March 21, 2014 (JUBA) – A report released by the South Sudan Human Rights Commission (SSHRC) on human rights violations in the aftermath of the 15 December violence in the country, accuses both Salva Kiir’s government and rebel forces loyal to former vice-president Riek Machar of committing atrocities and “wide scale human rights violations” in the three-month-old conflict.
- An SPLA soldier walks away from a vehicle while on patrol in Juba on 21 December 2013 (Photo: Reuters)
The 13-page report, released on 18 March by the government institution, documents the commission’s findings and views on the human rights situation associated with the conflict.
It confirms that targeted ethnic violence occurred between members of the Dinka tribe to which Kiir belongs and Machar’s Nuer tribe.
SSHRC says the report was based on observations and eyewitness accounts, as well as analysis of reports from other national and international human rights agencies.
The document concedes that government troops initiated the massacre of hundreds of members of the Nuer ethnic group in Juba on 16 December, during which soldiers went on a rampage searching for Nuer civilians in their houses, a turning point in which political violence erupted in ethnic targeting.
The report put the death toll in Juba in the first three days of the conflict at 600, mainly from the Nuer ethnic group.
The report also found that rebel forces carried out revenge killings against the Dinka ethnic group in other states, including Jonglei, Upper Nile, Unity and Warrap.
It has indicated that over 2,000 people from the Dinka ethnic group were killed by the rebels in Bor, the Jonglei state capital, following the Juba massacre, with a further several hundred people killed by rebel forces in various incidents in the other states, although the report stops short of putting a figure on the number of victims similarly killed in other areas.
ETHNIC DIMENSION WORRYING
Although the report blames the crisis on political disputes within the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), it confirms the tribal had taken on tribal dimensions.
“Whatsoever the cause, reason or justification, the present conflict has rekindled and inflamed ethnic and tribal sentiments to a certain extent to xenophobic levels, particularly amongst the numerically big tribes, the Nuer and the Dinka,” the report partly reads.
“Though consistently denied and rejected by politicians, leaders and propagandists of both sides of the conflict, this is reality the commission has noted to be occurring on the ground,” it adds.
The national human rights body has warned of looming genocide in the country unless the conflict is quickly resolved.
“It is this ethnic dimension of the conflict which is most worrying and if not resolved could lead to national calamity with genocide - a possibility given the fact that both the Nuer and Dinka are large groups with heavily armed groups,” the report reads.
LOCAL MEDIA ACCUSED
The report also notes that South Sudan’s government had been engaged in intimidation and harassment towards local media in and apparent bid to silence journalists, which authorities accuse of supporting Machar-led rebels.
“Media freedoms and freedom of speech have been scaled down. For example, talks-show programs on Miraya FM (UN radio based in Juba) on issues connected to human rights, governance, rule of law and other social issues have been voluntarily suspended,” it says.
“The relationship between the government and some local media houses has also deteriorated with the government accusing them of incitement and promoting the image of the rebels in their broadcasts,” it added.
The document signed by the chairperson of the commission, Lawrence Korbandy, and presented to the Juba parliament for consideration calls for a “full and effective inquiry into the violations” and to hold those found to be responsible to account.
The commission also called on both sides in the conflict and the international community to ensure respect and protection of human rights, and to resolve the conflict through peaceful political means.
South Sudan’s deadly conflict first erupted after clashes broke out between rival factions of the presidential guards in Juba when the president ordered the disarmament of Nuer soldiers in the guards division, triggering the subsequent violence.
Kiir however, said he was responding to an alleged coup plot by his former long-time deputy, saying Machar instigated the violence in order to get rid of his political opponents within the ruling party.Machar and his supporters deny the allegations.
Machar has maintained that he was forced into “armed resistance”, accusing president Kiir of “dictatorial tendencies” and calling on him to step down.
Over 10,000 people have reportedly been killed and nearly a million displaced since violence erupted, according to UN estimates.