The human rights situation in South Sudan has drastically deteriorated after a civil war erupted with over 1,300 rape cases in five months last year in one state and several incidents of children and disabled people being burned alive by pro-government forces, according to a United Nations Human Rights (UNHR) report released Friday. Repeated attacks on civilians could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, the report said.
While opposition forces and criminal gangs sexually exploit women, the East African country’s government allowed the rape of women as a substitute for wages to fighters, the UNHR’s report found. The sexual assaults were defined by their extreme brutality, with women who resist, or looking their rapist in the eye, being killed in some cases. In one incident, a woman was forced to watch her teenage daughter being raped by at least 10 fighters, the UNHR said in its detailed report.
“The quantity of rapes and gang-rapes described in the report must only be a snapshot of the real total. This is one of the most horrendous human rights situations in the world, with massive use of rape as an instrument of terror and weapon of war — yet it has been more or less off the international radar,” Zeid Raad al-Hussein, the UNHR chief said, in a statement.
Children have been subjected to violence such as being maimed, raped, recruited for hostilities and killed throughout the crisis. The U.N. received reports of 702 children being survivors of sexual violence since the conflict began in December 2013 and some victims of gang rape were as young as nine years old.
The South Sudanese government also enforced a "scorched earth policy" of deliberate rape, pillage and killing of civilians during the civil war in 2015, the U.N. report said. In one of many cases, the Sudan People's Liberation Army forces rounded up 60 cattle-keepers and put them in a container in a compound of a Catholic church for two days. Of them only one survived, according to the report. Over 2 million civilians have been displaced and thousands killed as the parties struggle to establish the Transitional Government of National Unity they promised in the peace agreement last August.
“Civil society activists, human rights defenders, humanitarian actors, journalists and print media and even U.N. staff members have been the subject of threats, intimidation, harassment, detention and in some instances death by the Government,” U.N. officials wrote in the detailed account.
South Sudan, which gained independence from Sudan in 2011, has been gripped by violence since December 2013, when President Salva Kiir accused former vice president Riek Machar of attempting to stage a coup against him. The country has since broken down along ethnic fault lines, prompting a conflict that has led to one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. At least seven ceasefires have been broken since the country went into the bloody conflict.