January 17, 2014 (JUBA) – A senior United Nations official has said the situation in South Sudan had turned into a horrifying humanitarian and human rights disaster, citing mass atrocities allegedly committed by both rebels and government forces.
- South Sudanese refugees wait at a border gate in Joda, in the Jableen locality in Sudan’s White Nile State, after arriving from the South Sudanese war zones of Malakal and al-Rank, January 16, 2014. (Photo Reuters/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah)
"What I saw was a horror. Destruction and death is everywhere in Bentiu, which has now become a ghost town,” Ivan Simonovic, the UN Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights said on Friday.
"I myself saw some 15 bodies lying on a road. The extent of the looting, burning and destruction is hard to grasp for anybody who hasn’t been there”, he added.
The official, in the country to assess the human right situation, said the conflict in new nation had reached the threshold of an internal armed conflict, causing untold suffering for thousands of civilians.
“Mass atrocities have been committed by both sides”, he observed.
During his four-day visit, Simonovic said he received reports of alleged mass killings, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, sexual violence, the widespread destruction of property and the use of children in the conflict.
“Thousands of people have been killed and hundreds of thousands are now displaced, with some 70,000 people seeking protection in UN camps and 30,000 in the two UN compounds in Juba alone,” he told reporters in Juba.
Simonovic also visited Bentiu, the Unity state capital and the rebel-held town of Bor, where violence has displaced tens of thousands of the South Sudanese population in less than five weeks.
“All civilians have fled the city which was a ghost town. I spoke to the leader of the anti-government forces, Peter Gadet, to remind him of his and his forces’ obligations to protect civilians”, he said.
PROBE INTO RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
In Juba, the Assistant Secretary-General he received allegations of a mass atrocity at a police station in the Gudele neighbourhood of the city where large numbers of civilians were reportedly rounded up, taken to a building and killed because of their ethnicity.
“We are continuing our investigation into this very serious incident,” Šimonovi? said.
The senior UN official, however, stressed the importance of accountability, saying and independent and impartial fact-finding commission be established “without delay”.
“Those who committed these terrible crimes, who ordered them or those who did nothing to prevent them while they were in a position to do so, all these people should be held accountable without delay,” Simonovic said.
Violence erupted in the country’s capital, Juba in mid-December last year and spread to other parts of the country along ethnic fault lines with over 1,000 killed and more than 400,000 displaced, according to UN figures.