GENEVA - A panel of U.N. experts warns the failure of South Sudan's warring factions to implement last year's peace accord risks plunging the country into full-scale war once again.
The report by the three-member Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan shows no improvements since South Sudan's President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar signed a peace accord aimed at ending the country's six-year civil war.
The chair of the commission, Yasmin Sooka, said more than six million people are going hungry, 1.3 million children under five are acutely malnourished, and millions more are stunted, affecting their health and mental development.
"The starvation in South Sudan is neither random, nor accidental," she said. "It has been part of a deliberate strategy on the part of the warring parties to target civilians in acts that may amount to war crimes. … There is no doubt that the responsibility for the enduring humanitarian catastrophe in South Sudan rests firmly with the country's warring politicians."
Sooka warned that important provisions of the accord are not being implemented, including the disengagement of rival forces in preparation for the creation of a unified military force for South Sudan. She urged the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the African Union and the international community to deal effectively with armed groups to prevent a return to full-scale war.
In addition, she said gross human rights violations are rampant and widespread, levels of sexual and gender-based violence are exceedingly high, and justice for the victims has proven to be impossible.
"In the military courts that are actually trying to prosecute perpetrators, the judges do not even have ink and paper to print their judgments and have been going to the market to print court documents, paying for it out of their own pockets," Sooka said. "This is a government that cannot supply stationery or even food, but has no problem buying bullets."
Not all assessments of South Sudan's near-future are so bleak. In late August, IGAD representatives in Addis Ababa said last year's cease-fire has continued to hold, and said the general security situation in South Sudan has improved. The U.N. has noted that more than a half-million South Sudanese have returned home from neighboring countries.
South Sudan's Ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Kuol Alor, said his government has been exerting efforts to restore stability and tranquility to the country. He said a fuller response to the commission's report will be made to the council by the Minister of Justice when he arrives in Geneva later in the week.