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South Sudan: Deadly Conflict Continues despite Ceasefire
March 4, 2014 (140304)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
Both the United Nations and Human Rights Watch have just documented
extensive killings of civilians as well as other abuses during the
last two months of fighting in South Sudan. And incidents of
violence are continuing despite a formal ceasefire agreed with
regional negotiators. While negotiations as well as development of
plans for more effective ceasefire monitoring continue, the
prospectives for sustainable peace still seem remote. Meanwhile,
international agencies and civil society continue efforts to reduce
violence and address immediate humanitarian needs.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin focuses on the situation on the ground,
which must not be forgotten despite the fall in international media
attention. Almost all analysts are agreed that sustainable
solutions require going beyond response to immediate crisis and
negotiations which to date have involved only the warring parties,
not including South Sudanese civil society. But focusing on saving
lives now and on addressing the long-term issues should be
complementary, not exclusive alternatives.
For articles focusing on background analysis, see in particular
"South Sudan: Reflections on Crisis," January 13, 2014
and the recent article by Mahmood Mamdani, "South Sudan: No powersharing
without political reform," at
http://www.codesria.org/spip.php?article1959 (originally published
in New Vision, Feb. 16, 2014).
Also of interest:
United Nations Mission in South Sudan
Includes link to "Interim Report on Human Rights," covering 15
December 2013 to 31 January 2014
"South Sudan: U.N. Report On South Sudan Paints Grim Picture"
InterPress Service, 26 February 2014
"Medical care under fire in South Sudan"
Doctors without Borders, 26 February 2014
U.S. State Department Human Rights Reports, which provide detailed
and substantive country-by-country coverage [except, ironically,
for the United States itself, for which the State Department has no
jurisdiction], were just released for 2013.
Hearings before U.S. House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health,
Global Human Rights, and International Organizations, Feb 26, 2014
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on South Sudan, visit
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++
South Sudan: War Crimes by Both Sides
Commanders Need to Halt Abuses; African Union Should Begin Inquiry
February 26, 2014
Human Rights Watch
(Nairobi) - Both pro and antigovernment armed forces are
responsible for serious abuses that may amount to war crimes in two
key oil hubs in South Sudan during recent fighting, Human Rights
Watch said today.
Human Rights Watch researchers visited Malakal and Bentiu, the
capitals of two oil producing states, between January 29 and
February 14, 2014. Researchers found that armed forces from both
sides have extensively looted and destroyed civilian property,
including desperately needed aid facilities, targeted civilians,
and carried out extrajudicial executions, often based on ethnicity.
"The wanton destruction and violence against civilians in this
conflict is shocking," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at
Human Rights Watch. "Both sides need to stop their forces from
committing abuses and hold those who have responsible for their
actions, and the African Union (AU) should accelerate its long
Since late December 2013 Human Rights Watch researchers have
investigated allegations of serious abuses and violations of
international humanitarian law in Juba, Bor, Bentiu, and Malakal.
Researchers interviewed hundreds of victims and witnesses of the
fighting and attacks, and investigated sites of attacks in all
locations where security permitted access.
The towns of Malakal and Bentiu are now extensively destroyed and
mostly empty because terrified residents fled to United Nations
(UN) camps and surrounding rural areas. Threat of further attacks
and targeting of civilians based on ethnicity prevent the vast
majority from returning. Both towns are important political and
economic hubs, where residents from many ethnicities have lived
Despite an agreement on January 23, 2014, to end the hostilities,
and signed on by both the government and antigovernment forces, now
known as SPLA-in-Opposition, there have been new attacks by both
sides. Credible reports indicate that government forces, in some
cases supported by the Ugandan military, attacked Leer, Gatdiang,
and other locations in Unity state in early February.
On February 18 opposition forces, including the so-called white
army of armed Nuer fighters, attacked Malakal. Human Rights Watch
has also received credible reports that on February 19 opposition
forces killed civilians at the Malakal hospital, and that fighting
both near and inside the UN camp in Malakal resulted in additional
A political dispute between President Salva Kiir, from the Dinka
ethnicity, and former Vice President Riek Machar, from the Nuer
ethnicity, is behind the conflict. The fighting began when members
of the South Sudanese presidential guard clashed in Juba, the
country's capital, on December 15, 2013. President Kiir said the
fighting was a coup attempt by Machar and his allies, which Machar
has denied. Since December 15, the conflict has spread to other
towns and villages in Unity, Upper Nile, and Jonglei states.
In any armed conflict, murder, attacks directed at civilians,
civilian property - including objects used for humanitarian relief
- and pillage are prohibited and constitute war crimes. A clear
pattern of reprisal killings based on ethnicity, massive
destruction, and widespread looting has emerged in this conflict,
Human Rights Watch said, based on its research.
