Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The people of South Sudan have been deliberately starved in different parts of the country for ethnic and political reasons, and sexual violence against women and men as a weapon of war is ongoing, UN investigators have said.
The three-member commission, appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, also said South Sudan’s political elites are oblivious’ to the suffering of civilians. They warned of intercommunal conflict and terrible rights violations in large swathes of the territory, as a new deadline of the formation of a unity government approaches after years of conflict.
In the Commission’s report, which will be presented to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council on March 9, both the government and armed groups are described as having pursued policies responsible for the starvation of the population in Wau and Unity states.
The tactic is part of a wider strategy to deprive enemy communities of resources and thus force their capitulation, along with a denial of humanitarian access and related displacement. However, this has significantly exacerbated famine in different parts of the country, the report notes, depriving hundreds of thousands of civilians of vital needs, including access to food.
“The fact of the destruction of crops or taking away the possibility of getting access to water through boreholes and so on, can constitute the war crime of starvation, because… your intention is to starve the civilian population….in this case by both sides, as we’ve documented,” said Professor Andrew Clapham, a member of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan.
At the same time, the investigators describe how soldiers and militias have also been allowed to reward themselves and forcibly displace communities from ancestral lands, who have had little option but to join any of the many factions engaged in the conflict.
Other abuses include attacks on villages by forces loyal to the Government and opposition in Western Bahr el Ghazal, Unity and Jonglei states, that have driven displacement at alarming rates.
The Commission also documents extensive violent campaigns in Warrap, Western Bahr el-Ghazal and Unity States linked to government forces who have forcibly recruited men and boys, as have opposition militia.
In the Commission’s fourth report on South Sudan for the Human Rights Council, the investigators also warn that conflict-related sexual violence has continued to be widespread and pervasive. The practice follows a recognizable pattern of terror and subjugation used as a tactic of war, the report explains, such that the environment remains insecure and deadly.
But with mechanisms for justice and accountability for sexual and gender-based violations still lacking in South Sudan, denials by perpetrators and stigmatization of victims remain a major challenge.
“Entrenched impunity and lack of accountability, characterized by failure to address past and ongoing violations have been the key driver of violence in South Sudan,” Professor Clapham told journalists. “This needs to change to stabilize and democratize South Sudan.”
Massive corruption, which has siphoned off “millions of dollars” from the National Revenue Authority, also amount to economic crimes by senior Government officials, the investigators say.
“High-ranking officials have used their official positions to influence decisions on the allocation of State resources and official procurement, diverting public funds for personal gain an advantage,” said Commission Chair Yasmin Sooka.
South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation has been mired in instability and conflict for nearly all eight years of its existence. Today, more than 1.4 million civilians remain internally displaced and are languishing in camps unfit to meet their basic needs and subsisting on diminished humanitarian aid”, the report notes.