April 23, 2014 (WASHINGTON) – The White House issued a strongly worded statement on Tuesday condemning the killings that occurred in Bentiu, the capital of South Sudan’s Unity state, last week where the death toll is believed to be in the hundreds.
The attack took place when rebel forces, who have been fighting the government since last December, overran Bentiu in mid-April.
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said on Monday that more than 200 were killed and over 400 wounded when rebel forces entered a mosque in Bentiu sheltering civilians. The rebels have reportedly segregated individuals on the basis of their ethnicity, and then escorted some to safety and killed the rest.
Furthermore, UNMISS said that several men, women and children were killed for hiding inside Bentiu hospital and not joining fellow members of the Nuer ethnic group who had gone onto the streets to welcome the rebels forces.
Individuals from other South Sudanese communities, as well as Darfuris, were specifically targeted and killed at the hospital, UNMISS added.
Rebels were also accused of using radio station to push for the commission of more killings.
The White House said that “images and accounts of the attacks shock the conscience”.
“Stacks of bodies found dead inside a mosque, patients murdered at a hospital, and dozens more shot and killed in the streets and at a church – apparently due to their ethnicity and nationality – while hate speech was broadcast on local radio. Bulldozers have buried the dead in mass graves, and the number of people seeking protection at the United Nations camp in Bentiu has grown from 8,000 to more than 22,000 in only two weeks,” said a statement from the White House press secretary.
The press release said that the US is “equally appalled by the armed attack last week at the UN Mission in South Sudan site in Bor that killed at least 48 civilians and injured dozens more”.
“These acts of violence are an abomination. They are a betrayal of the trust the South Sudanese people have put in their leaders. This is exactly the violence and suffering the South Sudanese people fought for decades to escape. Both President Kiir and Riek Machar must make clear that attacks on civilians are unacceptable, perpetrators of violence on both sides must be brought to justice, and the cycle of violence that has plagued South Sudan for too long must come to an end,” the statement adds.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to impose sanctions on South Sudanese figures connected with the abuses.
“The killing of more than 50 people in a UN base in Bor and the gruesome massacres of hundreds of civilians in Bentiu shows that ethnically motivated brutality against civilians is spiraling out of control,” said Daniel Bekele, HRW’s Africa director.
“The UN Security Council needs to act decisively to impress on the warring parties targeting civilians in South Sudan that they will pay the price for their crimes,” Bekele said.
“A new UN Security Council resolution should also require UNMISS to provide regular and timely public reporting of human rights violations committed during the course of the conflict, which the mission has not been doing. The African Union’s Commission of Inquiry, which deployed in April to investigate human rights violations, should also urgently investigate the recent attacks in Bentiu and Bor and press both sides to bring those responsible to justice,” HRW said.
Diplomats at the UN said on Tuesday that they stand ready to take punitive measures against South Sudan after holding a closed-door meeting today to discuss the situation there. The UNSC members were also shown a video from the aftermath of the Bentiu massacre.
“Unless there are serious consequences for the parties to cease the violence and engage in meaningful talks ... the toll on innocent civilians will continue to rise,” UN peacekeeping chief Hervé Ladsous told reporters after the meeting, according to Reuters.
“The United Nations is doing everything it can to protect the civilians that are fleeing the violence, the war, but let us never forget that the primary responsibility for protection of civilians is with the government,” Ladsous added.
The French ambassador at the UN, Gerard Araud, said that “I think we are ready to go down the road of sanctions”.
“We have also to face the fact that maybe we can’t cooperate with this government anymore because atrocities are committed by both sides. So I do think we have to have some soul-searching about what the UN do,” Araud told reporters.
Araud’s US colleague Samantha Power posted on Twitter that “For the sake of the people of South Sudan, [the] international community must sanction political spoilers and those who target civilians”.