GENEVA – Three governors and 38 high-ranking military officials in South Sudan could be held accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity, according to a report by a United Nations commission released Friday.
In 2013, a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar devolved into a civil war that left up to tens of thousands dead, forced millions to flee the country and led to a famine being declared, with levels of violence not abating throughout several attempts at peace talks and ceasefires.
According to the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, which has been gathering evidence since 2015, the conflict in the country has seen civilians become victims of terrible acts of violence, such as having their eyes gouged out or being castrated, and children forced into joining armed groups.
In the report, the Commission identified 41 specific people who could be held accountable for these crimes, though in a statement said that many more could be cited but were not going to be made public yet.
“The court could be set up straight away and the prosecutor could begin working on indictments. Under the peace agreement those indicted can no longer hold or stand for office,” said Commission Chairperson Yasmin Sooka, adding that this was “the only way to stop the rampant devastation of millions of human lives by South Sudan’s leaders.”
The report detailed that many children were not just forced to join the conflict, but had been made to witness or even carry out acts of violence against members of their families, and over one-quarter of all victims of sexual violence were underage.
The investigation also unveiled that the prevalence of sexual violence against men was on a much higher scale than had been previously believed.
Elderly people were among the most likely to suffer violent acts as they were often abandoned in their villages by fleeing families, leading many to be burned alive or slaughtered by machete-wielding assailants.
Commissioner Andrew Chapman urged the African Union to create a hybrid court, which combines international and domestic issues, to bring those guilty to account.
UN humanitarian organizations have not stopped insisting that the conflict in South Sudan is one of the worst humanitarian crises in contemporary history, with some 50,000-300,000 people having been killed, at least four million having fled the country and another five million affected by the first famine to have been declared in the world in six years.