The United Nations on Monday demanded an end to extrajudicial killings in South Sudan after the grisly execution of at least 42 people, including boys, in lawless parts of the troubled country.
Some were executed in front of their families and others left bound to trees in a spate of gruesome lynchings in a country where peaceful governance has remained elusive in the aftermath of civil war.
Since March, UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) rights investigators have documented the killing of 29 accused criminals in Warrap, a northwest state plagued by deadly conflict between rival ethnic groups.
The victims, including elderly men and young boys, were taken from prison or police custody and killed without a fair trial.
"Eyewitnesses reported that some men were taken to remote areas, tied to trees, and executed by firing squad. In some instances, their bodies were reportedly left on the trees as an example to the community," UNMISS said in a statement.
The UN said another 13 people were summarily executed since mid-June at the instruction of local officials in Lakes States, a conflict-prone central region.
"People accused of crimes have the right to a fair trial as part of a formal judicial process," said Nicholas Haysom, UN special envoy to South Sudan, in a statement.
"They should not be subjected to the random judgement of government or traditional leaders that they should be taken out and shot in front of their families and communities."
The UN has asked South Sudan's justice ministry to investigate and prosecute those responsible, and raised concerns directly with local officials in the two states.
South Sudan, which attained independence in 2011 before plunging into civil war two years later, has struggled with lawlessness and interethnic violence since the fighting that left nearly 400,000 dead.
A ceasefire was declared in 2018 but peace remains fragile, with many parts of the vast country of 12 million ungoverned and violent, and the security forces underfunded and divided.
The coalition government in Juba, in power in a shaky alliance since February 2020, struggles to police its realm, riven by infighting and economic malaise.
Haysom said the UN was working with the government and courts to deploy more judges where they were needed.
"There is a strong desire among communities for accountability and access to justice. But extrajudicial killings are not a solution to restoring law and order," he said.