A United Nations inquiry into allegations of human rights violations and abuses committed during the ongoing conflict in South Sudan has concluded that some of the violations may amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes.
The commission, established by the Human Rights Council in March 2016, has identified more than forty senior military officials who may bear individual responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the country.
Its public report, which reflects only a portion of the information in the 58,000 documents and 230 witness statements collected, documents abhorrent instances of cruelty against civilians, including massacres, sexual violence as well as the destruction of homes, hospitals and schools.
It documents evidence implicating the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army-SPLA in intentionally killing unarmed and fleeing civilians.
The investigators established that the attacks against civilians and the intentional killings are undertaken in retaliation for battlefield losses or killings of SPLA soldiers by opposition forces. The brutality also included the systematic looting and burning of villages, destroying people’s sense of security and ability to support and care for themselves.
As a result, millions of citizens have been displaced, and thousands are sheltering in the bush, resulting in untold deaths from starvation, thirst, exposure, and lack of access to medical care.
In addition to investigating allegations, the commission is also mandated to collect and preserve evidence for use in the Hybrid Court and other accountability mechanisms agreed under the 2015 peace agreement.
Urging for the swift setting up of the court, Yasmin Sooka, the Chair of the commission underscored “ultimately this is the only way to stop the rampant devastation of millions of human lives by South Sudan’s leaders.”
“Holding those in charge in South Sudan accountable for the intentional suffering they inflict on their own people is crucial to stemming this humanitarian catastrophe,” Andrew Clapham a member of commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, has said.
The report also noted that children have been recruited by all sides in the conflict and forced to kill civilians; in many cases, they have watched loved ones raped or killed.
Meanwhile, a separate report authored by the UN Mission in the country (UNMISS) and the Organization’s human rights wing, OHCHR, indicated that undue restrictions on freedom of expression are having a “chilling effect” and further shrinking the space for debate and dissent in war-torn South Sudan.
The report warned that incitement to hatred continues to cause mistrust, fear and violence as well as of a growing climate of self-censorship in the world’s youngest country.
“South Sudan’s people have been denied the right to life, the right to justice, and, as this report details, the right to freedom of opinion and expression – rights that are not luxuries but are essential to bring about peace and development,” said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, in a news release announcing the findings.
The report identified 60 verified incidents – including killing, arbitrary arrest and detention, closure, suspension or censorship of newspapers, and blocking of websites – in the period from July 2016 to December 2017.