A file photo taken Jan. 19, 2016 shows displaced people walking next to a razor wire fence at the United Nations base in the capital Juba, South Sudan. A new report released Friday says all parties in the conflict have committed serious and systematic violence against civilians, but says state actors bore the greatest responsibility in 2015.
March 11, 2016 7:47 AM
The U.N. human rights office says South Sudan’s government has operated a "scorched earth policy" of killing, raping and looting civilians as it fights rebels in the country’s civil war.
A new report released Friday says all parties in the conflict have committed serious and systematic violence against civilians, but says state actors bore the greatest responsibility during 2015 as opposition forces grew weaker.
The report describes a multitude of human rights violations. The scale of sexual violence is "particularly shocking," the human rights office said in a statement. Between April and September, 2015, the U.N. recorded more than 1,300 rapes in just one of the country’s 10 states.
"Credible sources indicate groups allied to the government are being allowed to rape women in lieu of wages, but opposition groups and criminal gangs have also been preying on women and girls," the U.N. office said. Some victims of gang-rape were as young as nine years old.
FILE - Some of more than 30,000 people who flocked into Leer town, South Sudan, to receive food from the International Committee of the Red Cross, Dec. 15, 2015, which marks the two-year anniversary of South Sudan’s civil war.
Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said "The quantity of rapes and gang-rapes described in the report must only be a snapshot of the real total. This is one of the most horrendous human rights situations in the world, with massive use of rape as an instrument of terror and weapon of war, yet it has been more or less off the international radar."
The report contains accounts of civilians believed to support the opposition being burned to death, shot, hanged from trees or cut to pieces.
Violations may be war crimes
In a separate report Thursday, human rights group Amnesty International accused South Sudan military forces of suffocating 60 men and boys in a shipping container. The group said the incident happened last October on the grounds of a Catholic church in Leer, a town in Unity state.
The United Nations said the human rights situation in South Sudan has "deteriorated dramatically" since the outbreak of the civil war in December 2013. It said the world’s newest country has known conflict "for nearly half its five-year existence and the suffering of its people has been immense . . . There are reasonable grounds to believe the violations may amount to war crimes and/or crimes against humanity," it said.
A heavy toll
The civil war between the government and rebels led by former Vice President Riek Machar has killed tens of thousands and forced more than two million people from their homes. The U.N. is urging the sides to implement a peace accord signed in August that calls for creation of a national unity government.
FILE— In this file photo of Sept. 25, 2015, South Sudan government soldiers in the town of Koch, Unity state, South Sudan.
The U.N. report said justice is an almost impossible achievement for victims in South Sudan, a country the size of France and Belgium that has no paved roads outside the capital.
The report said "prisons are easy to escape from, court rooms dilapidated, English is the official language of the legal system, but few speak it, law books are sparse and judges and prosecutors have fled the fighting."