United Nations investigators now say they have identified more than 40 South Sudanese military officers who may be responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Friday’s announcement is a sharp departure from previous U.N. reports that documented crimes but not perpetrators.
The investigators from the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan say their findings are based on interviews with hundreds of witnesses, satellite imagery and nearly 60,000 documents. The report details “appalling instances of cruelty against civilians who were beheaded, have had their eyes gouged out, their throats slit, or been castrated.” It also contains testimony from a mother who witnessed her 12-year-old son being forced to rape his grandmother while his family was held hostage, and from an 85-year-old woman who said she was gang-raped before watching her husband and son be executed. The report also documents what commission member Andrew Clapham called “a clear pattern of ethnic persecution, for the most part by government forces who should be pursued for crimes against humanity”.
A government spokesman said the South Sudanese were willing to hold people to account for any crimes. But so far, there have not been many prosecutions of South Sudanese military or government officials for crimes against civilians.
“The government will prosecute anyone responsible for any crimes. This is a responsible government,” foreign affairs spokesman Mawien Makol told Reuters.
That responsibility could ultimately fall to to the African Union. (AU)
Under a 2015 peace deal that fell apart in 2016, the AU and South Sudan were supposed to set up a “hybrid court”, consisting of South Sudanese and other African judges. On Friday, the AU called again for the court to be established.
“The court could be set up straight away and the prosecutor could begin working on indictments,” said commission chief Yasmin Sooka. “Under the peace agreement those indicted can no longer hold or stand for office.”
Elections are due this year, according to the 2015 peace pact and the international community is trying – so far to no avail – to get both sides to observe a ceasefire before any vote is held.