(Nairobi) – South Sudanese government forces have carried out numerous killings, enforced disappearances, rapes, and other grave abuses in the Western Equatoria region during expanded fighting in the region. Rebel armed groups there have also committed serious abuses, including rape.
The African Union (AU) Commission should move forward to establish a hybrid court to try the most serious crime cases from the current South Sudan conflict as envisioned in the August 2015 peace agreement, Human Rights Watch said. The United Nations (UN) Security Council should impose a comprehensive arms embargo on all forces in South Sudan to help curtail abuses against civilians.
“As South Sudan’s fighting has shifted west, so too have the atrocities by government forces and rebel groups. South Sudan’s leaders should put a stop to all abuses,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Both an arms embargo and an effective war crimes court are also crucial to help stem the abuses and send a message that the crimes will be punished.”
Under the peace agreement, President Salva Kiir and the opposition, headed by former Vice President Riek Machar, agreed to form a transitional government and cease hostilities and abuses. Since then, however, fighting between South Sudan’s army, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), and the rebel SPLA in Opposition, has spread to previously uncontested western areas of the country, accompanied by familiar patterns of abuses against civilians, Human Rights Watch found.
In Western Equatoria, where Human Rights Watch researchers spent a week in February 2016, government soldiers have attacked civilian areas, burned and looted homes, and arbitrarily detained and summarily executed people. The abuses appear to be part of a counterinsurgency campaign targeting men and boys suspected of links to rebel militias known as “Arrow Boys.” The violence has taken on an ethnic dimension, with largely Dinka government soldiers targeting non-Dinka local armed groups.
The conflict first reached Western Equatoria in May 2015, when tensions between ethnic Dinka cattle herders and non-Dinka farming communities fueled fighting between government forces and local armed groups in the town of Mundri. In the ensuing months, fighting extended to Maridi and Yambio, two of the region’s main hubs.
The dismissal of the governor of Western Equatoria state, Joseph Bakosoro, over his suspected support of rebel forces, and his five-day detention by the SPLA, further polarized the community. The authorities re-arrested Bakosoro on December 22, 2015, and have held him without charge, with dozens of other political prisoners, family members reported. The authorities should promptly release Bakosoro and others detained without charge, Human Rights Watch said.