March 12, 2016

A woman is forcefully stripped naked on a roadside before being raped by several soldiers in front of her children. She is raped again in the bushes by another group before discovering that her children have been kidnapped. There is another woman, tied to a tree, forced to watch her husband murdered and her fifteen-year-old daughter raped by ten soldiers. All these graphic scenes do not come from a fiction about the cruelty of mankind during wars; they are contained in a new report on the civil war of South Sudan, released on Friday by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. “According to credible sources, the government allied groups are allowed to rape women as a reward,” reads the report, under the principle “do as you can and take what you want.” The report provides details on a dreadful multitude of human right violations, including the rape of nine-year-old children.

Since December 2013, South Sudan has been ravaged by a persistent civil war, which followed the political struggle between President Salva Kiir and his former vice-president Riek Machar. The conflict began two years after the independence of the country, as President Kiir accused Mr. Machar and his team of attempting a coup d’état. The racial divides in South Sudan fuelled the conflict and escalated it into a brutal civil war. Mr. Kiir and Mr. Machar represent two major ethnic groups in the society, and the dispute between them easily extended into the whole country. Mr. Kiir’s ethnic group, Dinka, is targeted by rebels, and Mr. Machar’s Nuers are attacked by the government forces. Involvement of the Ugandan troops for supporting the South Sudanese government also deteriorated the living condition of Nuers.

Although several times, as a result of international pressure, ceasefires between the fractions were declared, none of them held for a long period. The unremitting violence continues to ravage South Sudan. The civil war has devastated the entire country and caused a grim humanitarian crisis, as more than 100.000 people have been killed in the conflict. Widespread violence has also prevented farmers from sowing their fields and consequently led to a food crisis, declared to be the worst food crisis in the world by the United Nations Security Council. Four million people are estimated to be severely effected by the food shortage, and fifty-thousand children may die of malnutrition.

The United Nations report states that all parties in the conflict committed serious and systematic violence against civilians. The report singles out the government forces as bearing the greatest responsibility for the crimes after 2015 when the rebel forces began to weaken. The scale of the violence by the government forces are described with frightful details, and what seems to be the most appalling is the casual and calculated manner in which the violence is inflicted upon civilians and rebels. Rape is also used as a weapon in the conflict. David Marshall, coordinator of the report, argues, “Crimes against humanity and war crimes since 2015 have largely been perpetuated by the government.” A report by the African Union, published last year, also underlies the responsibility of the government forces and suggests that the scale and expeditious spread of the atrocities indicate a prior planning.

There is no simple way to count the specific number of victims. The United Nations estimates that 2.3 million people have been displaced as a result of the civil war, and more than six million people are in urgent need of food. There was a glimmer of hope when an agreement for the cessation of hostilities was announced last month. However, the ceasefire on paper has yet to have a concrete impact on the lives of the South Sudanese.