U.N. says ‘horrific acts’ by South Sudan factions may constitute war crimes

The United Nations Human Rights Office, OHCHR, on Tuesday said South Sudan government and rebel forces perpetrated multiple killings and a campaign of sexual violence that may amount to war crimes, prompting a call for government and opposition forces to be held to account.

The agency released a report noting the “deliberate…and brutally violent” targeting of civilians, particularly women and children, in April and May.

According to the report, at least 120 women and girls were raped and those unable to flee were killed as part of a deliberate “scorched earth” policy that has displaced thousands of people.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, called on the government to halt all attacks against civilians, launch investigations and hold the perpetrators accountable, including those who bear the responsibility of commanding fighters.

“The perpetrators of these revolting acts against defenseless civilians, including those bearing command responsibility, must not be allowed to get away with it,” Zeid said.

OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani told journalists in Geneva that at least 232 people were killed in the attacks on villages in opposition-controlled areas, in Mayendit and Leer.

South Sudan has been embroiled in a civil war since December 2013, sparked by a feud between President Salva Kiir and his then deputy Riek Machar.

Kiir accused Machar of plotting a coup against his rule, allegations the latter denied but then went on to mobilize a rebel force to fight the government.

The war has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions others, creating Africa’s biggest refugee crisis.

A peace deal signed last week in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa has however renewed hope for peace in the country, as Kiir and Machar pledged to commit to a ceasefire and form a unity government with the latter taking up the position of first vice president.