UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. said Thursday it is likely that both the government and opposition have committed crimes against humanity in South Sudan during the power struggle that erupted in violence in December.
Thousands of civilians have been killed and nearly a million have been uprooted from their homes since forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and his former vice president, Riek Machar, began fighting late last year.
In addition to the widespread killings, entire villages have been destroyed, livestock looted and personal possessions taken.
In a report released Thursday by the human rights division of the U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), the authors found that there are “reasonable grounds” to believe that grave violations including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, rape, arbitrary arrests and targeted attacks have been committed by all parties to the conflict.
The report also says the widespread and systematic nature of many of these attacks, and the appearance of coordination and planning of them, gives reasonable grounds to believe that certain crimes against humanity may have been committed.
U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters that the report recommends additional investigations.
“The report calls for further investigations and says that these should move quickly and lead to the arrest and prosecution of perpetrators. They must also be conducted independently and in a transparent manner consistent with international standards and principles,” said Haq.
The 62-page study details attacks in several parts of the country and is based on more than 900 interviews with witnesses and survivors, many of whom reported the targeting of individuals based on their ethnicity. Nearly 90,000 civilians are sheltering at several U.N. bases across the country.
Last week, U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay told the Security Council that she warned President Kiir and Machar of their potential responsibility when she met with them in South Sudan.
“I warned them that they will inevitably be the subject of international investigations regarding the extent of their knowledge of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by subordinates under their authority and their failure to take reasonable steps to prevent such crimes,” said Pillay.
The report criticizes President Kiir’s government for failing to hold perpetrators accountable. It says that it is the government’s responsibility to investigate rights violations and prosecute perpetrators. Although the government has acknowledged that violations were committed and established accountability mechanisms, the report warns that there are serious questions as to whether these measures will provide real accountability.