A preliminary United Nations (UN) investigation says South Sudan security forces were behind a spree of killings, rapes and looting of destroyed property during recent fighting in the war-ravaged country.
On Thursday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Al Hussein called for stronger action by the UN Security Council (UNSC), according to a press release from New York.
The recent fighting between rival forces – the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) loyal to President Salva Kiir and the SPLA in Opposition backing First Vice-President Riek Machar – erupted in and around the capital city, Juba, on July 7.
“Tensions remain very high, and violations continue to take place in Juba and other parts of the country,” said Al Hussein.
He said that information received by UN human rights officers suggested hundreds of fighters and civilians were killed during the initial fighting.
While some civilians were killed in crossfire between the fighting forces, others were reportedly summarily executed by government (SPLA) soldiers, who appear to have specifically targeted people of Nuer origin.
In two separate incidents on July 11, SPLA soldiers reportedly arrested eight Nuer civilians during house-to-house searches in Juba’s Munuki area and took them to two nearby hotels, where they shot four of them.
On the same day, SPLA soldiers allegedly broke into another hotel where they shot and killed a Nuer journalist.
At least 73 civilian deaths have been catalogued so far by the UN, but it was believed the civilian death toll may turn out to be much higher.
The UN was denied access to some of the hardest-hit areas in the days following the conflict and a number of restrictions on movement remain in place.
“The fighting also resulted in widespread sexual violence, including rape and gang rape by soldiers in uniform and men in plain clothes,” said Zeid, adding that Nuer, Dinka and women from the three Equatorian states were all targeted, along with foreign nationals.
Many victims were minors.
“We have documented at least 217 cases of sexual violence in Juba between and July 8 and 25,” he said.
“In a few areas, women from various ethnic groups were raped by heavily armed youth believed to be affiliated to the SPLA in Opposition (SPLA/IO).”
However, according to the information gathered so far, those most affected were displaced Nuer women and girls and “those responsible seem to have been mostly SPLA,” said Zeid.
Sexual violence continued after the initial fighting subsided and over 100 women and girls are reported to have been raped or gang-raped on the road leading out of Juba towards Yei.
The High Commissioner expressed concern about allegations that some UN peacekeepers may have failed to assist women and girls who were reportedly raped and assaulted near their positions.
– African News Agency (ANA)