The Associated Press (AP) learned from a number of witnesses:
On July 11, South Sudanese troops, fresh from winning a battle in the capital, Juba, over opposition forces, went on a nearly four-hour rampage through a residential compound popular with foreigners, in one of the worst targeted attacks on aid workers in South Sudan’s three-year civil war. They shot dead a local journalist while forcing the foreigners to watch, raped several foreign women, singled out Americans, beat and robbed people and carried out mock executions…
One witness described how members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), loyal to the Obama administration-backed government in the fledgling country, were targeting Americans.
“He definitely had pronounced hatred against America,” Gian Libot, a Philippine witness, said, referring to one of the troops.
Libot quoted the soldier as saying, “You messed up this country. You’re helping the rebels. The people in the UN, they’re helping the rebels.”
The United Nations peacekeeping troops deployed to South Sudan and various embassies there, including the U.S. consulate, have been accused of turning a blind eye to the recent violence against civilians, notes AP.
According to the news agency, the UN and the U.S. Embassy did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Consistent with what the witnesses told AP, the UN mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), at the beginning of this month, highlighted and denounced what it described as “unspeakable acts” of:
[W]idespread sexual violence, including rape and gang rape, of women and young girls, by soldiers and unidentified armed men…
Moreover, members of the country’s army have also been accused of executing civilians.
The recent incidents have taken place in various locations across the country, noted UNMISS in a press statement on August 1.
Less than a week later, the UN reported:
Preliminary United Nations investigations into the recent fighting in South Sudan reveal Government security forces carried out killings and rapes, and looted and destroyed properties, the UN human rights chief said today, calling on the Security Council to take stronger action…
Highlighting a sexual violence incident against an aid worker, AP reports that the victim recalls the soldier saying as he pointed his AK-47 at her, “Either you have sex with me, or we make every man here rape you and then we shoot you in the head.”
“The woman took the first option. But by the end of the evening, she had been raped by 15 South Sudanese soldiers anyway,” adds AP.
Despite at least two ceasefire agreements, deadly clashes between armed groups loyal to South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and his sacked Vice President Riek Machar have kept raging since the civil war erupted in December 2013, soon after the country was formed in 2011, resulting in the death and displacement of thousands.
The war continues to pit South Sudan’s most prominent ethnic groups against one another: the SPLA and other members of the Dinka, the largest tribe in the country led by President Kiir, versus the rebel forces that include defected soldiers and militias from the Nuer, the second-largest group headed by Machar.
According to the UN, the most affected by the acts of sexual violence have been displaced Nuer women and girls (minors).
“Those responsible seem to have been mostly SPLA,” added UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.
In the capital of Juba alone, the UN documented 217 cases of sexual violence between July 8 and 25, primarily at the hands of the SPLA.
Citing witnesses and victims, the UN reported that besides being sexually assaulted, women and girls were also “robbed of their belongings, beaten up and verbally abused by SPLA soldiers and other security officers.”
Last Friday, the UN approved the deployment of an additional 4,000 peacekeeping troopsfrom various African nations, granting them the power to use “all necessary means” to protect UN personnel and facilities and to take “proactive” measures to protect civilians from threats.
The deployment, which has been opposed by Kiir’s government, would bring the total number of UN peacekeeping forces in South Sudan to nearly 17,000.
Kiri’s rival Machar welcomed the proposed deployment.
The South Sudanese government has reportedly established a court martial to try the SPLA soldiers accused of committing atrocities against civilians.
Zeid from the UN noted that the government “has made similar promises in the past, but the violations continue unabated.