JUBA - A South Sudanese rebel group says it is investigating accusations in a United Nations report that the group's fighters committed rape and sexual violence against civilians.
Col. Lam Paul Gabriel, deputy military spokesman for the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLA-IO), said the group will punish anyone found guilty of committing such violations.
“There is a committee being inspected by our chairman to investigate those alleged incidents that took place. In case we find any one responsible for those atrocities, he or she will be held responsible immediately” Gabriel told VOA's South Sudan in Focus.
The report, released by the U.N. human rights office last week, accused both rebel and government forces of rape and sexual violence against women and girls, some as young as eight, in South Sudan’s northern Unity Region.
The U.N. said at least 175 women and girls were victims of rape or other forms of sexual violence during the latter third of 2018, and said the actual number of victims was likely much higher. It said the acts may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Maj. Gen. Lul Ruai Koang, spokesman for South Sudan People’s Defense Force, said he is yet to see the report but doubts it contains anything new.
“I think it is the same old wine which is just put in a new bottle. The same thing they have been talking about — a, b, c, d, e. But when we get down to ground, we normally find all the accusations to be untrue,” he told VOA.
He said government investigators looked into the U.N. report.
"They went on the ground and tried to correlate what was released and compared with the results on the ground, and we have discovered it was a pile of lies," he said.
The U.N. report concluded that there are reasonable grounds that warring parties in South Sudan have committed atrocities that could lead to charges of war crimes
“The Commission has been able to identify several commanders from the SPLA, both factions of the SPLA-IO, and other armed groups, as well as two governors of states and a country commissioner, in relation to whom there are reasonable grounds to believe that they exercised command or superior responsibility at the time that the violations and alleged crimes occurred,” the report said.
Gabriel said his group will ensure that any of its soldiers found guilty of the alleged atrocities will be held accountable.
“Whoever is responsible for doing anything wrong, if he is brought up and he’s found guilty, yes, he can be judged by the court, and he can be indicted if he has to be indicted. You cannot go against the law.”
The U.N. human rights investigating body said the South Sudan government has taken no real steps toward accountability.
The African Union Commission recommended the formation of a "hybrid court" for South Sudan that would focus on high-profile and high-level perpetrators of atrocities.
The U.N. report said the formation of the courts has stalled, due to a lack of political will from the government.
John Tanza contributed to this report.