friday by Amnesty International, more than 60 men and boys had been suffocated in a shipping container by government forces. Most of those suffocated were traders, students, and cattle herders, according to witnesses.
When Mr Kiir accused his sacked deputy Riek Machar of plotting a coup in December 2013, Mr Machar denied the accusation but went ahead to form a rebel group to fight the government.
Machar has been operating from Ethiopia since the disagreement.
Although the two signed a peace pact in August 2015, after the UN threatened to impose sanctions on the country, the transitional agreement of national unity agreed upon in the deal is yet to be formed.
Just recently, South Sudan was added to the East African Community (EAC) making it the sixth member of the regional economic bloc. It is hoped that the EAC will intervene to see that reconciliation and peace is restored in the country.
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