UN Reports South Sudan Forces May Have Committed War Crimes

South Sudanese pro-government forces have killed at least 114 civilians in and around Yei town, as well as committing uncounted rapes, looting and torture, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said.

The report has documented human rights violations and abuses against civilians that may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity.

“The conflict in Yei, in particular, highlights the startling level of impunity in South Sudan, which has fed successive cycles of violence across the country,” said the report, which detailed the findings of a six-month investigation between July 2016 and January 2017.

The town of Yei, 150 kilometres south-west of the capital, Juba, was once a peaceful, multi-ethnic town. However, the findings reported that the attacks appeared to have an ethnic dimension, not unlike other attacks across the country. “These cases included attacks on funerals and indiscriminate shelling of civilians; cases of sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls, including those fleeing fighting; often committed in front of the victims’ families.”

While the extent of the abuses remains uncertain as humanitarian and other groups are unable to access the area, the report has found that the human rights violations require further investigation as they may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity.

Violence erupted when the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), devoted to President Salva Kiir, chased his opponent and erstwhile Vice-President Riek Machar and some followers out of Juba and towards Yei into the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

South Sudan army spokesperson Colonel Santo Domic Chol told Reuters that the report was “baseless.” As well, he said that “This is not the first time the UN has accused the SPLA and tried to portray us as enemies of the people.”

The fighting reignited the strong divisions along ethnic lines and has caused targeted killings, arrests, rapes and mass civilian displacement of more than half of the population of the town.

Tens of thousands of civilians have been forcibly displaced, with satellite imagery showing the large scale burning of homes and businesses.