The world’s newest country had been greeted jubilantly from the international community in 2011, but this week the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights drew a gruesome picture of South Sudan in a new report.
The celebrations of five years ago may have been rooted in the hope of marking a scorched earth around Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is still under an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity in the Darfur genocide. But peace in South Sudan has quickly unraveled. In December 2013, conflict broke out between the army loyal to President Salva Kiir Mayardit and rebel militias led by his former deputy, Riek Machar.
That civil war has never really ended, despite peace agreements signed last year in Ethiopia. As a result of those agreements, Machar was re-elected vice president last month. But, fearing for his safety, he seems to have no intention of leaving Addis Ababa to return to be the right hand of his archenemy in Juba, the South Sudanese capital.
“We have witnessed summary executions and even murders of children, disabled people burned alive, people suffocated in containers, hanging from trees, torn to pieces,” said Cécile Pouilly, spokeswoman for the U.N. human rights office. “Unfortunately the litany of atrocities has not ended in South Sudan.”
Where the opposition has been weakened militarily, government forces have not hesitated to violate the peace agreement and retake cities and regions it had lost — taking revenge on civilians along the way. One of the episodes in the report — already denounced by Amnesty International — dates back to October, in which 60 men and boys were bound and locked inside a shipping container under the blazing sun. They died from asphyxiation.
The report also highlights with particular dismay the brutalities women suffer. It said that government fighters have been given a license to kill and rape indiscriminately and that being allowed to rape is considered part of their compensation.
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