The UN says the warring sides in South Sudan have likely committed crimes against humanity, including rape and mass killings. The country has been in turmoil amid a power struggle between the president and his ex-deputy.
The release of the UN report on Thursday came a day ahead of expected peace talks in Ethiopia between South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and his former vice president, Riek Machar, whom Kiir dismissed last July. Troops loyal to Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, and rebel fighters loyal to Machar, an ethnic Nuer, have been embroiled in largely ethnic-based violence since December.
While beginning as a power struggle between the two rivals, the conflict has seen the army divide along ethnic lines, resulting in thousands of people being killed and a million people forced to flee their homes.
Thursday's report, from the UN's peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, warned of "countless" gross violations of human rights and of humanitarian law.
"These include extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, rape, the direct targeting of civilians, often along ethnic lines, as well as ill treatment and the destruction of property," the report found.
"These are crimes for which perpetrators bear individual criminal responsibility."
Crimes against humanity
The UN report "finds that there are reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed during the conflict by both government and opposition forces."
The information contained in the report is based on more than 900 interviews with victims and witnesses. One Nuer man described to UN workers how army troops had killed civilians "like chickens" in the capital, Juba.
The UN reported: "Witness after witness recounted horror as they watched security forces enter their communities, sometimes in tanks and with heavy weaponry, and round up their relatives and neighbors. In some cases, victims were killed immediately; in others, they were taken to other locations and killed."
Dinka people were also targeted and killed in other areas.
Call for accountability
Hilde F. Johnson, the UN representative in South Sudan, said that making those responsible accountable for their crimes is critical to ending the country's legacy of impunity.
A report from Amnesty International, also released on Thursday, describes the rapes of women and children and how elderly people were shot while lying in bed in hospital. Testimonies from the Amnesty report document the execution of children and mutilation of victims' faces.
It comes less than two weeks after the UN's human rights chief, Navi Pillay, warned that the situation in South Sudan was so dangerous that it was heading toward catastrophe.
Pillay said the result of the struggle between Kiir and Machar was a deadly mix of recrimination, hate speech and revenge killings.
jr/mkg (AP, AFP)