In Juba, Human Rights Watch researchers found that Dinka members of
South Sudan's security forces carried out widespread killings and
mass arrests of Nuer soldiers and civilians during the first week
of the crisis. Human Rights Watch has also documented killings of
Dinka civilians in the town of Bor, where opposition forces -
including the Nuer "white army" fighters - destroyed and looted
markets and homes, and killed civilians hiding in their homes or
other buildings. As elsewhere in South Sudan, the attacking Nuer
youths have cited revenge for the killing of Nuer in Juba as a
In Bentiu and the adjacent town of Rubkona, a majority ethnic Nuer
area, there was fighting between pro and antigovernment members of
the country's Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) on December 20
and 21. Opposition forces held the towns until January 10, 2014.
Human Rights Watch received reports that government forces,
consisting of pro-government SPLA and Sudanese rebel Justice and
Equality Movement (JEM) fighters, extensively looted shops, homes,
markets, and offices of aid agencies. Large areas of Bentiu and
most of Rubkona were burned during the recapture of the towns.
Although most civilians fled their homes ahead of the arrival of
the government forces, government soldiers shot and killed
civilians who remained, residents said. Human Rights Watch also
received reports that government forces burned villages in Guit
county as they pursued the opposition forces in the following days.
When opposition forces were in control, the antigovernment
soldiers, together with police and civilians, looted Bentiu and
Rubkona, including before fleeing the towns on and in the days
before January 10. As antigovernment soldiers and civilians fled
into rural areas, the soldiers also stole precious food from
Researchers also found that prior to the first clash in December
2013, ethnic Nuer - including members of government security
personnel - had attacked ethnic Dinka living in Bentiu and Rubkona,
including targeted killings.
In Malakal, an ethnically diverse town of mainly Shilluk, Nuer, and
Dinka communities, conflict erupted on December 24 when pro and
antigovernment forces clashed at SPLA barracks, the airport, and
key locations in town. The government recaptured the town on
December 27, but it changed hands again on January 14, 2014,
January 20, and most recently on February 18, following a third
attack by opposition forces.
The town has been extensively burned and looted, and almost all
civilians have fled to villages, churches, the hospital, or the UN
compound north of the town.
Human Rights Watch found that each side, when in effective control
of the town, attacked civilians, destroyed and looted civilian
property - including food and humanitarian aid - and targeted
people based on their ethnicity. During a week in January when the
opposition effectively controlled Malakal, for example, "white
army" Nuer fighters went house to house looting and robbing
residents at gunpoint, killing some in cold blood.
While government forces were in control of Malakal from January 20
through mid-February, soldiers looted and burned civilian
properties and carried out targeted killings of civilian ethnic
Nuer men, including inside the Malakal teaching hospital, witnesses
and family members told Human Rights Watch.
The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) provided safe haven for tens
of thousands of civilians - more than 27,000 in Malakal and more
than 7,000 in Bentiu at the height of the conflict - and in some
cases transported residents to safety, almost certainly saving
"The conflict in South Sudan is far from over, with civilians still
at risk of further abuse even inside UN compounds," Bekele said.
"Military commanders from both sides have an obligation to
immediately and unequivocally order their forces to stop attacking
civilians and civilian property, and the commanders need to hold
abusive soldiers to account."
A thorough and impartial investigation into human rights abuses
during this conflict is a necessary first step to secure justice
for victims and to respond to widespread anger, in particular
resulting from the ethnic targeted killings of civilians.
Unaddressed, these abuses risk leading to further violence, Human
Rights Watch said.
On February 21 the UN mission released its interim report on human
rights abuses during the conflict, detailing abuses by both sides.
The report is a positive step and should be followed by more
frequent public reporting in an effort to prevent further abuses by
On December 30, 2013, the AU Peace and Security Council called for
an AU commission of inquiry to report by March 30, 2014, on human
rights violations and other abuses during the conflict. Despite the
urgency of this task, the commission has yet to be appointed.
"The start of the AU's promised investigation is long overdue,"
Bekele said. "It is urgently needed, both to prevent further abuses
and as a crucial step in the path to lasting peace."
For further details, please see below.
Bentiu and Rubkona
Bentiu and neighboring Rubkona are a gateway to key oil fields,
with a population largely of ethnic Nuer. On December 21, 2013,
following skirmishes between pro and antigovernment forces at army
barracks, General James Koang, the head of the SPLA's Division 4,
defected and declared himself the military governor of Unity state.
His forces exercised control over the towns until January 10, 2014,
when government forces attacked and recaptured them.
During the period when Koang's forces were in control, opposition
soldiers loyal to him, as well as police and civilians, extensively
looted markets, shops, and the offices of numerous international
After taking control of the town on January 10, pro-government
forces also looted and burned large areas of Bentiu, including
markets on either side of the main road and almost all of Rubkona
market and surrounding neighborhoods, leaving only charred remains.
