A UN report has documented the immense suffering of civilians in the Western Equatoria region of South Sudan where 900 people were abducted and 24,000 forced to flee their homes during a surge in violence between April and August.
In April 2018, after several months of relative calm, the pro-Riek Machar Sudan People’s Liberation Army in-Opposition (SPLA-IO (RM)) intensified attacks against villages and targeted civilians in Gbudue and Tambura. The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA)’s offensives to dislodge SPLA-IO (RM) forces also resulted in harm to civilians, as these operations failed to distinguish between civilians and combatants, the report by the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and the UN Human Rights Office says.
Corroborated victim and witness accounts indicate that women and girls as young as 12, abducted by opposition forces, were paraded and lined up for commanders to choose as “wives”. Those who were not chosen were left for other fighters who subjected them to repeated rapes. Abducted young men and boys were forced to be fighters or used as porters.
“Most of the abducted civilians are, as far as we know, still being held captive. The SPLA-IO (RM) must immediately release them, first and foremost the children,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet. “As part of the revitalised peace process, it is also essential that the Government of South Sudan acts to hold the perpetrators of the abuses and violations detailed in this report to account.”
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of UNMISS, David Shearer, said it was disappointing that the spike in violence took place while warring parties were negotiating a new peace agreement and despite positive reconciliation efforts in the affected community at the time.
“A new peace agreement has been signed which puts the onus and responsibility on the warring parties to ensure that no atrocities are committed in future. UNMISS will be closely monitoring any potential violations and abuses,” said David Shearer.
The report documented SPLA-IO (RM) attacks on at least 28 villages, a settlement of internally displaced persons and a refugee camp, in Gbudue and Tambura. Serious abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law occurred during these attacks, including unlawful killings, abduction, rape, sexual slavery, forced recruitment, and destruction of property.
UNMISS Human Rights Division has identified three SPLA-IO (RM) commanders who allegedly had effective command and control of the forces committing these abuses, which may amount to war crimes.
SPLA forces also carried out military operations that were characterized by serious violations, including unlawful killings and destruction of civilian property, particularly around Nagero in May 2018.
Among its recommendations, the report calls for accountability and for the reinforcement of existing recovery and resilience programmes to re-establish access to basic services, particularly medical and psychosocial support for survivors of conflict-related sexual violence, and for the provision of economic alternatives for young fighters.Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).