A soldier walks past women carrying their belongings near Benitu, northern South Sudan, February 11, 2017. 

REUTERS/Siegfried Modola
Investigators have been documenting the horrors committed during South Sudan’s civil war since its outbreak, but a new UN report offers a detailed account of some of the most emblematic crimes committed there during 2016 and 2017, underscoring the necessity of holding the perpetrators to account.

According to the report and its supplementing material, issued by the Commission of Human Rights on South Sudan, fighters “are deliberately targeting civilians on the basis of their ethnic identity” and their crimes include “killings, abductions, rape, and sexual violence, as well as the destruction of villages and looting.” These acts “constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity,” the report reads.

The commission also identified commanders who may bear responsibility for the crimes in a confidential dossier made available to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Many of the crimes in the report have also been documented by Human Rights Watch.

A peace agreement, signed by South Sudan’s president and rebel leaders in August 2015, included a commitment to a hybrid court, to be established by the African Union (AU) Commission—composed of South Sudanese and other African judges and prosecutors— and mandated to try those responsible for grave abuses. But the court has yet to be created more than two-and-a-half years later. In December, South Sudan’s information minister said the key documents to establish the court would be approved, but there is no indication this has happened.

“The delay …sends a signal to those committing atrocities that they will not be held accountable, as the government may have no real intention of establishing the Court,” the commission report states.

The AU Commission should take the lead and move forward in establishing the court without the South Sudanese government – as permitted under the peace agreement. Otherwise, the International Criminal Court remains the global court of last resort and should be pursued. There is no more time for feet dragging on justice.

In the meantime, the commission’s work compiling and preserving evidence for potential future use in prosecutions is indispensable, and its mandate should be renewed for another year.