South Sudan: Ethnic Targeting, Widespread Killings
Human Rights Watch
16 January 2014
Witnesses to the violence in South Sudan since December 15, 2013, have described how targeted attacks against civilians on an ethnic basis have taken place in both government and opposition-controlled areas. South Sudan’s government and opposition forces should both immediately end abuses against civilians.
South Sudan’s leaders, the African Union (AU), and the United Nations should also support an independent, credible, international commission of inquiry to investigate all alleged crimes since the conflict erupted. The UN should also impose a travel ban and an asset freeze on anyone credibly identified as responsible for serious abuses and violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, Human Rights Watch said.
Between December 27 and January 12, 2014, a Human Rights Watch research team in South Sudan interviewed more than 200 victims and witnesses to abuses in Juba and Bor. Researchers documented widespread killings of Nuer men by members of South Sudanese armed forces in Juba, especially between December 15 and 19, including a massacre of between 200 and 300 men in the Gudele neighborhood on December 16. Researchers also documented the targeting and killing of civilians of Dinka ethnicity by opposition forces in other parts of the country.
The targeted killings of civilians, looting, and destruction of civilian property by both parties to the conflict in locations across the country have contributed to the displacement of more than 400,000 people, according to UN estimates, in the past month. Many of the crimes committed after conflict broke out are serious violations of international humanitarian law and may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity.
On December 24, the UN Security Council agreed to temporarily increase the troop ceiling for the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) from 7,000 to 12,500 and to increase the mission’s police force to up to 1,323, from 900. The UN should accelerate the deployment of these reinforcements and take other urgent steps to improve the protection of civilians, including better security around UNMISS compounds sheltering some 66,500 civilians displaced by conflict, Human Rights Watch said.
Peacekeepers should also ramp up independent patrols to all accessible locations in areas where they are operating and where civilians are in need. The location and timing of patrols should not be subject to government approval.
Human Rights Watch said it had received multiple reports of looting of medical and humanitarian facilities, and of some government denials of flight authorization to areas where people are in desperate need of aid. The South Sudanese government and leaders of opposition forces should ensure unhindered access by UN and independent humanitarian agencies to displaced and other civilians in need of assistance and protection. Both sides should respect medical and humanitarian facilities, material and staff, as required by international law. Anyone who blocks or otherwise doesn’t cooperate with independent humanitarian activities should be held accountable.
The AU decided on December 30 to establish a commission of inquiry. The AU should avail itself of UN experience with commissions of inquiry by asking the UN to promptly provide staff and support a team of international investigators and experts to investigate serious crimes committed since December 15, Human Rights Watch said. The commission of inquiry should report to both the AU and the UN secretary-general. In addition, UNMISS should bolster the investigative capacity of its human rights section and report regularly and publicly on human rights and humanitarian law abuses by all sides.
“The South Sudanese and the international community should show that we have learned the lesson history has taught us that without justice and reconciliation, residual pain from gross violations and other crimes are all too easily abused by those seeking power at any cost,” Bekele said.
President Kiir has acknowledged that ethnic targeting and killings took place in Juba and said in a Christmas day speech that those responsible would be punished. The chief of staff of South Sudan’s army, General James Hoth Mai, issued an order on December 21 to arrest a number of members of various armed forces suspected of killing “innocent soldiers and civilians simply because they hail from different tribes.” Some soldiers have been arrested but have not yet been charged.
On December 28, the inspector general of police for South Sudan, General Pieng Deng Kuol, established a five-member committee of policemen to investigate allegations of killings of civilians including media reports that “a great number of people were dragged into one of the police stations in Juba and murdered cold blooded inside the cells.”
On December 30, the African Union’s (AU) Peace and Security Council decided to establish a commission to investigate “human rights violations and other abuses committed during the armed conflict in South Sudan” and submit a report within three months.
The AU’s call for an international commission of inquiry is a positive step. Any such commission should be fully resourced and supported by United Nations and concerned governments. To be truly independent and credible, the commission should be mandated to report to more than one organization, for example to both the AU and the UN, and it should consist of international experts who have experience with South Sudan, forensic investigations, human rights and humanitarian law, and arms and munitions, Human Rights Watch said.
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