South Sudan's army, SPLA, raped then torched girls alive inside their homes in Unity state during a recent campaign marked by "new brutality and intensity", a UN rights report said on Tuesday. Dozens of babies and children were also killed.
The UN points to further ‘ethnicisation’ of the conflict. The girls are members of the Nuer tribe. The majority of the Juba-led SPLA are members of the Dinka tribe of President Salva Kiir, fighting former Vice-President Riek Machar, a Nuer, leader of the armed opposition movement. But also some Nuer (Bol Nuer faction) were involved in the attack. The Nuer are the largest tribe in Unity state.
“In at least nine separate incidents, women and girls were burnt in tukuls after being gang-raped, particularly in Boaw Village of Koch County. In at least five villages in Rubkona, Guit and Koch counties, women and girls were shot and killed after they were subjected to gang-rape”, Radio Tamazuj reports. "The scope and level of cruelty that has characterised the reports, suggests a depth of antipathy that exceeds political differences", according to the human rights report released today by the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
South Sudan's army (SPLA) and its allied militias in Unity state raped or abducted at least 251 women during their latest military offensive of April-May this year, The total number of civilians killed is not known, and UNMISS was unable to interview survivors in many remote areas. But from the 115 victims and eyewitnesses interviewed by UNMISS staff, the peacekeeping mission found that at least 67 civilians were killed.
The UN report says the brutality of these crimes “points to the further ethnicisation of the conflict.”
“According to testimonies from Unity, at least 172 women and girls have been abducted, while at least an additional 79 were subjected to sexual violence including gang-rape. For example, a survivor from Koch County narrated to HRD [UNMISS Human Rights Division] how she was dragged out of her tukul and gang-raped alongside her neighbour by government soldiers in front of her three-year old child,” reads the report.
“The soldiers then taunted them that they would appreciate what men from Mayom County were made of. In another instance, a witness from Rubkona County narrated that she saw government forces gang-raping a lactating mother after tossing her baby aside.”
“While in another case, two witnesses from Nhialdiu narrated how a 17-year-old girl was gang-raped by armed militia who shot her dead.”
“In at least nine separate incidents, women and girls were burnt in tukuls after being gang-raped, particularly in Boaw Village of Koch County. In at least five villages in Rabkona, Guit and Koch counties, women and girls were shot and killed after they were subjected to gang-rape.”
A copy of the UNMISS report was given to South Sudan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs ten days before its release, but government officials have yet to comment on its findings.
UNMISS said the forces that perpetrated these crimes were led by government generals and civilian officials. For example, “Attacks in Guit and Koch counties were carried out by government forces and armed youths led by two SPLA brigadier generals from the integrated SSLA and a senior county official for Koch County, according to witness testimonies.”
“In each of the attacks, the government forces were identified by their uniforms, insignia, tribal marks, language and known acquaintances,” the report notes.
One witness described seeing "government forces gang-raping a lactating mother after tossing her baby aside," the report read, another described how troops made a women squeeze "burning-red coals" in her hands to reveal the whereabouts of rebels or cattle.
Rebel forces have also been accused of carrying out atrocities, including rape, killings and, like the government, the recruitment of armies of child soldiers.
UNMISS chief Ellen Margrethe Loej called for "unfettered access" to investigate the reported crimes. "Revealing the truth of what happened offers the best hope for ensuring accountability for such terrible violence and ending the cycle of impunity that allows these abuses to continue," she said.
The upsurge in fighting "has not only been marked by allegations of killing, rape, abduction, looting, arson and displacement, but by a new brutality and intensity," the UN statement added.
"The scope and level of cruelty that has characterised the reports suggests a depth of antipathy that exceeds political differences."
The UN children's agency said in a report earlier this month that warring forces have carried out horrific crimes against children, including castration, rape and tying them together before slitting their throats.
(Radio Tamazuj, AFP)