Hundreds of civilians abducted in South Sudan’s Western Equatoria region between April and August this year are still missing, the United Nations says.
Some 900 people were reported to have been abducted while 24,000 were forced to flee their homes during a surge in violence from April ahead of signing in August of a peace deal between President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar.
The UN Mission in South Sudan (Unmiss) and Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said human-rights abuses were committed against villagers in Gbudue and Tambura states in Western Equatoria during clashes between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in-Opposition and the government’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army.
Unmiss with OHCHR said women and girls as young as 12 were abducted by the forces, and lined up for commanders to choose as “wives.”
The report titled Violations And Abuses Against Civilians in Gbudue and Tambura ( Western Equatoria) April –August 2018 notes that those not chosen were left for other fighters who subjected them to repeated rape. Abducted young men and boys were forced to be fighters or used as porters.
The joint report asks that SPLA-IO release all civilians abducted, and wants government to conduct independent investigations into the violations and all the parties to abide by the revitalised Agreement on Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan signed on September 12.
In April this year, after several months of relative calm, the pro-Riek Machar SPLA-IO intensified attacks against villages targeting civilians in Gbudue and Tambura. SPLA’s offensives to dislodge SPLA-IO (RM) led to operations that failed to distinguish between civilians and combatants.
SPLA-IO attacked at least 28 villages, a settlement of internally displaced persons and a refugee camp in Gbudue and Tambura. Serious rights abuses occurred including unlawful killings, abduction, rape, sexual slavery, forced recruitment and destruction of property.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Ms Michelle Bachelet said it was essential for the government of South Sudan to hold the perpetrators to account.
“Most of abducted civilians are still being held captive. SPLA-IO (RM) must immediately release them, first and foremost the children. As part of revitalised peace process, it is essential the government acts to hold the perpetrators of abuses and violations,” she said.
Unmiss Human Rights Division has identified three SPLA-IO commanders who allegedly had effective command and control of the forces committing the abuses which may amount to war crimes.
SPLA forces also carried out military operations that were characterised by serious violations, including unlawful killings and destruction of civilian property especially around Nagero in May 2018.
Head of Unmiss David Shearer expressed disappointment that the spike in violence happened while warring parties were negotiating a new peace agreement and despite reconciliation efforts in the region at the time.
“The peace agreement has been signed which puts the onus and responsibility on warring parties to ensure no atrocities are committed in future. Unmiss will closely monitor potential violations and abuses,” he said.