UNITED NATIONS — Two reports released Friday document what their authors call horrendous human rights abuses committed by armed groups against civilians in South Sudan last year, one chronicling a “scorched earth” policy of torturous killings and sexual predation while the other highlights the suffocation of dozens of young men and boys.
“The scale and types of sexual violence — primarily by government ... forces and affiliated militia — are described in searing, devastating detail, as is the almost casual, yet calculated, attitude of those slaughtering civilians and destroying property and livelihoods,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a statement.
The UN report documented atrocious crimes taking place with alarming regularity: From April to September alone, the report said, there were more than 1,300 reports of rape in Unity, one of South Sudan’s 10 states.
It added that pro-government militias were given permission to rape women and girls in lieu of wages, though opposition groups also preyed sexually on women and girls.
The other report, prepared by Amnesty International, documents a massacre occurring over several days in late October on the grounds of Comboni Catholic Church in Unity state. It alleges that government forces corralled 60 young men and boys into shipping containers that were sealed shut and opened after the occupants had perished despite their screams for mercy.
Their bodies, dumped at another location near Leer where they were examined by Amnesty investigators, displayed signs of abuse: crushed skulls, broken skeletons.
“The arbitrary arrest, torture, and mass killing of these detainees is just one illustration of the South Sudanese government’s absolute disregard for the laws of war,” said Lama Fakih, senior crisis adviser at Amnesty International, responding to the report titled South Sudan: Their Voices Stopped: Mass Killing in a Shipping Container in Leer.
“Unlawful confinement, torture, willfully causing great suffering, and willfully killing are all war crimes,” she added.
Responding to the UN report in Manhattan, Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said: “I think the secretary-general is as horrified by what he saw in the report as any of us should be ... What is important from the secretary-general’s point of view is that those responsible be held to account.”
U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said in response to the UN report: “The United States is appalled by the attacks on civilians, sexual and gender-based violence, mass pillage and destruction of property carried out by the government of South Sudan and allied forces. We have repeatedly called on the government of South Sudan and the opposition to end human right violations and live up to their commitment to establish a transitional government as soon as possible.”