South Sudan Army Unlawfully Killed Civilians: HRW Report

Murle women assembled in Pibor waiting for food aid in August. The report says the UNMISS provided safety to scores of civilians during attacks on civilians by security forces in Gumuruk and Pibor.[File: UNMISS]

This action by the army according to the report displaced said thousands of people to flee their homes, making them more vulnerable to attack from rival ethnic groups.

“South Sudan should hold all abusive soldiers to account and bolster military and civilian justice to curb further violations,” said the HRW.

The 45-page report entitled: “They are Killing Us: Abuses Giants Civilians in South Sudan’s Pibor County, “ documents 24 incidents of unlawful killings of almost 100 members of the Murle ethnic group between December 2012 and July 2013, constituting serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.

The report also describes how the South Sudan’s army, SPLA burned and looted homes, physically and verbally abused civilians, and destroyed schools, churches, and the compounds of aid agencies providing life-saving assistance.

“Soldiers should be protecting Murle civilians in Jonglei state from the fighting and the ethnic conflict,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead, the army has been killing these vulnerable people and driving terrified men, women, and children into the jaws of danger.”

According to the HRW, a series of unlawful killings, including of women, children, and people with mental illnesses have caused widespread terror among the Murle, exacerbating the perception that they are being targeted as an ethnic group.

It said the incidents occurred against a backdrop of a conflict between South Sudan’s army and a Murle rebel group. Soldiers and specially trained “auxiliary” police in Pibor county of Jonglei state unlawfully killed more than 70 Murle civilians and up to 24 ethnic Murle members of the security forces, in serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.

“The South Sudan authorities should urgently improve accountability for soldiers’ crimes, investigate the brutal ethnic conflicts in Jonglei, which continued amid the counterinsurgency, and ensure that security forces adequately and impartially protect all ethnic communities from attacks,” Human Rights Watch said.

The report said the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) provided safe heaven to scores of civilians in its compounds during attacks on civilians by security forces in the towns of Gumuruk and Pibor. But their lack of intervention during serious abuses over many months has undermined Murle confidence in the UN peacekeepers, the Human Rights Watch found.

HRW acknowledged the government’s arrest of its soldiers for human rights abuses in Pibor County and have taken some steps to provide accountability but called for more to end the abuses, provide redress, and ensure that the army protects, rather than harms, the Murle population.

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