September 13, 2013 (JUBA) – A US-based rights body has accused the South Sudan army (SPLA) of unlawfully killing and committing serious violations against civilians in the country’s Jonglei state.
- SPLA soldiers wave flags during the July 9 celebrations in Juba (Getty)
The acts, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said, were carried out under the context of a counterinsurgency campaign in remote parts of the region, forcing thousands of the people to flee for safety.
Jonglei has in recent months experienced a series of instances of inter-communal violence and threats from rebels operating in its Pibor county, a situation that has placed the two-year old nation in the spotlight.
But HRW, in a report released on Friday, urges the South Sudanese government to ensure abusive soldiers are held accountable for crimes and curb the spate of violence in the region.
The report, entitled, “‘They are Killing Us’: Abuses Against Civilians in South Sudan’s Pibor County”, highlights 24 incidences of unlawful killings allegedly by the SPLA of about 100 members of the Murle ethnic group carried out between December 2012 and July 2013.
Such an incident, it stressed, constitutes serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.
“Murder and deliberate targeting of civilians during an armed conflict constitute war crimes,” the 45-page report reads in part.
The report further describes how southern army forces allegedly burned and looted homes, physically and verbally abused civilians, and destroyed schools, churches, and the compounds of aid agencies providing life-saving assistance.
"Soldiers should be protecting Murle civilians in Jonglei state from the fighting and the ethnic conflict," Daniel Bekele, HRW Africa director says in the report.
Instead, the army has been killing these vulnerable people and driving terrified men, women, and children into the jaws of danger, he added.
The army has on several occasions been accused of failing to protect civilians, especially against David Yauyau rebels who operate from the remote area of Pibor county.
A disarmament exercise initiated in Jonglei by government ended with little success. Both the United Nations, domestic and international right bodies’ criticised the process, which was largely marred by gross human rights violations.
However, while the army dismisses accusations labeled against it in Jonglei, it recently instituted investigations into the SPLA conduct in the region, arresting top officials allegedly involved.
Phillip Aguer, the SPLA spokesperson earlier told Sudan Tribune that the decision to arrest its top officers was an indication the military was impartial and committed to protecting the civilian population.
“We cannot kill or abuse the very people we are supposed to protect. Some of these accusations against the SPLA are not true”, he said.
Various interviews, prior to compiling the report, were carried out with various people in the region, many of whom openly accused the southern army of abuses.
HRW, however, said sections of the population, especially among the Murle, have lost confidence in the UN mission after alleged failure to intervene in cases of abuses against them.
More efforts, it said, should be done to end the abuses, provide redress, and ensure that the army protects, rather than harms, the Murle population.
South Sudan’s new defense minister Kuol Manyang, was until last month the governor of Jonglei state. He recently hinted on the urgent need to introduce reforms within the national army for better service provision. Also underway, he said, is a move to transform the SPLA into a professional army.