The United Nations released a new report on February 21st detailing the human rights abuses that have occurred in South Sudan in the course of the conflict that erupted in late December 2013. The report brings to light abuses committed by both sides, including rapes, mass killings, and tortures.
According to the report, civilians have been heavily targeted, largely along ethnic lines. The fighting has been between forces loyal to South Sudanese president Salva Kiir, who is an ethnic Dinka, and his former deputy president Riek Macahar, who is an ethnic Nuer.
The report describes soldiers on either side deliberately targeting and killing civilians along ethnic lines. The violence has toninued despite the ceasefire signed in late January. The report in specific cites an incident in which opposition forces killed 10 unarmed civilians in the state capital of Malakal during the course of violent fighting for control of the city around February 19th. The report claims that the civilians were targeted on the bases of their ethnic background.
In addition, the UN staff on the Mission in South Sudan have also witnessed the extra-judicial execution of two children by the UN compound in which the executioners were believed to be armed youths allied with the opposition forces.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has condemned the continued fighting in South Sudan and has called upon the South Sudanese to abide by the cease-fire and to protect civilians. Furthermore, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for South Sudan has called for accountability for those responsible for the continued violence.
South Sudan has rejected the neutrality of the report, claiming it to be a “pure fabrication”, and that ist is undermining the current processes attempting to create a peaceful solution to the conflict.
Despite this report and the international outcry against the violence and atrocities occurring in South Sudan, there has been limited international intervention, particularly in the field of accountability. The crimes detailed by the UN Report can easily qualify for investigation by the ICC, especially given that South Sudan is in no position to currently provide accountability domestically. The fact that the report implicates both sides makes it an even better potential case for the ICC.
However, the volatility of the situation in South Sudan at the moment also makes it a classic case of whether to pursue peace at the cost of justice first. So far neither the UN nor the ICC have made official moves on either front, and the violence is continuing to rage on.