UN report details 'horrendous' human rights abuses in South Sudan

As the conflict drags on, accusations of war crimes and cries for accountability are getting louder.

Jason Patinkin/AP/File
Displaced people walk next to a razor wire fence at the United Nations base in the capital Juba, South Sudan. A U.N. report describing sweeping crimes like children and the disabled being burned alive and fighters being allowed to rape women as payment shows South Sudan is facing 'one of the most horrendous human rights situations in the world.'

As war in South Sudan goes on, thousands of people are subject to harassment, detention, displacement, and death by soldiers.

But a disturbing new United Nations report sheds light on the magnitude and severity of the problem. The report details a multitude of human rights violations, including the deliberate and systematic targeting of civilians and accounts of widespread rape of women and children by South Sudanese soldiers and armed militias.

The UN report says that South Sudan faces "one of the most horrendous human rights situations in the world," and singles out the government as having played the significant role in the atrocities.

“Crimes against humanity and war crimes have continued into 2015, and they have been predominantly perpetrated by the government,” said David Marshall, the coordinator of a UN assessment team, in an interview that was videotaped in South Sudan and released Friday, according to The New York Times.

"The quantity of rapes and gang-rapes described in the report must only be a snapshot of the real total," Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, said in a statement, according to the Times. "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."

About 1,300 rapes were recorded between April and September 2015. Women across all ages including young children were subject to multiple rapes, while others were kidnapped, raped and then killed, according to the Times.

“The message to the South Sudan government should be clear: It must investigate the allegations against its soldiers and hold them accountable,” Stephen Lamony, a senior advisor with the Coalition for the International Criminal Court tells the Christian Science Monitor.

“Women and children should not be used as a weapon of war.”

Mr. Hussein called for additional sanctions against the oil-rich nation. He also recommended that the cases be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) if the government fails to hold the accused soldiers accountable, The Associated Press reported.

But the ICC cannot prosecute the accused because South Sudan isn’t a signatory of the court.

“In principle, the ICC has no jurisdiction and cannot investigate what is happening in South Sudan, unless there would be a request by the Security Council under Chapter Seven, which then would put an obligation on South Sudan to cooperate with the ICC and then the ICC can investigate,” Fadi El-Abdallah, a spokesman for the ICC, told Voice of America.

The South Sudan government would need to ask the ICC to intervene, and take over the case, Mr. Lamony says.

Yet that isn’t likely to happen, largely because of the skeptical view that the majority of African governments have towards the ICC. Several African leader have accused the ICC of being biased and targeting African leaders.

"If the ICC can't prosecute then the government must make sure it holds the soldiers accountable for their crimes," says Lamony.

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