The South Sudanese government is deliberately targeting civilians as part of a “scorched earth policy” that includes rape, killing, and pillaging, according to the United Nations and Amnesty International.
Both the government and opposition groups have attacked civilians since fighting broke out in December 2013, but a UN report published today (March 11) claims that state actors ”bore the greatest responsibility for the violations of both international and human rights law.”
More than two million people have been displaced and thousands killed in the conflict that has engulfed the world’s newest country for almost half of its existence. The report details accounts of civilians being hung from trees, burned alive, and cut into pieces.
A report from the human rights group Amnesty also released today accuses government forces of suffocating more than 60 men and boys—mostly cattle herders, traders and students, according to witnesses—in a shipping container last year. Witnesses told the group they had heard the victims calling and banging on the walls from inside the container and later saw their bodies being moved. The government denies the Amnesty report.
Rape has become part of an intentional strategy to “terrorize and punish the population,” according the UN report. Groups allied with the government are raping women as a substitute for wages, page 48 of the report says:
The assessment team received information that the armed militias, mainly comprising of youth from Mayom or Koch who carry out attacks together with the SPLA commit violations under an agreement of “do what you can and take what you can.” Most of the youth therefore also raided cattle, stole personal property, raped and abducted women and girls as a form of payment.
More than 1,300 reports of rape were recorded in just one state, Unity, over the course of five months last year. Gang rapes are common and women are being forced into sexual slavery or forced to marry their abductors. “If you looked young or good looking, about ten men would rape the woman; the older women were raped by about seven to nine men,” one witness told UN researchers.