In early January 2017, fighting in and around Yambio in Western Equatoria resulted in a further displacement of at least 7,000 civilians, mostly women and children.
GENEVA, Switzerland, January 16, 2017 -A UN report published today details the grave human rights violations and abuses – including killings and gang rapes – as well as serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in Juba during and after the fighting that occurred between 8 and 12 July 2016. Six months after the violence there remains widespread impunity, as violations continue unabated.
The report by the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and the UN Human Rights Office found that throughout the fighting between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army in Opposition (SPLM/A-IO), “the belligerents blatantly ignored international human rights law and humanitarian law.”
The July 2016 events in Juba demonstrated the extremely fragile political and security situation in South Sudan and the complete disregard of civilians by the SPLA and SPLM/A-IO, given the serious human rights violations and abuses that were perpetrated, including the direct targeting of civilians, along ethnic lines and the extreme violence against women and children, the report states.
“Information documented and verified by the Human Rights Division suggests that hundreds of people including civilians were killed and many more wounded during the fighting in various areas of Juba,” the report states. “Moreover, UNMISS documented 217 victims of rape, including gang-rape committed by SPLA, SPLM/A-IO and other armed groups during and after the fighting between 8 and 25 July. According to victims’ testimonies and witnesses’ accounts, most cases of sexual violence were committed by SPLA soldiers, police officers and members of the National Security Services (NSS).”
Testimony from victims interviewed by the Human Rights Division paints a horrifying picture of the violence that civilians were subjected to during the fighting. On one occasion, women and girls were ordered to cook for the soldiers at checkpoints when their friends or family members were raped. According to other testimony, Nuer men and women appeared to have been particularly targeted for attacks, including killings and arrests, during house-to-house searches, with Nuers with tribal markings on their foreheads particularly vulnerable. The whereabouts of some of those arrested remain unknown.
“The fighting that erupted in July 2016 was a serious setback for peace in South Sudan and showed just how volatile the situation in the country is, with civilians living under the risk of mass atrocities,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said.
“In total, a staggering 1.38 million South Sudanese have fled to other countries and another 1.8 million are displaced in their own country. In the absence of any semblance of justice and accountability for the violations perpetrated – including possible war crimes – such unbridled outbursts of violence could quickly escalate civilians will continue to suffer immensely. Concrete steps to halt this downward spiral must be urgently taken, beginning with justice and accountability.”
The report emphasizes the need for accountability and justice for all human rights violations. It urges the Transitional Government of National Unity to take action to “break the cycle of violence and impunity” and take steps to fully support the prompt establishment and operationalization of the Hybrid Court for South Sudan by the African Union. The report also recommends that the State ensure that all victims of human rights violations and abuses, as well as violations of international humanitarian law, have access to an effective remedy, just and fair reparation, including compensation and rehabilitation.
The human rights situation remains grave in South Sudan. In Greater Equatoria, the UN Human Rights Office has received credible reports of serious human rights violations and abuses committed by SPLA and SPLM/A-IO in and around Yei, including killings, sexual violence, abductions and destruction of civilian property. As a result, thousands of civilians have fled Yei and surrounding towns. They have sought refuge in other regions and in neighboring countries. In early January 2017, fighting in and around Yambio in Western Equatoria resulted in a further displacement of at least 7,000 civilians, mostly women and children.
High Commissioner Zeid reminded the Government of its obligation to protect the rights of all South Sudanese and bring to an end the desperate suffering of the people.