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South Sudan army accused of raping and killing civilians

March 7, 2016 (NAIROBI) - The US-based Human Rights Watch has accused South Sudan government forces (SPLA) of allegedly of executing numerous killings, enforced disappearances, rapes, and other grave abuses in recent military confrontations with armed groups in its Western Equatoria province.

South Sudanese soldiers patrol the streets of Unity state capital Bentiu on 12 January 2014 (Photo: Simon Maina/AFP)

Other serious abuses, including rape, were also committed by armed rebels groups in the area, the rights body said Monday.

“As South Sudan’s fighting has shifted west, so too have the atrocities by government forces and rebel groups. South Sudan’s leaders should put a stop to all abuses,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

“Both an arms embargo and an effective war crimes court are also crucial to help stem the abuses and send a message that the crimes will be punished”, he added.

South Sudanese military officials were not immediately available to comment on the matter.

Last month, a United Nations report revealed that South Sudan’s main warring faction in the country’s conflict were killing, abducting, displacing civilians and destroying property despite a peace deal they both signed to end over 20 months of violence.

More than 10,000 people have been killed and over two million displaced after a political dispute within South Sudan’s ruling party, SPLM, sparked off a civil war in 2013.

The fighting was mainly between the Dinka and Nuer, two of the nation’s largest tribes.

According to Human Rights Watch, fighting between government armed forces, the SPLA, and local armed groups, known as “Arrow Boys” began in May 2015, and has since spread across Western Equatoria. The Arrow Boys, composed mostly of Zande, Jur, and Moru ethnic groups, are named after local defense forces formed in the region in 2009 to fight the Ugandan rebel group, Lord’s Resistance Army attacks in South Sudan.

“While some Arrow Boys have publicly aligned with the rebel SPLA in Opposition, giving them a role in the broader conflict, one of their groups sought a separate peace deal with the state government,” said the rights body.

South Sudanese authorities, it said, largely failed to respond to allegations of abuses, underscoring the breakdown in law and order that has accompanied the spread of conflict. Human Rights Watch researchers allegedly saw bodies of two men, shot in the head and chest, their arms tied behind their backs, decomposing in a teak forest more than two weeks after UN peacekeepers discovered the corpses and alerted local officials.

The report highlights incidences of killings by the army in various parts of Western Equatoria, urging the African Union Commission to expedite establishment of a hybrid court to try serious crime cases as envisioned in the August 2015 peace agreement.

The United Nations Security Council, it further stressed, should impose a comprehensive arms embargo on all forces in South Sudan to help curtail abuses against civilians.

Fighting has, in recent weeks, escalated in other parts of South Sudan. In one widely reported incident, on February 17, government soldiers and other armed men attacked a UN protection of civilian camps in Malakal. About 20 people were killed and at least 100 injured, and 2,700 shelters were burned. Most of the camp’s 43,000 residents were forced to flee to an older protection site or back into the city.

Currently, UN peacekeepers are sheltering nearly 200,000 people at six protections of civilian sites in South Sudan and more than 2.3 million people have been displaced.

Both the South Sudanese government and its armed opposition faction have made commitments to support justice for crimes against civilians since the conflict began in December 2013, but there have never been any domestic investigations into alleged abuses, despite several calls for a probe.

(ST)