The United Nations Human Rights Office (OHCHR) and the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) have jointly published a report this week that condemns South Sudanese government forces and aligned troops of targeting civilians in recent attacks. The newly published report documents at least 234 civilian deaths and many more injuries between April 16 and May 24 by the government, aligned forces and armed youth on 40 villages in the opposition-held areas of Mayendit and Leer. The recent attacks in South Sudan are described in the report as “deliberate, ruthless and brutally violent attacks on civilians, particularly against women and children.”
The OHCHR stated that “civilians were targeted, with the elderly, people with disabilities and very young children killed in horrific acts of violence – some hung from trees and others burned alive in their homes.” The report also documented the use of rape and other sexual violence against women as a weapon of war. At least 120 women and girls had been gang-raped and 132 abducted. Children as young as six had been victims of rape in the recent attacks.
United Nations High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has called the South Sudanese government to halt all hostilities against civilians. Hussein stated that “the perpetrators of these revolting acts against defenceless civilians, including those bearing command responsibility, must not be allowed to get away with it.” Hussein continued that “there must be consequences for the men who reportedly gang-raped a six-year-old child, who slit the throats of elderly villagers, who hung women for resisting looting, and shot fleeing civilians in the swamps where they hid.” He has urged for South Sudan and the African Union to rapidly establish a hybrid court so those accused of such serious crimes can be held responsible. According to Al Jazeera, there has been no reaction or response from the South Sudanese government.
It is positive that the United Nations have conducted reports to determine the seriousness of what is occurring in South Sudan, especially in recent months as violence worsens. It is still evident that the South Sudanese government and other involved parties need to be held accountable for their crimes. Other states, particularly those within the African Union need to stand firm against the South Sudanese government’s ruthless and revolting actions of violence against its own people. The United Nations Security Council has also recently voted to impose an arms embargo on South Sudan which is a step in the right direction. However, this arms embargo is considered overdue and must be strictly enforced for violence to decrease.
South Sudan continues to struggle from the impacts of an almost five-year civil war, which has resulted in the death of tens of thousands, widespread famine, and the biggest refugee crisis in Africa since the 1994 Rwandan genocide. A “permanent” ceasefire was agreed upon between the South Sudanese government and opposition forces last month, which has raised hopes of peace to end the on-going conflict which began in December 2013. However, multiple attempts at peace have failed in the past, leaving many civilians and critics to question this latest attempt at peace.
The people of South Sudan have suffered from cruel and inhumane violence for too long. It is promising to see the United Nations condemning such violence. However, words need to come with action for significant change to occur.