Bentiu and Rubkona are currently under government control. Some
civilians have returned to the town looking for food, but the
majority of the population continues to take shelter at the UN base
or have fled to other areas.
Attacks on Civilians by Government Forces
As the government forces entered Rubkona from the north on January
10, Dinka who had taken shelter at the UN compound, including some
pro-government soldiers who had fled during Koang's defection,
jumped over the fence and joined the attacking forces. Witnesses
saw the government soldiers give these men weapons, including
machetes, and described seeing some men from this group beat Nuer
civilians living next to the base and burn numerous huts.
At least five people were killed, including an elderly woman who
was burned in her hut. "They came, pushed me in, and then lit my
house on fire," said another elderly woman who survived and who
still had severe burns on her face and arms when she spoke to Human
Rights Watch. "They were singing in Dinka when they came up to me.
When they saw that I had [traditional scarification] marks, they
identified me as Nuer."
Almost all of Rubkona and Bentiu's civilian population had fled the
towns ahead of the government attack. Government forces shot at the
remaining civilians, killing some as they fled toward the UN
compound. A witness told Human Rights Watch that he saw Sudanese
rebels from JEM and government soldiers taking aim and shooting
civilians as they were running toward the UN base.
After the government forces recaptured the town, witnesses saw
about 30 civilian bodies on the road between the town and the UN
base, including some in areas where there had been no exchange of
fire with opposition forces. Civilians who fled to nearby streams
and swampy areas said the government soldiers shot at them in their
hiding places in tall rushes.
"I saw three people shot ... in the head and chest," said one man who
hid among reeds for three days without food or water. "On the
second day of hiding they decided to walk out [of hiding] and then
they were shot." Another man who hid nearby in a riverbed said
soldiers burned the rushes, perhaps to get a better look at where
people were hiding: "If you got out you would be killed, if the
grass [rushes] moved they shot at you," he said. The same man saw
soldiers shoot a boy running beside him as he fled, and saw the
bodies of a woman and two other children in the river after
soldiers shot them.
Human Rights Watch was also shown the remains of five civilians
reportedly shot on the same day in a neighborhood of Rubkona, close
to these hiding areas. Their bodies had been burned at the site. A
young man, around 18 years old, said he had been shot in his left
thigh by government soldiers as he ran away from them. A government
worker said his 19-year-old nephew was also killed on January 10
and his body had been left in the Kallevalle neighborhood of
Bentiu. Several people told Human Rights Watch that they had seen
or heard of bodies left in various neighborhoods in Bentiu
following the recapture of the town.
Ethnic Targeting Before the Government Attack
Human Rights Watch found that prior to the clashes on December 20,
2013, ethnic Nuer members of security forces targeted ethnic Dinka
civilians in Bentiu and Rubkona in reprisal for the killings of
Nuer in Juba in December.
A government administrator was killed and two others were injured
when a mix of Nuer police and wildlife personnel attacked a house
in Bentiu, a relative of the inhabitants said. One woman said Nuer
members of the wildlife service beat her aunt so badly on the night
of December 20 that she later died. Another man said that Nuer
policemen had killed four people in his house after he fled.
One church leader said he gathered frightened Dinka in his church
on the night of December 19 as Nuer civilians and armed police
moved around his neighborhood looking for Dinka: "I heard people
talking behind my fence saying, 'We will kill all Dinka.' It was a
mix of civilians and police." He saw the body of a Dinka woman, a
cleaner in his church, among around 15 corpses sent to the hospital
the next day.
A senior government official said that about 70 Dinka civilians had
been killed during the targeted killing in the towns. As most Dinka
had already moved to ethnic Dinka parts of Unity state, Human
Rights Watch was unable to ascertain the full extent of the
Efforts by government officials, army officials, and the UN mission
to collect Dinka and move them to the UN camp probably helped save
Conflict spread to Malakal, the ethnically diverse town with large
groups of Shilluk, Nuer, and Dinka, on December 24. Nuer forces
commanded by General Garhouth Galwak defected from the SPLA and
other security organs and clashed with the pro-government forces in
several locations, including near the UN compound north of town.
The government recaptured the town on December 27 and held it for
several weeks. The town changed hands again with an opposition
attack on January 14, 2014, back to a government recapture on
January 20, and a another opposition attack on February 18. The
attacking opposition forces in January and February included
thousands of fighters in the so-called white army, the name used to
describe large groups of armed Nuer youths fighting en masse, in
addition to uniformed opposition soldiers.
Forces on both sides killed many civilians, often based on their
ethnicity. The death toll is unknown, but many people interviewed
by Human Rights Watch said they saw dozens of bodies lying on main
roads in January and February. In addition to the targeted
killings, civilians were killed in the crossfire during clashes
near the UN compound on December 24, 2013, January 20, 2014, and
February 18, and as a result of fighting inside the camp for
displaced people inside the compound.
