By Albert Otti, dpa
Geneva (dpa) – The rape of women and girls is being used as a weapon of war in South Sudan, the top UN rights official said Friday, calling it among “the most horrendous” situations in the world.
The systematic rape perpetrated mainly by government-affiliated forces may well amount to crimes against humanity, the UN human rights office 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,” said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights.
While all sides of the conflict had committed serious human rights violations including systematic attacks against civilians, the army and government-affiliated militia bore the greatest responsibility, Zeid’s office said in its report.
South Sudan has been gripped by violence since December 2013, when a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his political rival Riek Machar escalated into an armed conflict.
Last year, civilians in northern Unity state were left unprotected as opposition forces were no longer able to put up much resistance against advancing government forces.
The UN has collected evidence that army soldiers burned civilians alive, suffocated them, shot them, hanged them or cut them into pieces.
The report said that “the civilian death toll from December 2013 through December 2015 is attributable primarily to the direct targeting of civilians by armed actors, rather than to incidental losses arising from crossfire.”
In South Sudan’s oil-rich Unity state, 1,300 rape cases were reported within only five months last year.
“Credible sources indicate groups allied to the government are being allowed to rape women in lieu of wages but opposition groups and criminal gangs have also been preying on women and girls,” the report said.
One woman testified that soldiers stripped her naked and raped her on a road in front of her four children. She was then dragged away and gang-raped again. By the time she was able to return to the road, her children had disappeared.
Another mother described how soldiers first killed her husband, tied her to a tree, and made her watch as at least 10 men raped her teenage daughter. The incident took place in October in the Koch county of Unity.
“The violations described in this report were not random, accidental or isolated acts of violence,” the UN rights office said, but “part of a plan or policy to attack the civilian population.”
Because the violations were planned, systematic and widespread, they could be judged as crimes against humanity if they were brought to court, the office concluded.
Tens of thousands have been killed and more than 2.3 million have been displaced since 2013.
A peace agreement was signed in August, but recent fighting in the Western Equatoria state has sparked a new exodus from the country, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said Friday in Geneva.
More than 11,000 people have fled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo since late last year, and more than 14,000 refugees have been registered in Uganda since the start of the year, according to UNHCR.