GOVERNMENT forces in South Sudan have waged a campaign of terror in Unity state, where civilians, unprotected by peacekeeping forces, have been systematically raped, maimed, and killed, the UN Human Rights Office reports.
The report, which was published last week, describes how, after opposition forces had fled, the citizens left behind in Unity were subjected to a scorched-earth campaign by the army, backed by armed militia. Despite having a mandate from the Security Council to protect civilians, the UN peacekeeping force (UNMISS) had no access to the southern part of Unity state until November 2015, leaving the civilian population at the mercy of the army.
The report includes accounts of the death of civilians, including children and the disabled, by being burned alive, shot, hanged from trees, or cut to pieces. Children have been maimed, raped, and recruited for hostilities. The prevalence of rape — more than 1300 reports were recorded between April and September — suggests that it has become “an acceptable practice by SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army] soldiers and affiliated armed militias”. Some reports suggest they are being allowed to rape in lieu of wages.
Although the report concludes that all parties to the conflict have committed abuses, it says that the state bore the greatest responsibility in 2015, given the weakened opposition forces.
Satellite imagery has corroborated accounts of the “systematic destruction” of towns and villages in Unity. It reports “famine-like conditions”, caused by cattle-raiding, looting, and the destruction of food stocks. Last year, at least 13 humanitarian workers in the state were killed.
The report concludes that there are reasonable grounds to believe that war crimes and/or crimes against humanity have taken place there. It recommends that the Security Council consider a comprehensive arms embargo on the country, and that the African Union immediately establish a Hybrid Court.
“This is one of the most horrendous human-rights situations in the world,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Hussein, said at the launch of the report’. “Yet it has been more or less off the international radar.”
Since the start of the crisis in December 2013, more than two million South Sudanese have been displaced, and tens of thousands killed. The parties to the conflict have yet to form the transitional government of national unity promised in a peace agreement last August. Most parts of the country face severe food insecurity, and possible famine.