Attacks on Civilians by Opposition Forces
During their attack on January 14, the opposition "white army"
fighters, wearing colored headbands to indicate their country of
origin, went house to house demanding money, phones, food, or other
goods. They looted indiscriminately, including from ethnic Nuer
residents, but appear to have carried out more violence against
In one example, two armed "white army" members shot a man from
Maban county in the face and stomach, killing him instantly, when
he refused to hand over money and mobile phones, said his 22-yearold
wife, who witnessed the shooting:
When the rebels came from Nassir, we were at home. Some came
together and demanded a mobile. My husband, Jumaa, said 'No, we
don't have one.' The rebels left but then two of them came back and
again asked for a mobile and money. They pointed their gun at Jumaa
and shot him in the belly and in the mouth.
A priest from Western Equatoria from the Moro ethnic group, told
Human Rights Watch that he had remained in town following the
opposition attack on January 14. He said that a soldier had
arrested his son, tied his hands, and took him to the river at
gunpoint. "The neighbor who saw this called us, and me and his
mother went running after the soldier," the clergyman said. "He
started to fire in the air, then recognized me and let my son go."
Many witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they had left
the town before the January 14 attack. They said that people who
returned to the town after the attack reported seeing dead bodies
on the streets or in homes, and that the victims apparently had
been shot during robberies. Since the opposition forces recaptured
the town on February 18, witnesses reported seeing additional dead
bodies and burning houses.
Ethnic Targeting by Government Forces
Human Rights Watch received consistent reports from many sources
that government soldiers targeted ethnic Nuer males for arrest and
killings after January 20. A Nuer Presbyterian pastor was among
those reported killed, as he was shot in the street in the days
after the town was recaptured.
"When the government came, they targeted Nuers," said a witness, a
clergyman. "One pastor we know was killed. He put on his collar and
wanted to visit the hospital but was shot on the way."
A 20-year-old student told Human Rights Watch that a group of seven
soldiers arrested him and two friends as they were walking to the
UN compound on January 20. The soldiers tied the youths' hands with
rope, put them in a vehicle, and then handed them over to other
soldiers at a military barracks.
"They lined us up outside of a building and started shooting at
us," he said. "When they shot at me I just fell down." The three of
them were left for dead, but an hour later another soldier
discovered that one youth was alive and took him to the hospital.
His wounds required amputation of his right hand.
Another student, 18, said that on January 24 a group of government
soldiers arrested him and two other Nuer youths at their home in
Muderia area, took them to the riverbank, and shot at them.
"They took us because we are Nuers," the youth said. "They walked
us to the riverside near the hospital. They told us to sit down and
then they shot us. I tried to run into the river after I was shot
and I fell into the water."
He was shot in the buttocks and the thigh, and could not walk.
Another soldier found him later that day and took him to a church.
He believes the other two youths were killed.
Soldiers also arrested Nuer men at the Malakal teaching hospital,
where thousands of residents, most of them Nuer, had sought refuge
when the government recaptured the town. Witnesses said the
soldiers pulled the young men out of the hospital, took them near
the river, and shot them. One 24 year old student who had sought
refuge in the hospital said he went to the riverbank after hearing
gunshots in the evening and saw four bodies of Nuer men in their
Another student, also in his early twenties, was in the hospital
because he had been shot in the crossfire during the December 2013
clashes. He told Human Rights Watch that a soldier had entered his
room where he was staying, demanded his younger brother, 20, come
out of the hospital, then took him near the river and shot him.
Their 60-year-old mother found the body the next day. "When I went
to the river I saw my son with my own eyes," she told Human Rights
Watch. "I couldn't bury him because soldiers were at the river."
Widespread Destruction, Looting
The clashes and attacks, widespread looting and destruction, and
other abuses by both sides have left the town destroyed and empty.
Many witnesses noted that Malakal has never seen this level of
destruction, even during the long civil war. Tens of thousands of
civilians, some fleeing ahead of the first clash in December 2013,
are now in villages or taking shelter at churches or the UN
compound, seven kilometers from the town.
Following initial looting and burning by opposition forces in
December, thousands of "white army" fighters from Nassir, Ulong,
and other Nuer areas did substantial damage during six days in
January 2014, looting the remaining shops, homes, and humanitarian
aid compounds. These forces continued to destroy civilian
properties when they regained control over the town following a
February 17, 2014, attack, according to aid workers.
Government forces also looted and burned civilian property after
January 20, said displaced residents who are now at the UN
compound, particularly as law and order broke down and many of the
state's top officials defected or fled. When Human Rights Watch
visited the town on February 13, several homes were aflame or
smoldering from fires caused by vandalism.
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