South Sudan rebels commanded by former vice-president Riek Machar have committed horrible human rights violations in Upper Nile and Unity states, according to preliminary investigations by the United Nations.
The UN mission to South Sudan said it obtained leads into the cruelties through interviews with survivors of the conflict who have been displaced to Juba and Lakes State’s Awerial County.
“Preliminary indications from these interviews and investigations in Bentiu and Malakal contain horrific allegations of atrocities by anti-government forces against civilians and surrendering soldiers, including summary executions, torture, sexual violence and ethnically targeted killing,” UNMISS said in a press statement. “UNMISS deplores these horrendous acts of violence and utter disregard for human life and dignity,” it said.
Mr Machar’s rebel forces seized Bentiu, the capital of the oil-rich Unity State, a few days after the December 15 failed coup and remained in control until government forces captured the town last Friday.
The government said the detainees will be declared innocent of the allegations only by a competent court of law. The government also proposed that talks be shifted from the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, to the UN base in Juba to allow the detainees to take part in the ceasefire discussions. However, the rebels quickly dismissed the proposal. The detainees told mediators that their detention should not be a stumbling block to the peace talks.
The International Crisis Group estimates that up to 10,000 people may have been killed since the conflict started. The UN mission said it noted the death toll figures, explaining that its earlier estimate of 1,000 killed was based on initial monitoring and investigations in Juba and other stable areas across the country until December 26.
“After two weeks of subsequent violence, characterised by sometimes intense fighting with heavy weapons, there are clear indications that the casualty count must be much higher,” the statement said. “While UNMISS has continued to closely monitor the human rights situation, interviewing witnesses, and following leads, the mission is not at this stage in a position to establish and verify the exact numbers of casualties,” it added.
The mission’s head, Ms Hilde Johnson has called on both sides to cease hostilities, respect and protect civilians, adding that “those who commit such heinous acts will be held accountable”.
By Monday, hostilities had never ceased. Government troops were battling the rebel forces over the control of Bor, the Jonglei State capital.