UN report exposes gruesome abuses in South Sudan

A picture taken on July 3, 2018, shows a woman taking care of her new-born baby at her home after a World Food Programme (WFP) plane dropped sacks of maize and sorghum from air in Jeich village in Ayod County, northern South Sudan. The small village in the bush surrounded by swamps and the ongoing conflicts is isolated by cutting off the road due to the floodwater during the rainy season. The air food dropping is the only option to deliver the aid for the residents mostly fled from conflict areas. / AFP / PATRICK MEINHARDT

United Nations: South Sudan government troops and allied fighters killed at least 232 civilians in a five-week period this year, hanging some people from trees and burning others alive, according to a United Nations report released Tuesday.

The report is the latest snapshot of the widespread atrocities committed in the world’s youngest nation over its five-year civil war. It says the “deliberate, ruthless” attacks may amount to war crimes.

Human rights monitors for the UN found that at least 120 women and girls were raped or gang-raped between April 16 and May 24. The rape victims included children as young as 4, and some sexual assault targets were shot dead for resisting, the UN monitors reported.

“One 20-year-old woman was still bleeding from childbirth when she was raped,” the report states.

The intent was to “cleanse those areas,” the report said, citing accounts from more than 75 interviews with victims and witnesses.

“There must be consequences for the men who reportedly gang-raped a 6-year-old child, who slit the throats of elderly villagers, who hanged women for resisting looting, and shot fleeing civilians in the swamps where they hid,” UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a statement.

He called on South Sudan and the African Union to establish a long-delayed hybrid court to help hold perpetrators accountable.

The report comes as South Sudan President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar hold talks in pursuit of a new peace agreement while international pressure grows on them either to end the fighting or face possible UN or regional sanctions.

However, a “permanent” cease-fire they signed was violated within hours of coming into effect on June 30.

A South Sudan military spokesman called the new report “damaging.”

“We shall go through it and compare what they’re claiming to have been done with the reality on the ground so we can know for sure whether the report has substance or if it’s far-fetched,” spokesman Lul Ruai Koang told The Associated Press.

Both sides have been blamed for atrocities in South Sudan’s civil war. The conflict began in late 2013, just two years after the country won independence from Sudan. Tens of thousands have been killed and millions have fled, creating Africa’s largest refugee crisis since the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

The UN Security Council is expected to vote this week on imposing an arms embargo against South Sudan, a US proposal which follows a power-sharing agreement between warring leaders.

The United States is South Sudan’s biggest aid provider, and was a major backer of its 2011 independence from Sudan.

But patience from South Sudan’s foreign allies has worn out after countless failed efforts to bring peace to the country, now in its fifth year of a war where targeted ethnic killings, gang rapes and other atrocities have occurred.

An early draft resolution, seen Tuesday by AFP, underlines “a deep concern” of the Security Council “in the face of the failure of South Sudanese leaders to end hostilities and flagrant violations.”

The draft US text would establish an arms embargo for South Sudan until May 31, 2019.

It allows UN member states to destroy or neutralize any cargo of weapons prohibited under the embargo.

The document would also renew for a year sanctions imposed on South Sudan.

In the Security Council several countries, including Russia, China, and Ethiopia, are not keen to strengthen the sanctions so as not to jeopardize mediation led by the East African regional organization IGAD, and which led to Saturday’s agreement on the ground.

Under that deal, rebel leader Riek Machar would return to his position as vice-president, pending further negotiations.

In contrast, the United States and European allies stress the fragility of the agreement and deem it necessary to maintain maximum pressure to advance towards peace, diplomats say.

Two years after separating from Sudan in 2011, oil-rich South Sudan plunged into a war that has since killed tens of thousands of people and displaced four million, after President Salva Kiir accused his then-deputy Machar of plotting a coup.

Report findings:

– At least 132 women and girls were abducted for suspected sex slavery or servitude.

– Some elderly, sick and disabled people who could not flee were burned alive.

– At least 10 children, including a 7-day-old baby, drowned in swamps as people fled.

– In all, more than 30,000 people were displaced during a “scorched-earth” campaign in opposition-held areas in Leer and Mayendit, part of a South Sudan military operation after clashes with the rebels.

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