New research conducted by Amnesty International on the surge in military activity in South Sudan over the past weeks clearly shows that regional and international efforts to end the human suffering caused by armed conflict in South Sudan have failed.
Amnesty International researchers have just returned from Bentiu in Unity state where they documented violations including civilian killings, abduction and sexual violence.
“The spike in fighting between the parties to the conflict is a clear indication that South Sudan’s leaders have little interest in a cessation of hostilities, while the region and the rest of the international community are reluctant to take bold steps towards addressing repeated atrocities,” said Michelle Kagari, deputy director with Amnesty International.
Thousands of people have fled to the United Nations base in Bentiu to escape intensified fighting in Unity state between the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement/Army-In Opposition and government forces and allied youth and militia groups.
Individuals who fled violence in Rubkona, Guit, Koch and Leer counties consistently described government forces, some in SPLA uniform and others in civilian clothing, mostly from the Bul section of the Nuer ethnic group, attacking their villages armed with axes, machetes and guns.
The interviewees gave chilling accounts of the government forces setting entire villages on fire, killing and beating residents, looting livestock and other property, committing acts of sexual violence and abducting women and children.
A 45-year-old woman told Amnesty International that government forces reached Panthap, in Rubkona county, early on the morning of 8 May. They instructed villagers to bring out all their property and took away anything of value. She said they beat her with a stick, but no one was killed. She fled with approximately 200 other villagers, arriving at the UN camp for displaced persons in Bentiu on 12 May.
A woman from Chatchara, in Rubkona county, described an attack on her village by groups of young men she believed were allied with the government on the morning of 7 May.
“They came and said, ‘bring your property out,’ and then they burnt our tukul [thatch-roofed mud structure]. They beat us with sticks and metal rods, saying ‘where are the boys and young men?’ They took our property, our maize and clothes, and forced us to carry them towards Mayom. We were many women from the village. One woman got tired and was killed. They also shot her two-year old daughter.”
The woman was eventually freed. She too made her way to the UN camp in Bentiu.
A 70 year-old man, also from Chatchara, similarly described beating, burning and looting by the government forces:
“When the SPLA arrived, they beat me and set fire to my three tukuls, and all the tukuls in the village. They took the cows and goats. Some children were shot in the crossfire. Many women and children were killed. I saw young children and women taken and forced to drive the cows and goats. They took my granddaughter, a girl of 13 or 14 years.”
A 20 year-old woman from Guit county recounted how a group of armed SPLA soldiers and youth attacked her village on the night of 7 May:
“They even killed young children and old men. They set the granaries, where we keep maize, on fire. They came to my house and shot my nephew who was about 20 years-old. They beat my mother with a rope used for tying the cows. They were asking her, ‘Where are the young men, we want to kill them, they have joined the opposition.’ I took off running with my three children and two siblings. We ran to the river while they were shooting at us. From the river, I saw them burn the house. They also took our cows and goats—we had 15 cows and 30 goats.”
The woman said four men raped her 23-year-old cousin, a mother of two. “I saw her when I was running. She was screaming,” she said. She also said that the attackers abducted her 13-year-old sister and her 15 year-old brother. She does not know the fate of her husband, mother or disabled uncle, whom she left behind in their home. “My whole family is lost,” she told Amnesty International researchers.
Nyanaath, a mother of three, said that government forces attacked her village in Guit county at midday on 10 May. She said the attackers, some of whom were in uniform, stole cows, looted property and set all the tukuls on fire.
Nyanaath said the attackers then raped women, herself included. She told Amnesty International that soldiers took her, pushed her on her back and pulled down her underwear. One started raping her while another pointed his gun at her. She also said she saw 10 boys and girls, aged between 10 and 13, being abducted by soldiers.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says some 100,000 people have been displaced by the recent fighting in Unity state. About 2,300 civilians, mostly women and young children, have sought refuge at the UN base in Bentiu since 20 April, joining over 50,000 others who have fled there since the start of the conflict in December 2013. More are on their way.
Government forces have blocked others at checkpoints, preventing them from reaching the safety of the base. Thousands have fled into the bush or swamp areas.
The UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) reported that at least 28 towns and villages in Unity state were attacked in the space of two weeks, between 29 April and 12 May. Civilians were targeted and their property was looted.
“These attacks on civilians in Unity state, and the ensuing displacement, mirror events documented by Amnesty International in early 2014. The fact that some of the same villages and towns are being subjected to a repeat round of atrocities underlines the need for the African Union, the UN and other international bodies to match their tough rhetoric with concrete action to reduce the human costs of the conflict,” said Michelle Kagari. “There must be a credible threat of accountability to deter those who carry on committing atrocities with total impunity, a comprehensive arms embargo to halt the flow of weapons that further fuel the conflict and targeted sanctions to provide a deterrent to those who continue violating international law,” said Michelle Kagari.
Amnesty International is calling for:
The UN Security Council to impose a comprehensive arms embargo against all parties to the conflict in South Sudan.
The UN Security Council to move quickly to impose asset freezes and travel bans against individuals and entities who have engaged in violations of international humanitarian law and violations and abuses of international human rights law.
The UN Security Council to make public and act upon a paper outlining options for accountability that Security Council members reportedly discussed on 12 May.
The AU Peace and Security Council to reverse its decision to shelve the report of the Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan pending the finalisation of a peace agreement, to consider the report during the AU Summit in June and to make it public.
- The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), to quickly reconvene parties to the conflict and impress upon them that they are bound by commitments to abide by international humanitarian law incorporated within the 23 January cessation of hostilities agreement and recommitted to on numerous occasions over the past year, and to act on its repeated threats to impose targeted sanctions and an arms embargo.