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South Sudan: Justice Needed to Stem Violence
Prosecute Those Responsible, Seek International Investigation
Human Rights Watch
10 February 2012
South Sudan should urgently ensure an effective and independent investigation into the violent, ethnic-driven attacks in Jonglei state, and arrest and prosecute those identified as responsible, Human Rights Watch said today. To assist this task, it should promptly ask the United Nations and regional organizations to establish a commission of inquiry.


Since early January, 2012, the government has repeatedly promised to investigate the attacks and hold those responsible to account, but it has not made any apparent progress in investigations or arrests. There have been new attacks and counter-attacks in January and February, and threats of more to come in March. To help South Sudan move forward with investigations, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon could appoint a commission of inquiry consisting of experts, including South Sudanese, and request support from the African Union, Human Rights Watch said.

On December 23, 2011, according to UN estimates, 8,000 armed men (…) attacked ethnic Murle villages in the eastern part of the state(…). The attackers burned and looted homes; killed and injured people using machetes, sticks, knives, and guns; abducted women and children; seized hundreds of thousands of cattle; and forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes to hide in the bush.

Intelligence gathered by government forces and the United Nations peacekeepers had indicated some time in advance that such attacks were imminent, and both the UN and the government warned residents of local communities to flee. However, because of unsuccessful government efforts to mediate with the communities and an inability to move extra forces into the area swiftly, the government and UN forces in the area were too greatly outnumbered to intervene. (…)

(…) The presence of United Nations peacekeepers and South Sudanese forces in Pibor may have averted wholesale destruction of the town. However, it did not prevent the attackers from burning down parts of it nor from proceeding further south into more remote villages where initial testimony gathered by the South Sudan Human Rights Commission indicates that the attackers killed, wounded, and abducted many more people.


Jonglei state has a history of violent clashes between the Lou Nuer, Murle, and Dinka communities. Easy access to guns,  the tactic of targeting women and children for killings and abduction, and hostile rhetoric have all contributed to the surge in violence in recent years, with more than 1,000 killed in March and April of 2009 alone.

No one has ever been arrested or prosecuted for the 2009 attacks, and the lack of accountability and failure to put into place an effective and equitable grievance procedure, help perpetuate the inter-communal conflict.

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