August 08, 2014(Nyamilepedia) — Both sides in South Sudan’s eight-month civil war have committed “extraordinary acts of cruelty” that amount to war crimes, and potentially, crimes against humanity, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
In a report on the atrocities carried out in the world’s youngest country since president Salva Kiir accused his vice-president, Riek Machar, of plotting a coup last December, the group catalogues crimes ranging from the ethnically motivated murder of civilians to gang rapes and the mass destruction and looting of civilian property.
Such acts, it says, have defined the conflict, which is estimated to have killed tens of thousands of people, driven 1.5 million South Sudanese from their homes and left almost 5 million in dire need of humanitarian assistance.
“South Sudan’s death toll in this new war is unknown but thousands of civilians have been killed, homes and markets burned, and bodies left to be eaten by birds and dogs,” says the report.
It calls on the UN security council, which is due to visit South Sudan next week, to hold both sides to account: “The scale and gravity of the abuses warrant a comprehensive arms embargo on South Sudan, as well as targeted sanctions on individuals responsible for serious violations of international law.”
The group’s 92-page study, based on interviews with more than 400 survivors and witnesses of the violence, argues that the rivalry between Kiir, who is a Dinka, and Machar, a Nuer, has once again pitted South Sudan’s two largest ethnic groups against each other.
“Government rhetoric has attempted to underplay the ethnic dimension, but with little success: many communities believe that leaders, soldiers or armed civilians from the other ethnic group will continue to target and physically attack and politically undermine them,” it says.
The fighting, which erupted in the capital, Juba, on 15 December last year, saw a massacre of Nuer men in the city within 24 hours. The killings drove many Nuers to take up arms in support of Machar and tens of thousands of others to seek shelter in UN bases across the country, where many remain.
While government forces have continued to “harass and attack” the Nuers in these bases, says HRW, the opposition has launched brutal attacks in towns such as Bentiu, Malakal and Bor.
“In early January, opposition forces shot and killed remaining civilians in Bor over a two-week period, looting and burning many homes,” says the report. “In Bentiu opposition forces were responsible for a horrific massacre in a mosque in April.
“In both Bentiu and Malakal, opposition forces attacked hospitals, killing patients and civilians who had taken refuge there. As far as HRW has been able to ascertain, the opposition has not made any efforts to hold forces to account for these and other crimes.”
According to HRW, both the ferocity of the violence and the speed with which it spread are explained by the country’s long history of war, criminal violence and ethnic tensions.
“Serious crimes committed in violation of international law against Nuer and Dinka communities by fighters from both Nuer and Dinka-led rebel factions in Sudan’s 1983-2005 civil war, ahead of southern independence, were never addressed,” it says.
“Fear of repetition and anger over those crimes created conditions for the current conflict and the abuses being perpetrated in it.”
Unless proper efforts are made to end such abuses, ensure accountability and justice, and promote reconciliation, argues HRW, South Sudan will remain a prisoner to its bloody past.
“The crimes against civilians in South Sudan over the past months, including ethnic killings, will resonate for decades,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “It is essential for both sides to end the cycle of violence against civilians immediately, and to acknowledge and support the need for justice.”
The report comes amid warnings that parts of South Sudan are at risk of famine and days after six South Sudanese humanitarian workers were murdered, apparently because of their Nuer ethnicity.
The killings, thought to have been carried out by a local militia with a grudge against Nuers, forced the UN to evacuate 220 staff and aid workers from Maban county in the north-east of the country.
On Wednesday, the US secretary of state, John Kerry, condemned the “simply appalling” murders, adding that such violence served only to underscore the importance of the faltering peace talks under way in Addis Ababa.
He added: “In the face of the worsening security and humanitarian situation, it is more urgent than ever that both parties come to the table … ready to engage in multi-stakeholder political negotiations.
“These talks are critical to resolving the conflict and moving forward on the commitment to form a transitional government as the government of South Sudan and the opposition agreed to on 10 June.”
– The guardian.