Children raped in front of parents in South Sudan - UN
A UN report describing sweeping crimes such as children and the disabled being burned alive and fighters being allowed to rape women as payment shows South Sudan is facing "one of the most horrendous human rights situations in the world," the UN human rights chief said yesterday.
Zeid Raad al-Hussein lamented the crisis in the nearly five-year-old country has been largely overlooked by the international community, and his office said attacks against civilians, forced disappearances, rape and other violations could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The report is the work of an assessment team deployed in South Sudan between October and January, and says "state actors" bear most responsibility for the crimes.
It said Mr Zeid recommended that the UN Security Council consider expanding sanctions already in place by imposing a "comprehensive arms embargo" on South Sudan and consider referring the matter to the International Criminal Court if other judicial avenues fail.
In scorching detail, the report cited cases of parents being forced to watch their children being raped, and said investigators had received information that some armed militias affiliated with government forces "raided cattle, stole personal property, raped and abducted women and girls" as a type of payment.
"The quantity of rapes and gang-rapes described in the report must only be a snapshot of the real total," Mr Zeid said. "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."
Also yesterday, the human rights watchdog Amnesty International accused the South Sudanese government of war crimes after its troops allegedly suffocated 60 boys and men in a cargo container at a Catholic church and then dumped their bodies in an open field.
Amnesty said researchers spoke to 42 witnesses to the October incident, including 23 who said they saw the men and the boys being forced into one or more shipping containers and dead bodies being removed.
"We take seriously these allegations," presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny said of the Amnesty report. "The government has dispatched a team to investigate."
He insisted government soldiers did not kill civilians.
However, Malaak Ayuen, director of information for the South Sudanese military, acknowledged that civilians had been killed amid the fighting.
"If the fighting takes places with you and your family in your room, certain things can get broken," he said, adding that the rebels are civilians because they do not wear uniforms.
To the reports of rape, he said there was no evidence that government forces were involved.
South Sudan erupted into civil war in December 2013.