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AU Report Accuses South Sudan Warring Parties of War Crimes

FILE - South Sudan government soldiers in the town of Koch, Unity state, South Sudan.
FILE - South Sudan government soldiers in the town of Koch, Unity state, South Sudan.

The long-awaited African Union Commission of Inquiry report on the South Sudan conflict has been released. It finds that both the South Sudan government and rebels loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar committed human rights violations, some of which the report says constitute war crimes. The report says the violations included killings and murder, torture, cruel, inhumane and other degrading treatment, abductions, rape and other sexual and gender-based violations.

But the commission says it did not have any reasonable grounds to believe that the crime of genocide was committed during the conflict. The commission says it has identified possible perpetrators on both sides that might bear the greatest responsibility.

South Sudan government officials were not immediately available for comment.

Ambassador Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, secretary for foreign affairs of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA-in opposition), said the rebels are not worried about the report’s findings because they believe the culture of impunity must end.

“Of course, if you can recall in many statements from the beginning since 2014, my chairman, Dr. Riek Machar Teny, the leader of the SPLA-in opposition has been consistently calling for this report to be released. He has been calling for those who are responsible to be held accountable for the crimes committed during this war. Finally it is released; we are very happy,” he said.

The Commission condemned killings by both the rebels (SPLA-in opposition) and the government (SPLA).

“In particular, the targeted killing of about 134 Nuer men in Gudele joint operation center; the execution of disarmed Nuer soldiers from the Tiger Batallion at the J2 palace; the killing of 90 Nuer civilians at the J2 Palace; the targeted killing of Nuer civilians in residential areas like Khor William, Munuki 107, Jebel area, Gudele area, Juba town; the targeted killing of Dinka and Nuer civilians from various communities in Bor and Malakal town by the SPLA and SPLA-in opposition, all offend the right to life,” the Commission said.

Gatkuoth said there is nothing that he, Machar and other SPLA-in opposition leaders can be held accountable for because they were simply reacting to President Salva Kiir’s policies.

But he said if there are individuals on both sides of the conflict who are responsible for violating international law, they should be held accountable.

“Well, if you look at it, all of us, including my chairman, Dr. Riek Machar, he was a victim. If he was caught at that time in Juba, he would have been killed. Myself, I was not lucky enough to run away. I was arrested and charged with treason and put on trial. But I was acquitted because there was no proof of a coup attempt. So we were all victims. There is nothing that you can hold us accountable,” Gatkuoth said.

The commission maintains what it calls a “highly confidential list." The names of the alleged perpetrators and the "highly confidential list” are not included in the public version of the report

The Commission said the struggle for political power and control of natural resources revenue, corruption and nepotism appear to be the key factors underlining the crisis in South Sudan. It said the country's resources are being used for the personal benefit of top politicians and their families.