South Sudan’s information minister Michael Makuei has said that the government will hold troops accused of crimes accountable.
‘The government has already given orders to the army and regular forces that whoever is implicated for any offence is arrested,” he said, adding that “there are over 200 soldiers who are under arrest and are being investigated’ he said.
Mr Makuei however, also blamed the opposition rebel group SPLM-IO and the UN peacekeeping force – UNMISS , saying they were ‘most likely responsible for the violent attacks against civilians’. He also lashed out at the world body, saying it was sending out ‘misleading’ information about the rights situation in the troubled country.
Mr Makuei’s remarks come in the wake of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, accusing the South Sudanese government troops and the rebels of carrying out ethnically targeted atrocities, including extrajudicial executions and rapes, during renewed fighting over the last month.
According to Al Hussein, preliminary findings showed that the majority of crimes were carried out by troops loyal to President Salva Kiir, who is from the Dinka ethnic group, against people of Nuer origin.
Of 217 cases of sexual violence in the capital, Juba, recorded by the UN between July 8 and 25, ‘those most affected were displaced Nuer women and girls and those responsible seem to have been mostly SPLA’, Zeid said.
On July 11, SPLA soldiers went house-to-house, taking away and shooting eight Nuer civilians, the UN said, adding that they had also killed a Nuer journalist.
Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO), the main armed opposition group, has also been blamed for atrocities, but to a lesser extent.
Almost 300 people, including at least 73 civilians, were killed in the recent fighting.
Tens of thousands of South Sudanese civilians were forced to flee the country, mainly into neighbouring Uganda, with more than 1.6 million people being internally displaced.
Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the number of civilians killed may be a bit higher than 73 and described the sexual violence as ‘horrendous’.The epidemic of sexual violence that has plagued three years of on-off fighting in South Sudan also had an ethnic dimension when soldiers carried out rapes in and outside Juba.
Colville also called on the government to take action and charge the troops accused of rape and murder, which he said is “something that never happens in South Sudan”.
Meanwhile, the 13,500-strong UNMISS force in the country has faced criticism for failing to stem the latest violence or fully protect civilians during the fighting.
The force command is investigating allegations that peacekeepers at a base in Juba stood by and did nothing as a woman screamed for help during an assault by two soldiers near the gate of their base.
The UN commissioner addressed this, urging “strong action in those instances where UN military personnel defaulted over their duty to protect civilians”.
Although the government has established a court aimed at trying SPLA soldiers who commit right abuses, ‘the violations continue unabated’, Zeid said, along with the forcible recruitment of boys and men.
The country is also struggling to cope with a growing humanitarian crisis as UN camps become overwhelmed with displaced and malnourished people.